Imagine a classroom discipline strategy that eliminates the whining, the stress, the shouting, the tantrums, the debating, the negotiating and the total sapping of your emotional energy.
I have been using 1-2-3 Magic: Managing Difficult Behavior in Children 2-12 for kids as a classroom discipline policy for a few years now and I find it works like a dream. (I use an adapted version of it at home for my own kids, and I love it.) I did not read his book, but thoroughly enjoyed watching his DVD – it is a bit dated, but kids are kids.
I have been following Special 2 Me’s “Dear Abby” blog post about a student she has been having discipline problems with and have engaged in some discussion about the success I have had with Thomas Phelan’s programme. I have promised her I would give her a rundown of how it works. Brad, on Reality 101, has also asked his readers for successful discipline measures with autistic children – I use this system with all the students I teach, including those on the autism spectrum.
The principle that I love behind this programme is that it is fast, effective, simple and works every time. Kids, at heart, know what is right and wrong. We don’t need to spend hours telling them what they have done and negotiating with them because essentially, as you are imparting your words of wisdom on them about correct behaviour and expectations, all they are hearing is, “Blah ..blah….blah …dee…blah.” If you are shouting then you are the one throwing the tantrum.
When students behave badly, they are counted 1. Let’s call our naughty child George for today (with apologies to all the Georges out there.)
When George does the wrong thing, all you do is say to him, “George – that’s 1,” in a firm I-mean-business voice. Should he overstep again, you repeat, “George – that’s 2.” If George hits 3, he is sent to a time out place in your room. According to Phelan, a child should be in time-out for the same amount as his age. If George is 9 he should be there for 9 minutes, however in my classroom environment I always give 5. I set the timer as the beeper is a great signal that his isolation has ended (and of course if I don’t set it, I will lose track of time and I don’t want to leave him there for the whole lesson.) George needs to know that if he hits 3, he loses the right to be part of our classroom, but is welcome back when he is able to be a responsible and fair member of it.
When the time-out is over, there is no explanation or negotiation, just, “George, your time out is over – you are welcome to join us again.”
When I go into classrooms or cover for other teachers, I use this strategy effectively because kids love testing the boundaries with somebody new. I guarantee you that one child will always land up in time-out. One. Everybody will get the message that you have these boundaries, they need to stay within them, should they step over them – time out. (Secretly, when I walk into a class, I can usually tell straight away which kid is going to test me and which kid is going to be the one to land up in time out and see if I mean what I say.)
- George says, “I refuse to go to time out.” I respond, “No problem George. You can choose to do your time-out now or a do a double time-out at lunch/art/free play…” George will throw you a nasty look or sulk in his time-out chair, but I gave up falling for the victim mentality a long time ago.
- Two children are at fault – count them both.
- Two children having an argument /blaming each other – Don’t buy into he said, she said – count them both.
- The child really does not know that what he is doing is wrong – “George, that behaviour is unacceptable. If you do it again, I am going to have to count you.”
- If George does something really bad like hurt somebody, you will of course not count him on 1 and give him two more opportunities to hurt again. “George – that behaviour puts you straight on 3. Go to time-out.”
- George just needs to be quiet in time-out. If he does the wrong thing while he is there, the timer goes back to 0.
- When my first child goes to time-out, I often switch the activity to something fun and engaging. George needs to see how much he can miss out on if he is not part of the group. Husband says this is psychological warfare.
Strategies I have used to implement the systems into my classroom:
- I explain to students that this is how I work. I always follow through.
- I have now got so used to the 1-2-3 magic system, I have tied it into my reward system.
- I have colour coded and laminated a traffic light style card with green, yellow and red circles. If children are counted, I write their names with a whiteboard marker on the relevant circle.
- I never go back – if your name moves down to 2, it stays there. It will not go back to 1 if you correct your behaviour. It only goes back to the beginning the next day.
- My kids now have their magnetised names up on the board. I don’t even count them. I just move their name down and make sure they have seen it. Some teachers use clothes pegs with children’s names on them.
- Children get so used to the system that if I am working with one child and they are doing the wrong thing, I just need to hold up my finger as in “1” without interrupting my work…they get it. Don’t forget to use your “I mean business” face.
Guess what? I am not moaning, shouting, whining or losing the plot. I love it! The kids in my classrooms are not unhappy because of this. Effective learning is taking place becasue we are not exerting our energy on behaviour problems.
Phelan has a DVD for older childen as well, but I have not watched it as I work mainly with pre-teen children.