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  • Paper notes in a digital world? Absolutely. I still believe in pens, pencils, notebooks, journals, daily planners, letter writing, thank-you cards, and all things that celebrate a life that respects the placing of words on paper. Though, obviously, the words you are now reading are not on paper, they are definitely on paper - in spirit. In an age of blogs (like this one), blogs about blogs, online publications of all kinds and everything digital, I still celebrate the journal kept in a notebook, bound books, magazines, a good newspaper and the literary world of old. I love to read about writing and writers. I’d rather read an interview with Somerset Maugham or Paul Auster than the gurus of the computer age. Why? I think my full-plunge into computing in the late eighties has worn me down. I feel disconnected in the most connected age of all. Read More Here


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January 23, 2006


Russell Crosswy

I can remember getting "write-offs" in middle school as punishment. I never liked writing papers, or much of anything for that matter, during Middle School and much of High School. I had a negative association with writing. Some teachers in High School began to change that for me and encouraged me in some of my writings. I've only recently began to journal and write and blog for fun and enjoyment. I just got of college, I guess I needed the time to do my own thing when I wanted to write. Looking back I realize some of the weaknesses in my education. I've become interested in writing and journaling, not necessarily as a career but as personal development. I believe some of these topics should be taught in schools. (I smell a Moleskine sponsored Journal Education Program!) I see now that if I had learned more about journaling, writing for personal need and use, and organization (GTD) during my formative years in Elementary through High School I would be much better off today.

Michael Leddy

I'm amazed to know that this practice is still with us -- my kids, at least, have never had to write in this way,

When I was in junior high, our music class -- everybody in it-- was given punishment essays on a regular basis. I remember turning them into opportunities for fun. My 500 words on why we should not talk in class would begin with lengthy digressions, and I'd always run out of words just when I was getting to get to the subject I was supposed to be addressing. I don't know if my teacher was amused, but nothing ever happened to me. Maybe she never read the stuff.


Ah yes, it still goes on and gets very little attention. Granted, it isn't as widespread as it used to be, but the writing punishment continues. By the way, the National Council of Teachers of English has opposed this practice since the late seventies - and still do. Russell, in his comment above, had some excellent thoughts concerning the positive use of writing in schools. Some teachers in elementary school have the kids journal each day as a record of their school year. This is great! However, the practice seems to end in middle school and high school when it could be a huge benefit in so many ways.


Even at the college level, writing, especially bad writing, is treated as punishment to be administered. Several years ago while pursuing a BA in English, I worked as a writing tutor at the University Writing Center. So often, students dragged themselves in because they were told they "had" to be there because their writing was "bad." A trip to the Writing Center was viewed as a jail sentence. Needless to say, those students were usually the least receptive to any kind of help that (we) tutors could offer. Their view of writing/the writing center was already tainted by teachers who treated writing and the whole writing process as something akin to a ball and chain.

Thanks, Mike, for bringing up this topic.

Christopher Meisenzahl

I can remember sitting in "JUG" at my Jesuit high school having to write "Correction - Discipline" hundreds of times. ;-)



What a shame it is.
We all have forgotten that writing is an art, a long lost art! NOT a punishment!!!


I stongly disagree with the sentements expressed here. I believe that writing punishments, if enforced, can be an extremely useful tool in disciplining student misbehavior and in preventing future misbehavior. By making a student who behaves badly write, you take away his or her free time, one of the most valuable things that the student has. I think that the benefits of using writing pounishment for mainting order and discpline in schools far outweigh the highly speculative claims that writing punishments destroy creativity and discourage students from writing. Note that in my experience I would not give a writing assignment to a student unless I had previously reprimanded and warned the student.

