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Discipline Checklist: Refusals

Found in: Classroom Management

When students refuse to attempt an assignment, successful teachers usually begin by offering several forms of assistance, continue by offering various forms of reinforcement, and, if necessary, end up reviewing expectations and consequences

If the student refuses to accept any consequences, you should consider the situation extremely serious. Contact the parents and or principal for their support in dealing with the child's defiance. Consider using some of the strategies from the following range of suggestions:

Start by offering to help the student. Try these options:

  • Sit with the student, show a caring attitude, and do a few problems together.
  • Remind the student of a previous similar assignment that he or she completed successfully.
  • Talk with the student about the assignment to help him or her find some motivation or inspiration.
  • Ask if the student understands the assignment.
  • Suggest that the student skip the first problem and pick another for getting started.

 Look for possible reasons the student might be having trouble, and respond appropriately.

  • If the work refusal problem is recent, call the parents to ask if they know what could be upsetting their child at school.
  • In the case of a possible learning disability, modify the assignment.

Offer encouragement and positive reinforcement for efforts made.

  • Express verbal approval for any sign of beginning the assignment, even if the student just picks up the pencil.
  • Communicate high expectations of work effort. Say something like, "Rule #1 in this classroom is that everyone must participate. That's 100 percent. Can't or won't is a bad word we just don't use. At least try first, and if you need help, I'll be there.'

 Give the student several choices, letting him or her know that there will be consequences for not participating in the activity.

  • "You can work now during class time, or work during lunchtime or after school, or go to the detention room and do the work."
  • If the problem persists, ask the student if you should make a "hot call" to the parents asking them to, for example, take away weekend privileges and activities.

When students refuse to work, initiate a sequence of responses that move from positive reinforcement to warning about consequences. Be sure to follow through.

Excerpted from Discipline Checklist: Advice from 60 Successful Teachers, available from the NEA Professional Library

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