Is Reprimanding Students an Effective Behavior Management Strategy?

Key Takeaway

Research suggests that teacher reprimands do not decrease students’ future disruptive behavior or increase their engagement levels. Instead, teachers should focus on proactive classroom management strategies, such as explicitly teaching classroom expectations, using behavior-specific praise, and reinforcing positive behavior as a way to encourage desired behavioral outcomes in the classroom. —Jay Lingo 

Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD)

“Many teachers resort to using reprimands in attempts to stop disruptive student behavior,” particularly amongst those students with emotional or behavioral challenges. 

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) may experience many challenges in school and often present commonly identified characteristics including aggression, attention and academic problems, antisocial behavior, low classroom engagement, high rates of disruptive behaviors, and mental health challenges. 

“The ways in which teachers and students interact can affect outcomes for students with EBD. There can be positive outcomes if the teacher–student interactions are positive and teachers have been able to increase the on-task behavior, or engagement, and decrease disruptions of students in their classrooms.” 

While teacher reprimands may suppress misbehavior momentarily, they do not appear to be effective in decreasing students’ disruptive behavior or increasing their engagement over time. Limitations and implications are also discussed. 

Reprimands: How Effective Are They?

Caldarella et al.’s study emphasizes that the “ways in which teachers and students interact can affect outcomes for students with EBD. Teachers who deliver low rates of negative feedback (e.g., reprimands) and high rates of positive feedback (e.g., praise) may be particularly effective with students with EBD when providing multiple teaching and learning opportunities that enhance students’ engagement.”

Furthermore, reprimands have been linked to escape-motivated behaviors, aggression, and further disruptive behavior. The use of reprimands for students with or at risk for EBD can be especially problematic, given the specific challenges faced by these students. The current study found that teacher reprimands did not appear to decrease future disruptive behavior or increase future engagement for students at risk for EBD, or vice versa. 

The results of the study show that although they may temporarily suppress misbehavior they do not result in long-term positive behavior change. This might be because reprimands do not directly teach students the skills needed to improve their behavior, and thus, students may continue to exhibit negative behavior and continue receiving reprimands. Another problem is that reprimands are reactive: a student acts disruptively and a teacher reprimands the student. 

The Alternative to Reprimands

Instead, the focus should be on effective teaching techniques and proactive behavior management strategies to decrease disruptions and increase engagement.

“Reprimands are meant to stop misbehavior. However, in the current study, teacher reprimands did not appear to help decrease future classroom disruptions or increase future engagement of students at risk for EBD.” This should not be surprising, as harsh reprimands in schools have been associated with negative side effects such as anger, fear, escape, and avoidance rather than improved student behavior. In addition to being harmful to teachers and their students, reprimands prove less effective than positive classroom behavior management strategies. “Teachers who use reprimands also report higher levels of emotional exhaustion than their peers who do not.” 

Given the findings of the current study, along with those of previous researchers, it is recommended that teachers replace reprimands with proactive classroom management strategies, such as clearly teaching classroom expectations, reinforcing positive student behavior, and using behavior-specific praise, as primary responses to student misbehavior and disengagement.

Summarized Article:

Caldarella, P., Larsen, R., Williams, L.,  Wills, H., & Wehby, J. (2020). “Stop Doing That!”: Effects of Teacher Reprimands on Student Disruptive Behavior and Engagement. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, Vol. 23 (2). DOI:  10.1177/1098300720935101.

Summary by: Jerome Lingo— Jerome believes the MARIO Framework is providing structure and common meaning to learning support programs across the globe. Backed up with current research on the best practices in inclusion and general education, we can reimagine education…together.

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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