Personally, I liked to make students write sentences of the "I must ..." or "I will not ..." variety (a/k/a lines). I would assign the line anywhere from 300 to 500 times for a first offense, depending on the nature of that offense, and usually 500 or more times on the rare occasions that I had to assign writing for a second offense. The assignment was easy for me to check and amounted to a boring and repetative task for the student. As one friend of mine observed "repeatedly misbehaving students are tedious and boring for everyone else and they deserve a nice long and boring assignment." In addition, I seriously doubt any student would be discouraged from any king of creative writing becuase of having to write lines. I would also note that very few students who received one writing assignment ever ended up getting a second one.


I agree with Stacie. If it works as discipline, why stop it? As a teacher I feel that this is an effective tool. I usually have my misbehaving students read an article and then give a writing summary of it. They're learning from the article and also learning that inappropriate behavior has consequences.

Mike Swickey - Paper Notes


Douglas wrote:
I agree with Stacie. If it works as discipline, why stop it? As a teacher I feel that this is an effective tool. I usually have my misbehaving students read an article and then give a writing summary of it. They're learning from the article and also learning that inappropriate behavior has consequences.
Hi Douglas,

Just had to respond to your comment. Those comments supporting writing as punishment seem to be missing my point. Your last sentence is exactly why some of us believe it's a huge mistake: "They're learning from the article and also learning that inappropriate behavior has consequences."

The problem is writing as a "consequence" (your word) of doing something "bad".....Why teach kids that writing is such an awful thing to do that if there are disciplinary problems they will face the "consequences," --- writing! Shouldn't we be teaching kids that writing is a good, healthy, invigorating thing? Think of it like this: suppose you wanted to teach kids that football was a good thing; that college football and the NFL were good and worthy sports and great interests to follow. (Most of us would agree they are - substitute something else that you enjoy). Now suppose that when there is a disciplinary problem that you forced them to sit through a football game because that was seen as such an awful thing! Imagine, inappropriate behavior has consequences, and those consequences are watching college football! That wouldn't make much sense if you were actually wanting them to understand that football was a good and worthy interest, would it? By teaching them that football is a "consequence" of inappropriate behavior - you're obviously telling them football is a bad thing that they will be punished with if they act up! Again, substitute something else that you might find enjoyable if football isn't your thing. You see, it's the same thing for writing! It is not something that is so bad that kids should be taught that if there are disciplinary problems that they will be "subjected to."

It seems that some don't seem to grasp this concept. It's like Pavlov's dogs in reverse.
The drill? Do something bad: you must write. (God forbid!) The message? Writing is something you don't want to have to do - so don't engage in inappropriate behavior - and you won't have to write. Writing as punishment is a shame. Something that makes no sense in an educational setting where writing should be taught as something that will enhance their lot in life .

Mike Swickey
Paper Notes in a Digital World


I can't agree with you Mike!

First, I note that writing punishment has long been used, and there is no empiracal evidence to back up the claims of its critics. Second, your analogy to football hints at the error in your thinking. In almost any sport, staying in shape through running and other exercises is extremely important thing for an athlete to do. However, the need for athletes to do these exercises and for coaches to encourage their players to do them does not prevent coaches from requiring players who miss practice, violate curfew or break other rules to do sprints and other exercises. The extra exercises no more adversly impacts an athlete than writing punishment impacts a student. Indeed, sprints and exercises are as time honored in inter-scholatic sports as writing punishment is in the classroom setting.

Finally, even if there was some merit to your point in the context of punishment essays, I fail to see how your point has any application in the context of assigning lines to be written over and over again. No scholastic writing involves such an assignment. In my judgement, the unmistakably punitive nature of this type of assignment is one of the reasons why it is such an effective punishment, inasmuch as there is no misunderstanding as to why the kid is doing the assignment.

Mike Swickey - PaperNotesInADigital World

Dave, I suppose if I want my child to enjoy filmmaking, whenever he acts up, I'll send him out to film a documentary - as punishment! Seriously Dave, many of us disagree with you and there's obviously many points-of-view. We believe writing is something to be cultivated as an activity to be enjoyed and not one used as punishment. Period. I appreciate you taking the time to leave your opinion (twice) at Paper Notes. However, we'll just have to agree to disagree.


