I’ve heard mixed opinions about the effectiveness of lunch detention in middle schools. Is it appropriate and does it work?
Lunch detention is not a harsh punishment, but it does provide students with accountability for their actions.
In my school in rural North Carolina, students who are assigned lunch detention sit at a separate table in the cafeteria, facing the team teachers. The students must be silent throughout lunch. They cannot communicate in any way. They cannot put their heads down. Although they aren't allowed to speak, their body language oozes misery.
Students would much rather be sitting with their friends and socializing during lunch.
Our team assigns lunch detention for a variety of reasons. The key to the effectiveness of this strategy is that we speak with one voice. We don't give second chances. Students know what's expected of them and they know what happens if they don't meet those expectations.
This is what you may hear if you listen in on our classes:
- "Warning. The next time I have to calm you down you will be on silent lunch."
- "Boys, you left class without permission. I am responsible for your safety. You need to serve lunch detention for this."
- "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Roughhousing in class is not okay. Lunch detention for you."
- "If you didn't turn in your homework, plan to spend your lunch with me."
One day I walked into the cafeteria and saw half my homeroom on lunch detention. I have never heard my students so quiet.
When they are serving lunch detention, students are not allowed to talk to anyone—whether another student on detention or a student elsewhere in the room. If they do, another day is added to their detention.
Students must ask permission to take their trays to the dishwashing section of the cafeteria. And they must not stop and talk with anyone along the way. If they do—you guessed it, another day of detention.
Our team leader keeps a running record of which students have served lunch detention, what the offense was, and how many days of detention were given. This information can reveal patterns of behavior that we may want to share with other teachers and/or with a student's parent.
Receiving a consequence or a response to disruptive behavior can diffuse students' actions. Not all students respond to lunch detention, but many do. What middle school student wants to give up social time?
Nancy Ruppert, a professor in the Department of Education at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, is on leave from UNCA teaching eighth grade math in a rural county in western North Carolina.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, March 2016.