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Applying Classroom Techniques to the Camp Setting.

We have many ways of being taught and many ways of incorporating experience into our learning cycles. Research that goes beyond our personal experiences can enrich our knowledge base, help us understand perceived meanings, and enable us to reflect upon effective responses. Each of these unrelated studies offers unique insights for approaching work with youth in a variety of settings.

How Do Young Children Perceive Time-out?

The goal of time-out is to reduce undesirable behavior. However, critics are concerned that this technique does not teach desirable behavior. What do children think about time-out? Readdick and Chapman (2000) investigated how young children perceive time-out by asking three-and four-year-olds at a child-care center about their feelings immediately after being released from time-out. The children had been placed in time-out for either aggression (physical or verbal) or noncompliance with an adult's instructions.

Their reported feelings indicated timeout was viewed as punishment (disliked being in time-out; felt all alone, ignored by their peers, or disliked by the teacher), but many of the children were unable to report why they were in time-out. The researchers conclude, "for many children, time-out may be punitive rather than instructional (p. 87)." This specific study did not address the possible results if the children could have clearly articulated why they were in timeout, but as children mature, their ability to connect past actions with future choices grows. For camp-age children, this study suggests that time-outs would be more effective if counselors simply verify that campers understand the behavior that resulted in the need for a time-out.

What Do You Mean "Think Before I Act"?

Conflicts between people are common, normal occurrences. Our ability to resolve conflicts is aided by having a variety of strategies from which to draw. Browning, Davis, and Resta (2000) investigated intentional steps taken within a first-grade classroom to provide students with opportunities to discuss and experiment with conflict-resolution skills. Their pre-post surveys, behavior tally sheets, student conflict-resolution journals, and teacher-reflective journals all documented growth in ability to deal with conflict as a result of specific teaching strategies.

While this study occurred in the classroom, the techniques could transfer to a camp setting. The specific techniques included: "Wheel of Choice" (a tool that prompted students to explore a range of choices to respond to the situation, i.e., apologize, walk away, use an "I" message, ignore it, talk it out), classroom meetings (an opportunity to demonstrate that more than one person may need to be involved to resolve the situation), conflict-resolution journals (both teacher and student opportunities to reflect upon the situation and brainstorm potential solutions for similar situations in the future).

What Type of Feedback Am I Giving and Receiving?

We are constantly providing feedback, both verbal and nonverbal, to others around us. How often do we stop to think about exactly what we are saying and how it is being interpreted? Foote (1999) investigated the types of feedback given by third-grade teachers to students during math classes. Using attribution theory (Weiner, et al., 1971), Foote was able to create a typology of the feedback messages based upon how individuals might attribute their success or failure. The theory predicts that cause will be attributed to four elements: ability (I am good at this), effort (I tried hard), task difficulty (this task is hard), and luck (ability, effort, task difficulty have nothing to do with my success or failure). The individual feedback comments made by teachers to students were videotaped and then classified and tallied (positive and negative across the four elements). The individual tallies of certain types of feedback were consistent across days and varied among different teachers. General positive and negat ive feedback, which provides the least amount of information on effort or ability, were the top two (respectively) forms of feedback given.

More potential gains in student motivation and instructional value could result from feedback that specifically attributes the success or failure to effort (you have/have not been working hard) or ability (you are good at seeing a problem through to the end) or a combination. In terms of motivating campers to try new activities and to support their efforts, "if a child perceives ability (an internal and stable factor) to be part of a particular success, then he or she is more likely to attempt and persist at future similar tasks (Foote, 1999, p. 156)." As a staff member, this issue also applies to your own job performance. If you supervisor says "nice/poor job," be sure to ask for additional detailed feedback so that you have the opportunity to learn and be more motivated from the feedback.

Effective Teaching in Light of New Brain Research

Throughout our educational careers, we have been exposed to teaching/leading techniques -- even during our summer camp staff training. What does brain research tell us about some of these techniques? Wolfe (1998) examined some tried-and-true teaching techniques in light of new research to help us understand why they work. "Setting the stage for learning" ties directly into the attentional functions of the brain. We can only get information to our brain through our senses, so by preparing the mind to accept information, we are directing attention to the desired information. By helping campers anticipate what is coming next, we are better able to help them transition and focus where we need them to focus.

"Learning environment" plays a role whether we manage it or not, as the brain is absorbing the information around us all the time. By thinking about what is on the walls of the cabin or activity shed, we have an opportunity to reinforce values and messages we are trying to achieve through the activities. What are the distractions in a particular setting? Could a rearrangement of features alleviate the problem?

"Feelings matter" ties into survival instincts so that too much emotional content can cause us to shift into a less efficient mode to protect ourselves or slow down. Information with little or no value has a tendency to be forgotten or dropped. Helping campers manage their emotions plays a role in their ability to receive new information and participate fully in activities.

Research in Review

Applied to the camp setting, this research teaches us to:

* be sure campers know exactly why they are in time-out and our expectations to avoid being in time-out again.

* use a systematic plan to address the thought processes and choices possible when dealing with conflict.

* carefully word praise as constructive feedback so that we communicate the root elements of the cause for success or failure, allowing for maximum potential growth.

* understand and think about why a specific teaching technique worked, allowing for deeper application of the operative principle in the future.

Gwynn Powell is a doctoral student in park, recreation, and tourism management at Clemson University in South Carolina. She has fourteen years of professional experience in camping. Please e-mail her at for further information regarding article content or to share research ideas.


Browning, L, Davis, B., & Resta, V. (2000). What do you mean "Think before I act"? Conflict resolution with choices. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 12(2), 232-238.

Foote, C.J. (1999). Attribution feedback in the elementary classroom. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 13(2), 155-166.

Readdick, C.A., & Chapman, P.L. (2000). Young children's perceptions of time-out. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15(1), 81-87.

Weiner, B., Frieze, I., Kukla, A., Reed, L., Rest, S., & Rosenbaum, R. (1971) Perceiving the causes of success and failure. New York: General Learning Press.

Wolfe, P. (1998). Revising effective teaching. Educational Leadership (11), 61-64.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:disciplining of children at camps
Author:Powell, Gwynn M.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
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