Mike, do you have any research on this topic? I am trying to write a letter to the school board, and I am having a hard time finding research in this area.


jaynee solomon

I completely agree that writing should not be used as a form of punishment! I am currently battling an incident concerning this. Those who state that not only is it an educational experience but a consequense to inappropriate behavior are contradicting themselves within that very statement. I fail to understand how something can be enriching and condemning at the same time. As for "giving those children who are tedious and boring something tedious and boring in return," if we as educators never had a challenge in our classroom, then what reward have we earned? Those children need to be stimulated in a positive manner. Certainly there are more appropriate forms of punishment that can be deemed effective.


I agree with stacie also. It might be true that writing essays as a punishment puts
kids off writing, but writing lines is totally different. The fun part of writing
creatively is the creative part, not the mechanics of forming the letters on the paper. I don't see how making kids write lines would put them off writing per se.

Miss B

It is wrong to force a child to write "I will not..." anything 100 times or any number of times!! My 10 year old and her class mates were yelled at by their teacher for talking in class the day before yesterday. They were told to write "I will not act badly with a teacher" 1000 times...Most of the kids were not able to finish it in 24 hours...It then became 2000 and now 3000 times.
I am marching down to that school tomorrow to let that teacher know , this is absurd and excessive..
This kind of abuse feeds into breaking down our kids' self esteem and well as instills fear as if there is no one that cares enough to defend their rights as students...It's time to take the leadership position of protecting all of our kids from this type of unnecessary abuse..


Miss B,

I strongly beleive in the use of writing punishment. However, I understand your concern, and believe that you have a very legitimate complaint under the circumstances.

As I see it, the problem is not the teacher's punishment per se, but that the teacher has chosen to punish the entire class for the misdeeds of a few. That is a very poor disciplinary technique that is bound to fail because there are no individualized consequences for the bad behavior of a particular child. Punishing the whole class destroys the incentive for good kids to be good while, in effect, empowering bad kids by allowing their misbehavior to result in punishment for the entire class, all the while allowing the bad kids to avoid any individualized responsibility for their bad behavior. Every kid tells the same story to their parents - that they are being punished becuase someone else was bad. I received these types of punishments as a schoolkid and I never saw any positive effect on class behavior. By contrast, when a teacher imposed 1000 lines on one or two misbehaving students, you could no hear a pin drop in the classroom for several hours.

In addtion, to being ineffective class punishments are grossly unfair to the kids who were not misbehaving. good luck in your meeting with the teacher!

This sort of punishment is ill-effective. It is nearly impossible to teach a child by merely punishing unfavorable behavior- instead, you must teach them alternative behaviors that are more appropriate. Instead of punishing a child for the unwanted behavior, reinforce other behaviors that are positive. Empirical studies in psychology have long proved that reinforcement is far more effective than punishment.

The other draw-back to punishment is generalization. For example, forcing a child to write a paper because he or she was late to class spills over into other facets of life. The child will associate paper writing with negative connotations. You can see how this will affect them later in life- low motivation = low academic performance.

Take a psychology class people.


As a recent graduate with a degree in Elementary Education, I am happy to say that I was taught that writing should never be used as a form of punishment for a student’s behavior. Therefore you can see why I found it appalling that my child’s entire class was given a punishment to write a sentence 50 times as a punishment for talking in class. Where have the teachers that are still implementing this form of punishment been? Thank you for taking the time to address this issue. Perhaps it may enlighten a few that need to be enlightened. I will be printing your posting and sending it in to this teacher along with the sentences that my child was assigned to write.


This entire argument against extra writing as punishment is based on a simple lack of deeper thought on the subject. The reasons for using it have been clearly stated in some of these previous posts. As far as I can see, the only reason stated not to use it is that in could induce a Pavlovian response associating writing with punishment. I would like to see some (or any) research done on this topic, but I am unable to find anything other than opinion (in one case there was a survey of teacher's opinions).
This argument sounds good on the surface, but it falls apart when you put it in context. It's just extra work. By the reasoning of the Pavlovian argument, you should never use any extra work as punishment. What parent hasn't found how effective assigning extra chores can be for mitigating bad behavior? Does this mean that the child will now not work and become a bum because of his negative association with work? I work in a school where writing cannot be used as punishment. They don't like writing assignments any more than the students from previous classes before this ridiculous decree was issued.


