They are a staple of school discipline policies everywhere but setting detentions and making pupils miss recess are ineffective ways of punishing bad behavior, according to new research.
Instead of changing behavior, these established punishments create resentment and damage the relationship between student and teacher, the study found.
And, according to the academic behind the research, what is perhaps more surprising is that, despite it being used in many schools around the world, this approach to discipline has virtually no solid theoretical grounding at all.
Dr Ruth Payne, a lecturer at Leeds University in the U.K. and herself a former teacher, surveyed students aged 11 to 16 at a school in England to find out their attitudes to traditional punishments and rewards.
A series of questionnaires asked students how they would respond to a range of measures and what was likely to make them behave better or work harder.
Although she is still writing up her research, preliminary findings suggest it may overturn some of the beliefs that underpin school discipline policies.
One is that sanctions that require students to complete detention after class or making them miss all or part of their recess do not make them behave any better.
“Things that encroach on the kids’ time don’t seem to work,” says Dr Payne. “Missing break or getting detentions doesn’t seem to be successful.”
Telling students off in front of the rest of the class or punishing the whole class for misdemeanours committed by a few students are also ineffective and ended up creating resentment and harming the student-teacher relationship.
“Being spoken to in front of the whole class is seen as demeaning,” adds Dr Payne.
Measures that did work included verbal warnings, contact with parents and being spoken to quietly, as opposed to in front of the whole class.
Of course, the whole point of punishment is that it is meant to be unpleasant and for many teachers the finding that students dislike detention is hardly news.
But what is interesting about the research is that the answers were so consistent that it suggests the responses were not just reflecting student attitudes but did relate to how they behaved.
And Dr Payne’s research exposed flaws in the philosophical underpinning of this approach to behavior.
While discipline policies make no distinction between rewards and sanctions for hard-work and behavior, in the students’ minds there are very clear demarcations.