Classroom Discipline: Carrot vs. Stick?

One ubiquitous facet of K-12 education, relatively rare or nonexistent at the collegiate level, is classroom discipline. Discipline is a part of classroom management and should serve to keep a class engaged without major distruption. Maintaining an active, engaged class of many students is much harder in primary and secondary education than it is in upper levels, because higher education students are there by choice while K-12 students are mandatory participants.

In my clasroom, discipline is doled out in the following severity scale, from lesser to greater infraction: rearranged seating, sending individual students and their material out of the classroom to a ‘buddy room’, and complete cessation of teaching with reversion to reading or homework. This system seems to work reasonably well, but I wonder if a stronger, complementary reward system should be in place along with the discipline. A teacher in an adjacent room told me that their students were not as motivated by promises of reward as they were threats of punishment/failure. I find this difficult to comprehend. Without the support and encouragement that a reward system provides, I fear that average students do as little as possible in the classroom to avoid potential confrontation with the teacher. What do I mean by a reward sys tem? Classroom rewards can range from simple, verbal praise to tanible benefits for a cooperative student. Verbal praise alone may be effective for already motivated students, but others may derive motivation from a potential reward. For example, in one of my undergraduate classes at KU, I unexpectedly threw candy to students who were brave enough to answer difficult questions that I had prepared. My previously sleepy and disinterested class sprung to life. They were suddenly much more interested in answering the questions and much less afraid of looking incompetent in front of their peers. I’m not saying that throwing candy is the solution to all classroom management issues, but that positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator. Please feel free to post your own comments on this issue—I’d like to see what you think!


About Sarah Roels

I'm a former Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. I study mating system evolution in plants, using the model system Mimulus. I now work at Michigan State University as their GK-12 project manager.
This entry was posted in 2011-2012 GK12, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Classroom Discipline: Carrot vs. Stick?

  1. benson3 says:

    I see the same things where I am and I agree. I have no “solution” to what the praise should consist of, but when I taught my introductory lab it made a huge difference to how I responded to students who were actually raising their hands and answering questions. I would walk around later while they were working and tell them great job, that was a great question, something like that, and it made a huge difference. The participation level increases tenfold, but your right that this is college, not middle school. I think it would also make a difference at this age if these students had role models, other than their teacher, who can show them that hey, school isn’t that bad and yes actually learning is fun and will get you far. A lot of that should come from the family, but most often doesn’t anymore.

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