I use writing as a punishment for my own son. We agreed on it in advance. He is ambidexterous and already hates writing, but understands that he HAS to work on it extensively - still, it hurts his hand a bit.

After 1 1/2 years of OT, he can write, but he is still slow. The repetition helps him go faster.

Writing LINES is helping him to write faster, which is his goal. In his case, it is a punishment designed to help him.

I also make him do push ups sometimes. He wants to be stronger.


Responding to Mike and others, as has been stated, where is the research to back up the claims that using writing as punishment is bad? As a veteran teacher, I tend to do things that work and not do things that are trendy or commonplace that simply don't work or have no valid basis in fact. When a student misbehaves there must be consequences otherwise there is no incentive to not repeat the action. So often as educators we are told constantly what we can't do and not enough about what we can do to discipline students. Whenever a parent complains they usually take an angle or slant to the situation that explains why their child's punishment is wrong, too harsh, or unfair. This applies to every punishment out there. Why help support this line of reasoning that so hurts school discipline? I have personally heard or saw students go unpunished for issues as severe as threatening teachers simply because someone raised a big stink about the punishment. Some common examples:"You're double punishing him!", "You're hurting her self esteem", "It's better they stayed in school rather than be on the streets getting into trouble", "You're academically punishing him for a behavior issue", "You're punishing the whole class for the actions of a few", "You're picking on him", "That grade doesn't reflect what they know", only how they did in your class" etc. etc. ad nauseum.
If only society was as forgiving to misbehaviors.


Actually one thing all of you is overlooking is that the biggest problem with this assignment is the content. It has been proven that what you focus on is what you create and if you are having students continuously write what the are NOT supposed to do the whole assignment is focusing on the negative. The law of attraction says that you must focus on the results instead, so, if you must makethem write lines which i agree is pre historic then make them write positively written one like I will be attentive in class instead of the i will NOT talk in class. By the way I was a talker in class and have written more lines about not talking in class than anyone and have done so even through college. I still talk through meetings so I can tell you first hand they DONT work!!!!! Oh and I hate to write too!


I agree with you in some ways and then I again I don't. I must say writings such as "I will not ___", or writing X amount of words, or a biography. But, I must say I dont agree with you totally. I encourage my students to have a behavior journal. The behavior journal is simply 5 sentences stating what YOU did, why you shouldnt do it, and what could be done better. I think of it as a reflection. Often many people write to express how they are feeling, and I use that to encourage my students to take responsibility for their actions. I think the behavior journal is a good "punishment" because its not just giving a child a time out, or a slap on the hand. Its actually being used for something

Ralph Picot

Writing a necessary form of punishment….

I currently work as a teacher in a less than desirable section of Boston. Although I agree with you writing as a form of punishment has no positive educational merits it is still a necessary evil because many times that is the only way to control kids who act out in class. It’s the only way sometimes to keep kids quiet, in fact my district policy for kids who act out “is to keep them writing”.

I find it also interesting that almost none of you looked at this issue from the teacher’s point of view but instead from horrified parental point of view. Imagine you’re a teacher who is only allowed to send kids down to the office for severe offenses like fighting, and calls home to the parents are not effective because the parents don’t care. Now what’s your solution for a class of kids that won’t stop talking, sure you could give all the really bad ones detention with you after class but what about the right now. How are you going to get them to stop talking when every time you ask them to stop, they start right up two minutes later? It just is not realistic to teach a class without occasionally using writing as a form of punishment.



None of those opinions against the writing assignment form of punishment have mentioned any alternative means of punishment or consequence. They just go on and on about how repetetive writing can be a detriment to creativity.

