Explicit reprimands are simple 5-10 word statements that ‘tell a student off’ such as, ‘David, stop distracting Lulu and go back to your desk please’. They are often followed by a hand signal and more than likely, strong eye contact. Explicit reprimands can be short or long depending on the behaviour. However, be careful with longer reprimands as these can come across as lectures that confuse the targeted students and/or disrupt other students. 1 or 2-word phrases on the other hand such as ‘thank-you’, ‘please’, ‘now’, a name, ‘stop’, ‘over there’ and so forth are explicit reprimands in a technical sense, but are more known under a different category - ‘minimal verbals’ (which is a type of low-key response). Explicit reprimands can be thought of as short explanations of what the student is doing incorrectly (the observed behaviour), and/or what they need to be doing now or in the very near future (Simonsen et al., 2008).
Explicit reprimands can be an exception to the rule of minimal necessary force.
To get technical, error correction is a type of explicit reprimand. However, while error correction teaches students the difference between desirable and undesirable behaviour, an explicit reprimand has the narrower focus of simply informing the student that their poor behavioural choices are not acceptable. It may indirectly teach desirable behaviours, but not necessarily. In other words, an explicit reprimand verbally points out that the teacher is not happy with the current behaviour – that is its primary purpose. The student must then make the link between that message and what he or she should be doing (unless communicated by the teacher as part of the reprimand). It’s also up the student to figure out what is likely to happen should they choose to continue with the undesirable behaviour.
Hint: According to researchers, teachers should provide positive feedback to students 2-4 times as often as negative feedback such as reprimands and error correction (Kalis et al., 2007).
As a rule of thumb, best practice is to never reprimand a student from across the room. A reprimand should always be delivered when you are in close proximity to the student. This ensures other students are not disrupted and the offence is dealt with privately. However, like many strategies recommended over the years, they don’t always quite work as planned. In reality, teachers reprimand students from a distance on a regular basis. Walking back and forth (and around the room) to deliver a reprimand is simply not practical, just as disruptive, and means the teacher has to stop whatever he or she was originally doing. The other logical reason why reprimands can’t always be private or delivered in close proximity is because they need to be delivered during or a second or two after an issue is observed – the teacher can’t wait 15 seconds (the time it takes to walk across the room) to stop Ariel from crawling out the window.
The point is to consider whether a reprimand is indeed distracting and whether the trip from one part of the room to the other is worth the effort. Certainly, ‘yelling’ across the room is not best practice – project your voice instead. A stern, crisp verbal such as ‘Manuela Brown, sit down please’ will address the issue with little disruption to yourself or other students. Also remember that most low-key responses only work when the student is looking at the teacher. This is often not the case particularly when the teacher is on the other side of the room and students are working in pairs or groups.
Hint: We have discussed reprimands as if a teacher has 2 simple choices: delivered either from a distance or up close. In reality, the teacher may be far away, close or anywhere in between. Teachers often use explicit reprimands as they traverse the room. For example, while walking from one student to help another, the teacher addresses 2-3 issues with a reprimand or even a precorrection. These issues need to be resolved in less than 6 steps (the number of steps between the 2 students) and hence an explicit reprimand is chosen – it is quick, clean and decisive.
The idea of using minimal necessary force or proportionate responses looks fine on paper. Low-key responses should work in almost all cases, and if they don’t, the teacher can simply escalate – sounds like a foolproof strategy. However, this process requires multiple efforts and sometimes the target isn’t even paying attention to the teacher. This is why explicit reprimands can be used in the place of low-key responses even when a reprimand is not proportionate to the behaviour. However, the reprimand needs to be within an acceptable range of proportionality. If they are delivered frequently, non-offending students rarely take notice anyway.
Explicit reprimands therefore can be an exception to the rule of minimal necessary force. Teachers can escalate disproportionately for 2 very good reasons: first, they know the student will not challenge the reprimand (other than a minor secondary behaviour) and they don’t want to go through the potential rigmarole of multiple escalations at the lower end of the response system. For students as well, there isn’t a huge difference between a facial expression and a reprimand, even though they are several tiers apart. The reprimand ensures that the behaviour is immediately ceased – the teacher is not playing around with multiple low-key responses and pesky escalations.
Simonsen, B., Fairbanks, S., Briesch, A., Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices in classroom management: Considerations for research to practice. Education & Treatment of Children, 31(3), 351–380. https://doi.org/10.1353/etc.0.0007
Kalis, T. M., Vannest, K., Parker, R. (2007). Praise Counts: Using Self-Monitoring to Increase Effective Teaching Practices. Preventing School Failure, 51(3), 20-27. https://doi.org/10.3200/PSFL.51.3.20-27
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.
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