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Dr. Fred Jones's
Tools for Teaching

Responsibility Training


This article is condensed from Dr. Jones' award winning book Tools for Teaching. Illustrations by Brian Jones for Tools for Teaching.

Before reading this column, you might want to read or review Dr. Jones's previous columns on positive discipline: The School Discipline Code, Instruction Meets Discipline, No Joy, No Work, Visual Instruction Plans, Thinking Like a Teacher, and Meaning Business.


Any parent will tell you that the frustrations of childrearing come under two headings:

  • How do you get kids to stop doing what you don't want them to do?
  • How do you get kids to start doing what you want them to do when you ask them to do it?

In the same vein, behavior management has two basic objectives:

  • Decreasing the behavior you don't want.
  • Increasing the behavior you do want.

Classroom discipline usually focuses on only the first of those two objectives, reducing disruptions. But that leaves the job only half done. We also will need to build good behavior to replace the disruptive behavior.

Training kids to do what you want them to do when you ask them to do it is the other side of discipline management. We will call it Responsibility Training. Our objective will be to make responsible behavior in the classroom a matter of routine.


Students are most irresponsible when it comes to time. They waste time as though it had no value. They are in no hurry to start the class period, and they have no desire to hustle during a lesson transition. They know that you will put them to work as soon as those "breaks" are over. The students' vested interest, therefore, is to stretch break time and shrink work time.

For that reason, a typical class period is not on task until five to seven minutes after the bell rings, and a typical lesson transition takes five minutes. If students have only one lesson transition per class period, they waste approximately ten minutes out of fifty -- one fifth of their total learning time for the year. That is a hemorrhage.

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When looking at hustling versus dawdling, we are dealing with the issue of motivation. The management of motivation comes down to answering one simple question: "Why should I?"
"Why should I hustle instead of taking my time?"

The answer to that question is called an incentive. Incentive systems are based upon Grandma's Rule, which states:

You have to finish your dinner before you get your dessert.

Incentive systems, therefore, have two parts:

  • Dinner -- the task
  • Dessert -- the reward for completing the task


When you are working with kids, "dessert" usually takes the form of a preferred activity -- something the kids not only look forward to, but also are willing to work for. In incentive management, therefore, we say, "No work, no joy."

Incentive systems always have been part of effective parenting and effective classroom management. Your parents probably used them. Do these statements sound familiar?

  • "As soon as you are ready for bed, we'll have story time."
  • "As soon as you are done with your homework, you can watch TV."
  • "As soon as you have finished your chores, you can go outside to play."


In family life, routines lend themselves to grandma's rule because you usually can find time for "dessert" right after the task has been completed. For example, after the kids have helped you clean up dinner, you might have family time, in which you all play a board game together. Then it is off to do homework. Similarly, there is always time to read stories after the children get ready for bed.

The problem with classroom management is that you have so many transitions during a day, there is no time to squeeze in a meaningful preferred activity after each one. Rather, we go from one activity directly to the next.

If, however, you do not provide preferred activities in order to produce hustle, students will take preferred activities anyway and not hustle. Call it the art of dawdling.

How can we turn dawdling into hustling? We find a way of scheduling preferred activities that suits the classroom.


Imagine a fifth grade teacher who values art as part of the curriculum and would do art projects whether she knew anything about incentives or not. The teacher, however, is wise to incentives and knows how to get two for the price of one. She might start the day with the following announcement:
"Students, I would like to direct your attention to the project table over by the window. As you can see, I have laid out art supplies for our preferred activity at the end of the day. As usual, I have set aside twenty minutes for Preferred Activity Time (PAT).
"Of course, once you get started on an art project, you always love to have more time. And this time, you can! All the time we save during the day by hustling will be added to PAT. We could have forty minutes for art if we really get things done."

As you can see, a certain amount of Preferred Activity Time is given, rather than having students earn all the PAT. Students get more involved when they have something of value to protect. Student empowerment comes from their ability to lengthen PAT.