With some kids, positive reinforcement doesn't go far enough
to solve problem behavior and punishment is necessary.

I believe that sentence writing is effective because it will deny a badly behaving child of their free time. It can also teach them how to better manage their time. If they complete their sentences without wasting time, then they can have their free time back sooner.

Either way, they will think twice next time about how they should behave.


My straight A, Principal's list student just received a writting assignment to write a paragraph about the offence, then repeat it 24 more times. This seems excessive. I agree that he should write a "journal" stating his regrets and what he has learned about his actions but that is where it should end!! The offense was his lack of responsibility in being prepared for class. They were given a packet on a writting a speech that was voluntary however his teacher is making it mandatory. He lost the packet and now has received the punishment of writting and detention. Do you think that next year when this same speech contest comes around again he is going to want to do it on his own? I doubt it, the whole program now has a dark cloud over it.


On Condemning the Use of Writing as Punishment


NCTE Annual Business Meeting in Detroit, Michigan


This resolution stemmed from concern among teachers of English about research findings showing continued widespread use of writing as punishment by teachers and administrators in elementary and secondary schools. Using writing for punishment, NCTE members warned, distorts the principles and defeats the purposes of instruction in this important life skill and causes students to dislike an activity necessary to their intellectual development and career success. Be it therefore


Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English condemn punitive writing assignments;

that NCTE discourage teachers, administrators, and others from making a punishment of such writing as copywork, sentence repetition, original paragraphs and themes, and other assignments which inhibit desired attitudes and essential communication skills; and

that NCTE disseminate this opinion to the appropriate audiences, including the general public.


I am a teacher myself in a top five state school. I have also almost completed my masters. I absolutely love writing and infact teach Literacy which is basically reading and writing! I, however, also believe in using writing as a punishment. Writing can serve many purposes. One such purpose is creative writing. However, there is nothing wrong with having a child copy a paragraph about why what they did was wrong and how they can learn from it, x amt. of times. This activity takes away from time that can be spent on other things he or she would rather be doing, as well as becomes a reminder of why they should follow the rules. It doesn't take away from their possible love of creative writing and other such writing types. I absolutely love writing creatively, but does anyone actually enjoy writing a 10 page research paper on an assigned topic no matter how old you are? Usually not. So there is nothing to say that giving a child one type of writing assignment is going to take away their love of all writing. Just like if you don't like one book or one genre of a book, it does not mean you don't like reading at all.

Have some of you ever been in a classroom? Some states and districts now say we cannot take away recess time because of needed physical activity, so that cannot be done (not to mention, middle school doesn't have recess). You cannot go straight to detention for small offenses, and some districts don't even have detention at the elementary level. So what, might I ask, would you propose as a punishment? Parents are so concerned these days on their child getting disciplined and in trouble. God forbid there are consequences for their actions! Our choices for those consequences are becoming quite limited! I don't see anything wrong with having to fill out a paper such as a "Stop and Think" where a child needs to write about what they did wrong and have a parent sign it, or copying a paragraph x times on why they should not continually be disrupting class and how it is disrespectful to the teacher and classmates trying to learn and that it wastes valuable time, etc. Without consequences, there is no classroom control!



You have a nice rant against writing sentences, but offer no alternative with which to replace it. I agree with natalie when she says the content is important. I make up long sentences for my kids when they misbehave, like "I will respect my teachers and follow directions. I will use respectful language when addressing others."
I am not a teacher, I am a foster parent. I don't think teachers should assign sentences, especially 1000. I ask the teachers to call me and work out a solution together. Often there is an apology letter (sorry if that is a basis for another rant) that gets written to the teacher in addition to any other punishment.

ms. a

I second Ralph's comment. Detentions are unenforceable in a low-income district like mine (no student will show up), very few parents discipline or are able to discipline their children (parent phone calls are next to worthless), and the office does allow many referrals to be written.

How else do you punish high schoolers? Taking away a bathroom pass is one way, but if they act up again, and you've already taken it, there is nothing left... while I would never assign essays, monotonous copying is a necessary evil..


