In my post, “What We Become,” I discussed the importance of students taking responsibility for their behaviors as part of a set of strategies for improving the learning environment. In this article, I will discuss one strategy for teaching this responsibility. It is essentially the “Think time strategy” (Nelson & Carr, 1996). It is a strategy that was intended for whole-school application, not one intended to be used by some teachers in a school and not others. This is important to keep in mind. If not implemented by all teachers in a building, the strategy loses effectiveness as students experience inconsistency from class to class.
That said, The Think Time Strategy involves providing students with the opportunity and the setting to consider what they have just done, and to plan a replacement behavior that they will implement upon returning to the classroom. The strategy is not activated immediately upon misbehavior, but is a second level intervention. First, the teacher makes the student aware of the misbehavior and gives the student an opportunity to replace the negative behavior with a positive one “on the fly.” If the student succeeds in doing so, no further intervention is needed. If the student doesn’t not replace the negative behavior, but continues it, then the student is sent to a “think time room.” In the school at which I taught for many years, it was called a reflection room. The student is sent with a form to complete in the new setting.
Arrangements have been made for a room to which a student may go for this purpose. In the Think Time Strategy, this is a dedicated school-wide room, staffed by a dedicated person who receives the student, assists the the student in completing the form if necessary, and then interviews the student to make sure that the student has a replacement behavior and is ready to implement it. Only then is the student allowed to leave the room and return to class. The student returns to class with the completed form in hand, but does not re-enter the classroom until the teacher has checked the student’s readiness to resume. In my school, there was not a dedicated school-wide room. Instead, each teacher had a reflection partner. I would send a student to my partner, and she would send a student to me, as needed. In practice, I often conducted the interview to assure the student was ready for re-entry into my class.
A form used for a reflection or think time room might include prompts such as, What was the problem behavior? Where, when and why did this happen? What will you do next time instead of this behavior? What will you do when you finish completing this form? Do you need to discuss this problem further with someone? These questions cover the replacement behavior, and also provide feedback to the teacher that indicates if the student is aware of why they are in the think time room in the first place. It is a good practice the classroom teacher to precisely and briefly state to the student why they are being sent to the think time room, so that they can immediately begin their reflection and planning for re-entry. When the student does return to class, the completed form is useful to the teacher because the replacement behavior is made known and the teacher can offer support and guidance to the student, helping them maintain the replacement behavior and avoiding falling back into the misbehavior.
It is important to realize that The Think Time Strategy must have a strong foundation of expectations and rules supported by established class culture upon which to rest. When a student is in the think time room, he or she must understand what the expected behavior for his or her situation is in order to state what they will use for the replacement behavior. The student must not be left uninformed of expectations and on their own to contrive a replacement behavior, for such a behavior could easily be as objectionable or worse than the first, though not intentionally so on the part of the student. In other words, the student must be equipped to think along the lines of, “I did this, but I should have done that.” At this point in the process, the student will know what they did that got them in the think time room, and they will have idea of how to get back into class and avoid being sent out again.
The final step in this process is for the student to arrive at an emotional state whereby they will be able to successfully implement the replacement strategy. It is one thing to know what they ought to do, but quite another thing to be emotionally ready to do it. This is the purpose of the last two questions stated above: What will you do when you finish completing this form? Do you need to discuss this problem further with someone? At first glance, “what will you do” seems to duplicate the stating of the replacement behavior, but not so. The replacement behavior is what the student knows he or she should do, whereas this question is what the student actually intends or expects to do. Where there is a discrepancy, the student is not ready to return to class because the situation is still emotionally charged and likely to recur from the student not having their emotions effectively managed.
At this point, it is wise to send, or at least give the student the option of going to a guidance counselor, social worker, school psychologist, or another teacher with whom the student has a helpful relationship and who is not in a teaching period, to get help managing the emotions. It may be that the think room teacher sends the student back to class and it is the classroom teacher who notices the student is still upset and would be ill-advised to return. This is why that step of presenting the form to the teacher outside the classroom is there. It gives the teacher an opportunity to assess the student’s emotional state and respond appropriately.
None of this should come across to the student as punishment or in any way punitive. Instead, it should be understood by all that this is a constructive opportunity for the student to regain control of their situation, and to get back on a successful track in the classroom. The student should understand that it is much better to be separated from peers that are upsetting him or her, than to remain and be further distressed, and risk the necessity for unwanted consequences to be imposed. The think time room is a way to intervene in a negative situation but in a positive, constructive, even appreciated way and to teach positive social behavior strategies to students.
Nelson, J. R., Carr, B. A., Cyprus Group, Inc., & Sopris West Inc. (1996). The Think time strategy for schools: Bringing order to the classroom. Spokane, Wash: Cyprus Group.