Behavior: Interventions v. Punishment

I remember, during a conversation about discipline, I reminded one teacher that we were working with children, with an emphasis on the fact that we might consider treating children differently from adults. “They sure don’t talk like they’re kids,” he replied, referring to the foul language and disrespectful comments too many of our students spoke daily. I do not wish to defend disrespect and foul language, but I think it’s important to remember, when dealing with children, the circumstances that may have led some students to behave in such a manner. Are these moments of misbehavior calls for intervention or for punishment?

For all we know, some students’ linguistic environments are too “informal,” and have been since birth. I think this link is a good introduction to the five key “linguistic registers.” The first two – “intimate” and “informal” – are marked by smaller vocabularies. For people who speak more fluently at a “formal register,” speech from the “intimate” and “informal” registers can seem off-putting and even inappropriate. Social dialect can even be associated with various social classes.

As a mind experiment, I like to consider a hypothetical student’s linguistic development running backwards, from present to birth. What if, the further we go back, we never find anyone teaching students how to communicate in various registers given social context? What if they have just been punished their whole lives, with no one explicitly telling them the expectations? So when I think about my former colleague, who remarked that our students didn’t “talk like they’re kids,” I think about all these possibilities, and I worry that, too often, teachers are not supported with how to teach explicitly the kinds of social skills they punish students for not possessing.

Linguistic register is just one example. Others may include body language, volume, anger management, and more. Rather than issuing punishments for these behavioral concerns, I think we need to practice other corrective strategies, too – which may include things like re-teaching, behavior contracts, reflections, conferences, daily check-ins, and more. Websites like Intervention Central offer resources that may prove useful when considering such concepts.

Are you interested in learning more about how CUES can help you develop a behavior intervention program for your school? Contact us to learn more.

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