After-school detention activities vary from school to school; the one common belief educators share is that seated silence does nothing, and detention alone as a punishment is ineffectual.
Dialogue As Activity
Education World recommends dialogue with students as an activity -- asking them outright why they're in detention, what behaviors they engaged in and what methods might reframe those behaviors. For example, a student who swears excessively can, in discussion, be led to other words that express anger appropriately; one who acts out can be redirected to actions that are acceptable but still express his discontent.
Several Maine schools use the "restorative justice" model, where students must create their own methods of restitution for wrongdoing -- a method that gives students responsibility for their behaviors. Florida's DeSoto County School teachers, among others, add immediacy to this by adding clean-up services to the methods for restitution.
Freedom Writing in Detention
The remarkable success of the "Freedom Writers" program under Erin Gruwell suggests that journaling can be an excellent detention activity. Students are encouraged to write down their thoughts, motivations, reasoning and aspirations in journal form. Shared or not, anonymous or not, the journal achieves value and redemptive quality for the student.
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