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Educator Articles


Walk and Think

By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

"OK, you've just lost ten minutes."

"You're on the wall. Go sit by the wall until the bell rings."

"You obviously don't want recess today."

"There goes your recess."

Comments like the ones above have been uttered by teachers as well as by recess and lunchroom monitors for decades. Withholding or threatening to withhold recess in an effort to induce a desired behavior has been going on for so long without a major shift in children's behavior that it makes us wonder, Who is it that is really the slow learner here?

Good news. Teachers in an elementary school in Wyoming have come up with a viable and workable alternative to the removal of recess. They call it walk and think. Students in their school who choose inappropriate behaviors use recess time to walk (get exercise) and think (reflect and re-form). It works like this.

1. When a student chooses an inappropriate behavior such as put-downs in the classroom or shoving another child on the playground, they get one reminder. Notice we didn't say they get one warning. A warning is a threat. At this school they do not threaten children! They remind them. That warning is delivered in the form of the one-minute behavior modifier, explained in depth in our book, The Only 3 Discipline Strategies You Will Ever Need. It sounds like this: "Cara, that is a put-down. We don't put other children down in this class because people could feel bad and it often leads to physical violence. What we do here is tell the other person how we are feeling and what we would like to have happen. If you choose to put people down again, you have chosen to walk and think at recess."

2. If the child activates the behavior again, the adult in charge calmly says, "Cara, that is a put-down. We don't put other children down in this class because people could feel bad and it often leads to physical violence. When you choose to put others down, you choose to walk and think. You will need to draw a slip from the think tank to use at recess time.”

3. The think tanks in this school vary in size and shape. One is actually a big plastic jug with an opening at the top large enough for a child's hand to enter. It contains several slips of papers with think topics on them. Some of the think strips follow.
What effect does the behavior you chose have on the class? On yourself? Think short-term and long-term.

How could you make amends for this behavior? Come up with three possibilities.

In what other ways could you get what you want other than the behavior you chose?

What did you learn from choosing this behavior? About yourself? About the others involved?

How could you remember to choose a different behavior next time?
What do you intend to do next time? Why?

Come up with an alternative behavior. Predict what would have happened if you had chosen that behavior.

4. During recess, the student takes a think strip from the think tank and holds onto it as she walks and thinks. Students are not allowed to use a pen or pencil to write their responses. This is not another in that long line of paper-and-pencil activities that students are subjected to frequently. The students are encouraged to think though their responses as they walk. Walking is done in a designated area, and they are to keep moving for the duration of the time. This is a time for thinking and for exercising.

5. When recess is over, a debriefing takes place. This can be done immediately if time and the structure of the day permit. Or it can be handled at a later time when the teacher is free to debrief effectively. Debriefing, which takes from three to six minutes, allows students to explain their thinking, what they learned, and their goals for next time. The emphasis here is on helping students learn lessons in self-responsibility and create plans for improvement.

6. Students add their goals and learning to their Responsibility Notebooks at this time. This adds a written component to the activity and creates a permanent record that can be reviewed later.

Walk and Think is a major effort on the part of a concerned professional staff to turn a punitive, threatening activity into one that helps students develop self-responsibility, self-motivation, and self-discipline without losing recess and exercise time. It is designed to help students develop their inner authority, which is the only authority they take with them everywhere they go.

Thank you, Wyoming educators. Maybe it is time for some other staffs to go for a walk and do some serious thinking.