Detention Reflection Tasks that Improve Student Behavior

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My middle school years were filled with time in detention. I was the student who was easily excited about learning and easily energized by my peers. Often that advanced to excessive talking or tardies to class, both of which landed me in detention.

My middle school years were filled with time in detention. I was the student who was easily excited about learning and easily energized by my peers. Often that advanced to excessive talking or tardies to class, both of which landed me in detention.

Detention meant time away from instruction in a separate place in the building. During this time I was forced to think critically about my behavior and identify ways to improve. There was a lot of idle time that went by in detention and students would wander around or sleep. Other than class worksheets or a book that we might have been instructed to read, detention had little structure and activities to improve behavior.

A more targeted response to my actions as a student would have helped me to realize how my behavior was affecting the classroom and encourage different behavior choices in the future.

Learn more about improving Classroom Behavior Management in your school

To avoid repeating my own insufficient detention experience, as a teacher I made sure students who found themselves in detention were still able to engage in the curriculum. Early in my teaching career I implemented a program called Write. Reflect. Read. This easy 3-step program was consistent for all students and provided a structured way for students to reflect on their behavior. 

This program can also be used as a proactive measure for teachers to help avoid removing young people from the classroom in the first place.

Detention Reflection Activity: Write. Reflect. Read.

Reflection sheets, or activity logs can be effective in helping the student process their behavior choices and think through ways they could have addressed the situation differently as well as provide a structure to guide their thinking.

Write.

Writing is a way for students to organize their thoughts around the situation that occurred. I like to include questions that direct the students to think about what may have caused their behavior. This not a time to simply restate the chain of events, rather it forces the student to be introspective. Notice how the questions below are not geared toward the challenging behavior and more focused on what might have been a reason for the poor behavior choice.

Example questions:
  • How am I feeling today? 
  • Did something happen earlier that has impacted me in this class? 
  • Did I start the day mentally and emotionally prepared for school?
  • How have my actions impacted myself or my peers?

An important note about the writing sheet is that it should invite critical thinking. One word responses are not sufficient as the student should be leveraging their critical thinking skills to best define the root of the problem and alternative behavior choices.

Reflect.

Reflection provides an opportunity for students to prepare for dialogue during the detention. This part of the activity is unstructured as student’s have the autonomy to use this time to process their behavior. This section can also be led with a prompt or a creative writing activity, but if possible, encourage the student to take some time to just think or meditate. In the past, I have put 10 minutes on the clock and asked the student to focus their thinking during this time. Students can choose to stand or sit in silence. They may prefer to write or draw. Whatever they choose, they should have their written responses near. The answers to those questions should guide their thinking. Students should focus on alternatives, identify areas of support and think about the overall impact of their behavior. This allows students to prepare their voice to thoughtfully respond when discussing the incident later. 

Read.

Reading or re-reading the writing portion is helpful for the student to revisit why the student is in detention. This could also be time for the student to share responses with an adult to spark dialogue. The adult could provide insight or thoughts as the student is processing their writing. Having time to read aloud their written responses and/or reflections helps the student to verbalize their thinking. This can be a helpful communication practice that leads to dialogue and better behavior choices.

Detention reflection is important to change future behavior choices and eliminates idle time. These activities allow students to engage in instructional practices, like developing writing and critical thinking skills. As the teacher, you have agency over the content of reflection sheets and activity logs, which can be adjusted or changed them over time. The student should be thinking about how to engage in acceptable behavior and opportunities to choose positive behavior in the future. During the last step, students are able to work through their experiences and commit to making different choices in the future. It is also a specific time where the adult can engage and acknowledge the student’s work and effort. 

Write. Reflect. Read. is a great way to provide structure to students in detention. In order to improve behavior, implement these tasks strategically. Assign the framework for students to move through this as soon as they arrive in the detention space and encourage them to reflect with the expectation of not returning to detention again. This solutions-oriented approach helps to get the root cause and provide targeted supports!