Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

08.29.13First Week of School Video Care Package: Ana O’Neil’s Art of the Consequence (video)

For those of us who are under sail with the new school year, the first day(s) and week(s) of school are often a time when we’re setting expectations and limits, mostly in a way that’s natural and normal. Students want to know what you expect and what you mean by “attentive, positive and working hard” and/or are struggling to get back into mid-season shape—to pay attention for an hour at a stretch after a summer of 30 second spans of texting by the pool level concentration.  So they do their best and sometimes mess up and sometimes test you just a bit to see if it’s ok if they try a little less hard.

In other words, early in the year is a time when you want to be able to set limits in a gentle, understanding and consistent way that lets students learn what your expectations are clearly, once and for all- at relatively low cost if the “testing” is normal and with systems that can respond in the few cases where students push back disruptively.

There’s no better time, then, to think about the art of giving consequences in a way that helps students know where the limits are and learn to be successful but that also avoid exacerbating difficult situations. We’ve all seen a student get a consequence and explode or shut down or sulk or talk back or…. [fill in the blank].

None of those are good for us or for kids.  Thus, a video care package- tape of Uncommon Schools and Troy Prep’s Ana O’Neil, sixth grade math teacher par excellence, giving consequences effectively, almost beautifully, and in a way you can easily replicate.

To make this work start by planning a system of small, simple, fair consequences you can apply incrementally while you teach.  In this clip Ana is using Scholar Dollars, sometimes known as paychecks.  Her students start the week with 50 hypothetical dollars.  If they are off task in small ways (calling out for example or off task) they get a $2 deduction—a deduction that’s not a big deal. More disruptive behaviors—e.g. mocking a peer—get bigger deductions.  Exceptional positive behavior can earn dollars back.  At the end of the week there are rewards for high checks and consequences for low ones. But the idea is that Ana can address of task students quickly with a small correction that feels reasonable to them and, importantly, to her- a fact that allows her to use them consistently and without hesitation (and disruption to her teaching).

Anyway, Ana gives two deductions in this clip.  In the first one a student in the front row isn’t paying attention to what the class is talking about.  He gets a very small ($2) deduction.  But Ana, you’ll notice, gives it to him privately, quietly. She walks over to him and whispers.  She’s showing him that she’s trying to preserve his privacy and dignity.  It’s about correction, not shaming.  In the second case she can’t get over to the student who’s off task so she makes her correction quickly, in a positive tone and with a nickname (“kiddo”) that helps the student bounce back.  And then Ana gets right back to teaching- engaging interesting teaching I might add.

Themes: Her consequences are small, behavior is caught early, her tone is positive and she gets back to teaching as soon as she can.  She shows she still believes inher kids. And she keeps teaching all the time.  There’s always something better to attend to than Schadenfreude.   And not everyone can pull off the easy warmth of “kiddo” but it’s sure nice here.

Ok, there you have it, a crash course in the art of giving a consequence.

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5 Responses to “First Week of School Video Care Package: Ana O’Neil’s Art of the Consequence (video)”

  1. Leo Gilbert
    September 1, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Excellent practice!

  2. Kim Lewis Whitehead
    September 30, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    I noticed after she gave the first correction the student shrugged his shoulders like it wasn’t a big deal. What do you think about that?

    • Doug_Lemov
      October 1, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      good observation. hard to interpret with total reliability- is it a twitch? a shrug? etc. my gut is that it’s not disrespectful–i say that cuz i’m looking at his effort to track after the correction and his facial expression which is pretty earnest– and if it’s not disrespectful i think it’s fair to have the space to process emotions… ie to have a moment when you start to feel mad or defensive but then catch yourself and fix it.

      how do you interpret. (and thanks for asking!)

  3. Guest
    February 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Another piece I love about this that hasn’t been mentioned yet was the fact that there weren’t any warnings involved. I find it extremely difficult to find great examples of No Warnings because for many reasons it is often our instinct to attempt corrections verbally first (essentially a warning if not paired with a clear consequence). Here, however, it is obvious that she’s made expectations of the class clear enough that warnings essentially allow students to get away with not meeting her expectations. Instead, she quickly addresses the student the first time with a consequence, but then moves on without making a big deal out of it. The reactions of the students (or lack of a strong reaction), tell me that she has made it very clear what the expectations are, and what happens if you don’t meet them.

  4. LB Hindley
    April 10, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    I’m a little lost… are these dollars physical pieces of paper? How is she keeping track if not waiting for the student to pay her at the time of the consequence?

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