Discipline in the classroom

The discussion continues.

Three recent correspondents to this journal have diverging views on the technique of writing ‘naughty’ children’s on the board as a method of dealing with undesirable behaviour in the classroom. The initial letter (‘Negative effects of reward systems in classrooms’, December 2015) wondered whether by singling out individuals the technique may have a detrimental effect on their emotional wellbeing and development, while Esther Ebbing (February) reports it worked, when she was a teacher, to control her pupils.

In fact the naming of naughty children is a very old technique. It features in the Christmas song, ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’. Its more recent use in British classrooms probably stems from the classroom behaviour package ‘Assertive Discipline’ devised by Lee Canter (Canter & Canter, 1992), which was used widely in the 1990s. In the first edition he suggests that after a warning that teachers write the name of any child who does not follow the class rules or instructions on the board. If they repeat the behaviour a tick is added which would result in a small, mild and irksome consequence, such as loss of five minutes play.

The Assertive Discipline training has been the subject of a number of evaluations, including our own (Swinson & Melling, 1995). Our results showed that the training was very effective. After training, the teachers significantly increased their level of positive feedback given to pupils, admonishments declined and pupil behaviour in terms of ‘on-task’ behaviour improved. In over 12 hours of observation we observed very few disruptive incidents and as a consequence we only recorded two incidents where the names on the board technique was used.

In short Canter’s programme worked because of its emphasis on persuading teachers to use more praise, especially praise directed towards behaviour. In our view the names on the board technique was irrelevant to the outcome and hence there is little evidence that it is effective. My advice to teachers has always been, when faced with a difficult class or individual; make your expectations of the type of behaviour you would like very clear, when you see the children behaving in the way you want, praise them, when are behaving in a way you don’t want, redirect them and praise them as soon as they conform. It’s not rocket science and, what’s more, it works, which is more than can be said for names on the board.

Dr Jeremy Swinson

Canter, L. & Canter, M. (1992). Assertive discipline: Positive behaviour management for today’s classroom. Santa Monica, CA: Lee Canter Associates.
Swinson, J. & Melling, R. (1995). Assertive discipline: Four wheels on this wagon – a reply to Mains and Robinson. Educational Psychology in Practice, 11(3), 1–8.

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