How does the teacher arrange for the students to save time by hustling in order to lengthen the PAT? Here's an example of a lesson transition:

"Students, let me tell you what I would like you to do during this lesson transition. First, hand in your papers on my desk. Then, if you need to sharpen your pencils, now is the time to do it. If you need to get a drink of water, now is the time to do it. I want my clean-up committee to erase the chalkboard and straighten up the bookshelf. And I would like you all to put your desks back in place and pick up any paper you see laying around the room.

"I will give you 2 minutes to get that done, but as you know from past experience, you can get it done in 30 seconds if you hustle. In any case, if you get it done early, all the time you save will be added to our PAT at the end of the day."

Whenever you have a classroom routine to be done, estimate how long the routine might take if students gave a decent effort. Then, round that number up to the next minute and double it. This time frame for a classroom routine provides a meaningful amount of bonus when the kids hustle.

That arrangement is called a group incentive, because it is "all for one and one for all" -- just like the Three Musketeers. A group incentive not only gets the kids to hustle, it also gives them a vested interest in helping you with management without making them look like "goodie two-shoes." A student won't be "uncool" if he or she says, "Hey, sit down, you guys. We're losing time."


Students instinctively treat any squandering of time as time lost. Occasionally, however, students actually run over the amount of time you have set aside for the routine. That is rare and usually happens during the first week.

If students dawdle to the point of running over time, simply subtract that time from the total. Consequently, you will keep track of PAT in two columns on the board --Time Gained and Time Lost. Put your initial gift of PAT in the time gained column to serve as a pump primer. The system is rigged so students come out ahead. In addition to your initial gift, time is gained in minutes, whereas time is lost in seconds. Also, time gained is the norm, whereas time lost is a rare event that simply keeps everyone honest.


As you can see, Responsibility Training is a form of time management. Since time provides us with a medium of exchange, you can add additional features to the system at almost no effort.

  • Automatic Bonuses: You can have kids earn bonus minutes for being in the right place at the right time ready to begin. For example, the class could earn a bonus minute by being in their seats when the bell rings, and they could earn a second bonus minute if everyone has a pencil.
  • Bonus Contests: You could have different class periods compete for earning the most PAT during the week.
  • Layered Bonuses: You might want students to earn time for a field trip or film that requires saving PAT over a couple of weeks. Beware! PAT becomes weaker and weaker the further it is pushed into the future. To fix that problem, simply keep two tallies on the board -- one for today's PAT and the other for the delayed PAT. Record bonuses in both columns. The kids get double bonuses, and you protect the power of PAT by keeping your short-term option alive.


As mentioned earlier, group incentives follow the Three Musketeer's slogan, "All for one, and one for all." That can make group incentives vulnerable -- unless you know how to protect them.

All students must be in compliance before you can give bonus PAT to the group. Consequently, one student can ruin it for the rest. You need fail-safe mechanisms.

Cut Them Out Of The Herd:
If one child -- let's call him Larry -- repeatedly causes the group to lose PAT, you can say, "Class, this is the third time in the last week that Larry hasn't been in his seat when the bell rang. When something happens three times, it becomes my problem. Class, I will give you back your lost minutes. Larry, in the future, rather than being able to lose time for the group, you will deal with me."

Omission Training:
Omission Training is a win-win solution to a chronic behavior problem. In Omission Training, Larry earns a bonus minute for the group if he can omit the problem behavior for a specified period of time. Since Larry is now a benefactor of his peer group, they tend to encourage him. You, of course, are Larry's benefactor as you highlight his successes every time you post one of his bonus minutes.


This article is a brief summary of Responsibility Training that might give you some new options for management in your classroom. However, each option listed above has a more lengthy protocol in Dr. Jones' book, Tools for Teaching. For example, the time frame varies with age, so it is relatively short in the primary grades and much longer in high school. Those more detailed descriptions will help you adjust to your own group and improvise in situations that don't fit the patterns described above.

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