Research Paper: Use of Time-Outs for Controlling Misbehavior in the Classroom

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[. . .] To overcome this limitation, Vegas and colleagues (2007) conducted a meta-analysis of single subject studies investigating the efficacy of time-outs. A total of 25 subjects were included in the meta-analysis, ranging in age from 4 to 12. The most common behavioral problems targeted were verbal aggression, physical aggression, disruptive behaviors, and non-compliance. The interventions all involved time-outs, including exclusionary and seclusionary time-outs. The overall effect size was -.749, which suggests a large effect of the time-out intervention on disruptive behavior. In addition, time-out was most effective for males, younger children, aggression, and self-contained classrooms. The most effective intervention designs, in order, were contingent observation, movement suppression, and time-out ribbon. Although the effect sizes ranged between small and large, the diversity of potential confounding factors allowed only general conclusions to be drawn. The main conclusion is that time-outs work best for younger males exhibiting aggressive behaviors within self-contained classrooms.

Variables Determining Time-Out Efficacy

The ideal classroom approach to time-outs, according to Grskovic and colleagues (2004), maximizes the amount of time a student remains engaged in classroom activities by minimizing time spent in time-out. The sequence of events surrounding a time-out are the following: (1) student engages in inappropriate behavior, (2) teacher issues the time-out, (3) delay between teacher mand and student beginning the time-out, (4) student performs time-out, (5) termination of the time-out, and (6) student reentry into classroom activities. Time-outs can also include contingent delay of time-out termination, teacher-student review of time-out justification, and alternative behavior suggestions, with the latter two occurring between termination of the time-out and before the student reenters classroom activities. Contingent delay represents time-out duration contingent upon a student's compliance with a time-out mand, such that it may be increased if the student is noncompliant and/or continues to engage in inappropriate behaviors (Mace, Page, Ivancic, & O'Brien, 1986).

Grskovic and colleagues (2004) attempted to reduce the frequency and length of time-outs by increasing the efficacy when administered. They implemented an Active Response Beads-Time Out (ARB-TO) intervention in a classroom populated by 11 students with ADHD, ranging in age from 7- to 12-years. When a student was given an ARB time-out they were required to retrieve a string with 10 wooden beads from the teacher's desk, return to their desk, and begin to count down from 10 to 1. With each breath, the child would move a single bead from one end to the other. All children were instructed in how to use the bead system during a time-out. Implementation of the ARB-TO intervention required teachers to praise the student for successful completion of a time-out task and verbally reengage the student in classroom activities.

What the authors of this study found was that both outcome variables, time-out frequency and duration, decreased dramatically regardless of whether the student was given a typical 10 second time-out with head down on the desk or an ARB-TO (Grskovic et al., 2004). The authors attributed this change to the implementation of ARB-TO, which then had the effect of reducing time-out outcome variables even when teachers administered a typical time-out. This possibility is supported by a dramatic increase in ARB-TOs in the first several classes, probably due to student interest in playing with the beaded string. Another important finding is that students remained engaged in a task during the time-out, which probably suppressed inappropriate behaviors and thus the prevalence of contingent delay. This may have also reduced the prevalence of escape behaviors, which would help explain the dramatic decrease in time-out frequency and duration compared to baseline. The main limitation of this study was the absence of an outcome variable quantifying the amount of time teachers and students were engaged in instructional activity. Despite this limitation, anecdotal teacher and student reports indicated general satisfaction with the ARB-TO strategy.

