Use Take a Break to Keep Students Learning

Developmental Designs practitioners share insights and problem-solving strategies

For Middle Level

TAB is a redirection that allows students to regain composure and self-control by moving a short distance away from the class for a few moments. The TAB location is a designated quiet space, close enough to the activity that the student is not isolated. TAB can be teacher-directed or student-directed. The goal is for students to learn how to recognize when they are losing focus and get themselves back on track-an important life skill. The message students receive is: "We are working together to make sure everything we do aligns with our social contract. When anyone slips, I'll use Take a Break or another redirection cue to alert you to the fact that you've crossed the line; after that, it's up to you to quickly regulate yourself. After the cue, you are in control of things."

We asked several experienced DD implementers to share some "secrets" of their TAB success. This is the first installment of two. Look for more insights in the fall issue.

 


Eric Charlesworth, middle-level math teacher, Paul Cuffee Charter School, Providence, Rhode Island, and Developmental Designs facilitator:

What if a student repeats the same mistake after returning from TAB?
The options are plentiful. I may send a student to TAB again or I may use redirecting language if I feel there is a chance the situation needs more clarity. I may have time to pull him or her aside and have a quick conference. If this is a recurring problem, I may send the student to TAB Out and Back to reflect, and make time for a quality followup conversation. The key thing is there is no hierarchy or necessary chronological order; it depends on each individual situation. If this is a problem with multiple students, I may revisit the purpose of TAB with a class meeting.

How do I know if I'm over-using/under-using TAB?
I know I am under-using TAB when the TAB seat is empty for long periods. The effectiveness of TAB comes from regular use for small infractions, and I've yet to spend time with a group of sixth-graders who are constantly on task! I feel things are going well when I am noticing enough of these small off-task behaviors to have everyone using TAB. When the students see it in use often and by everyone, they view it as a learning tool rather than a punishment. I don't think I have ever felt like I am over-using TAB, but I am careful not to send the same student(s) to TAB at a rate far higher than their peers.

 

 


Ann Ericson, chemistry and physical science teacher at Community of Peace Academy, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Developmental Designs facilitator:

What if students appear to want to go to TAB? How can you get students to stop using TAB as a "hang out?"
The first step I take is to reexamine where the TAB chair is located in the classroom. Is it too close to other students? Has the seating chart changed so the chair is too close to friends of the frequent users? I also have a quick conference with the students who seem to be overusing TAB to determine why they're there so frequently. We talk about what I've noticed, and try to determine why they're in TAB so often-is the class work getting overwhelming for them? Are there personal issues that are causing them to want to be in TAB? Are they more interested in socializing than in participating in class activities? Once we determine what the cause is, we work together to set some new limits and help them to find ways to successfully participate in class.

What if students are turning TAB into a joke, not working to shift their behavior?
When I see this happening, I know it's time to revisit TAB with the whole class. I often deliver again my beginning-of-the-year pitch for TAB and the benefits of using it as intended. I pull out the tried-and-true basketball analogies about being pulled off the court, sitting on the bench, and getting back in the game after a minute or two. Typically, we'll have an informal class meeting where students generate the reasons why we have TAB, how we use it, and what's good about it.

I also reflect on when and how I'm using TAB-am I angry when I send kids to TAB? Am I "sweating the small stuff" or am I waiting until the situation escalates into a more serious offense? Am I using it with all my students or only those who are "pushing my buttons?" Once we have reestablished the purpose and benefits of TAB, things tend to improve rapidly.

 

 


Todd Bartholomay, former middle-level teacher and K-12 principal in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Programs Director for Origins: 

What if a student repeats the same mistake after returning from TAB? 
It depends. This is an area of teacher judgment where one size doesn't fit all. If I determine that the student is not responding with good effort to the privilege/opportunity that is TAB, I am not going to go through useless motions with her. I will use another intervention. 

 


I might also ask myself if there is some re-teaching that might help her be productive in TAB, and if so, I re-teach. And I would examine the conditions present that might be aggravating the behavior, because there might be something I can do that would eliminate the problem (e.g., student re-location).

What if a student returns from TAB but makes a different mistake soon afterward?
Again, it depends. In addition to the considerations described above, I would look for opportunities to connect with this student, understanding that if he is someone who typically doesn't struggle so much, there might be something going on in life that is causing him to be inattentive, distractible, or disruptive.

What if students appear to want to go to TAB? How can you get students to stop using TAB as a "hang out?"
Abuse it and lose it until we can come up with a plan together via a conference. TAB is for work and results. The point of being in class is to learn. My message to the student is: I can work with you as long as you show effort, but you don't have the option of using TAB to get out of class. There are times (for instance, when a student is struggling emotionally) when a student might benefit from having some additional license to sit out. As long as it keeps him in a position where he can continue to learn, latitude can be granted. It's one of many judgment calls we make.

What if students are turning TAB into a joke, not working to shift their behavior?
Abuse it and lose it. TAB can't be a joke, or it has to go away. Adolescents are embarrassed by anything that singles them out, and they have a tendency to joke about TAB. Students who wittingly or unwittingly attempt to tear down the structures built to support people and learning have to be intervened with. Their behavior has to be addressed forthrightly and respectfully to preserve the social contract. It's tricky, because students who lose the TAB privilege could be looking at referrals from class. When removing the TAB privilege from a student, I would tell him that referral from class is not an option, and that I would need to go directly to intervention outside the school day, possibly with his parent or guardian, to make sure he has what he needs to be successful.

Students almost always experience TAB initially as a punishment, and may push back with joking. If many students seem uncomfortable with TAB, I might take a break myself daily for awhile, maybe while doing a think-aloud, so students can see and hear how I am using it. I might even ask everyone to try it. 

A mistake to watch for is using TAB for only certain students, instead of with the whole class. Then students directed to TAB will feel singled out and may turn to treating it as a joke. TAB needs to be a normal part of class for everyone. Everyone can use TAB to build habits of self-monitoring, checking your behavior against what's appropriate, and using self-adjustment skills to make productive changes.

What we are aiming for is to have TAB become something students will do for themselves. Gradually releasing students into their own responsibility involves actual transfer of power, and therefore necessitates trust and risk. When giving any redirection, I try to remember that I am asking the student to trust me and take a risk.

How do I know if I'm over-using/under-using TAB?
If TAB is helping students gain control and function in learning, then it's useful. If your classroom is not what you want it to be because students aren't sufficiently on task, then you may be under-using TAB (and probably the other redirection tools as well). If your classroom lacks energy and has a feeling of rote compliance, you may want to ask whether the reins are pulled in a bit too tight. We're aiming for students to gain the skills of self-management so they can accomplish the goal with a minimum of direction from adults.