Research Notes: Applying Classroom Techniques to the Camp Setting

Research Notes

by Gwynn Powell

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 non-compliance with an adult's instructions.

Their reported feelings indicated time-out 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 time-out, 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 negative 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

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.

    n 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.
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.
The "Wheel of Choice" is from Positive
Discipline in the Classroom: A Teacher's A-Z Guide by Jane Nelsen,
et al., published by Prima Publishing (800-456-7770)

Gwynn Powell is an assistant professor at
the University of Georgia teaching recreation and camp administration.
She has twelve years of professional year-round experience in camping.
Please contact Powell through e-mail, for
further information regarding article content or to share research

Originally published in the 2001 May/June
issue of Camping