What is remarkable about the findings of Grskovic and colleagues (2004) is that a 10 second time out was sufficient to significantly reduce the incidence of inappropriate behaviors in children with ADHD. This is quite a bit shorter than the 5 and 15 minute time-outs examined in the study by Fabiano and colleagues (2004). More recently, researchers examined the effect of time-out duration, but from the perspective of rewarding quick compliance with a shorter time-out (Donaldson, Vollmer, Yakich, & Van Camp, 2013). Six children between the ages of 3 and 5 with behavioral problems were included in the study. The time-out settings used in the study were school recess and free-time at home. The settings choices would have eliminated the risk of escape behavior skewing the study's findings, because time-outs would be expected to be universally aversive in these settings. When the children engaged in an inappropriate behavior there were given a 4-minute fixed time-out or a 4-minute time-out reduced to 1 minute if the child complied with the mand within 10 seconds. Both time-outs reduced problem behaviors to almost zero, but the contingent time-out duration was associated with an improved compliance. The limitations of this study are the small sample size and the non-quantitative analysis, thereby precluding generalization to the wider community of EBD children. Despite this limitation, these findings do suggest that time-out duration is significantly aversive.

Shortening time-outs increases the amount of time a student can remain engaged in classroom activities. Another method that has been tried is the use of time-out ribbons (also known as time-in ribbons). Yeager and McLaughlin (1994) evaluated compliance rates for a 4-year-old child in pre-school special education before and after the ribbon intervention. The ribbon is awarded to a child for compliance with classroom activities, which confers eligibility for rewards. If a child engages in a problem behavior then the ribbon is removed during the time-out period, in addition to withholding reinforcement. An ABACBC single subject replication study design was used, with A, B, and C. representing baseline, time-out ribbon, and being read to by the teacher as a reward for compliance, respectively. Baseline compliance rates were never higher than 13%, but the first ribbon time-out phase increased compliance as high as 78%. Compliance rates during the second ribbon phase, however, never went above 20%. Using 'teacher reading' as a reward improved compliance to a high of 100%. The poor performance of the ribbon time-out method during the second exposure led researchers to conclude that additional parameters were controlling child responsiveness to the intervention. In support of this conclusion, the teacher informed the researchers that the child had begun to develop seizures during the latter phases of the study and underwent changes in medication and living situation. The use of a single child as a research subject therefore precluded drawing any conclusions about the effectiveness of time-out ribbons for increasing time spent engaged in classroom activities.

The suggested advantages of the time-out ribbon procedure are that the child remains present for classroom activities and is required to continue working (Kostewicz, 2010). The use of the ribbon method also tends to discourage teacher overreliance on more coercive strategies for classroom management, while encouraging improved time-in reinforcement quality. Kostewicz (2010) conducted a systematic review of the research literature on this topic and found 6 studies that met inclusion criteria. All studies reviewed revealed a reinforcement-rich time-in period, which was necessary for increasing the effectiveness of time-outs. The reinforcers used by the studies varied, but the most consistent variable was frequent use of reinforcers during time-in. The author concluded that improved student behavior also tended to reinforce teachers' willingness to provide frequent reinforcement. The other notable conclusion reached by the author is that problem behaviors can be reduced through a time-out punishment, including noncompliance, but the incidence of appropriate behaviors tends to be affected less. Time-out punishments therefore function primarily by reducing problem behaviors.

Although time-out from reinforcement is an effective behavioral intervention, addressing noncompliance after a child is instructed to engage in a time-out can be frustrating. Warzak and Floress (2009) examined the efficacy of a deferred time-out (DTO) strategy with two children between the ages of 4 and 5, who were referred for noncompliance, verbal aggression, and minor physical aggressive behaviors. DTO consisted of the parent informing the child that he or she would not receive parental assistance for any activity the child could not perform on its own until the time-out had been completed. Despite expectations that the delay between noncompliance and completing a delayed time-out would reduce its effectiveness, the mean delay between the mand and compliance was reduced substantially for both children. In addition, the improvements persisted over time. The obvious limitation of this study is the small sample size and its limited relevance to classroom management, but it does offer one more tool that could be used to address time-out mand noncompliance.

Extinguishing Escape Behaviors

As mentioned above, some children will engage in behaviors intended to trigger a time-out mand because classroom activities are perceived to be aversive for a variety of reasons. The student may feel the tasks at hand are too difficult or demanding, for example (Taylor & Miller, 2007). In these situations, time-outs become negative reinforcement for… [END OF PREVIEW]

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