I do not like using writing as a punishment for negative behavior; However, my students are given a paper to write a reflection statement on what they did, how they feel about it, and how it affects others. We use the reflection statements as opportunities to learn life skills. These posts are old, but I wanted to write my current opinion on the subject matter.


I agree that it is bad to associate writing with tedious torture. But what I cannot stand is when a teacher makes the whole class write because there are two jackoffs misbehaving! it drives me nuts, this good suffer for the bad BS!


I indeed just gave one of my classes an assignment such as this. It was to write a 200 word paragraph on why you should not talk during class. I did not assign this to "punish them by making them write," I assigned this to make them think about the ramifications of their constant chatter on themselves as well as the rest of the class. Writing is an excellent way to get your ideas out and a great way for me to know that they gave it some thought. And maybe, just maybe they will think before they open their mouths tomorrow.


Rachel is an uneducated fool. Writing does nothing. First off, the kids wouldn't even write what they are given. Second, if you think they're putting thought into it, you are very unintelligent. All they do is write bullshit down. Why punish the whole class for one reject's misbehaving? Writing as punishment DOES put a bad association with writing.

Shannon Cathey

To comment on the teacher's Ralph section: My child was made to write sentences (125) for punishment for not showing his work in math. That is outlandish to me. Punishment in one subject for another.


Dr Paul

If discipline in the classroom is an issue. Then the teacher is not keeping the students on task. There are numerous studies on how positive re-enforcement is the key to management of behavior. Imposing punishment for behavior is a common practice. However, do children really understand the rules? What is unacceptable behavior? Our society has labeled what is acceptable and unacceptable. Posit there are laws that make certain actions punishable.
Aside from children committing acts that are punishable by law. What do we impose on children in our school systems as acceptable behavior and unacceptable? For example, running in the halls. Why is the unacceptable? One it can lead to personal injury. So, the rule prevents this occurrence. So, we are concerned with student safety. Pointing out to a student who violates this rule that he or she can cause injury to themselves or others would be a positive enforcement. However, having the student write 100 times “I will not run in the halls” only tells them the same rule. This does not teach them the consequence of their actions only re-tells them not to run. If the telling the student the rule was enough then they would have not committed the act.
Let us look at another example. In all cases if you go to the store and buy a electic drill you will find in instructions a safety warning “WEAR EYE PROTECTION”. Why does the manufacture tell us this? Because the use of a drill can present the environment that our eye can be injured by flying debris. So ,what are my consequences if we don’t wear eye protection, loss of sight. A pretty serious injury. Not sure I know anyone who wants to loss their sight. So, why do people not follow this precaution? They have never experience the consequence. So ,then if you see your friend not using eye protection will you impose the punishment of writing lines? “I WILL USE EYE PROTECTION” 100 times?
Of course not, your friend would think you are nuts. However, if you showed them examples of loss of sight (the consequence) then they might think about obeying the rule.
Writing lines to enforce behavior is a waste of time. The student will not learn consequences.

Dr Paul


Ask the student to stop disrupting the class. Explain how their behavior prevents others from learning. If they continue have them removed. Call the parents and point out the consequences of the child’s behavior. No, not continued punishment on the child. But their child’s disrupting class prevents others from learning.


In some ways, most of you have a point. We don't necessarily want writing to be seen as always something "awful" that has to be done. However, in the right context, I think it can be an appropriate response to misbehavior. For example, I have a student who recently took out another student's instrument and played with it without that student's permission (there was a substitute teacher in the room who was not aware that the instrument was not his - obviously, if I had been there, this would never have occurred in the first place). This student has a major problem with understanding the idea of respecting someone else's belongings, and detentions, referrals, etc have not been proven effective for this student. However, I am considering asking him to write an essay on why it is not ok to use someone else's instrument without permission - he needs to think about the consequences of his behavior from an intrinsic point of view. I believe this will more closely resemble a "natural consequence" than having him hang around after school staring at my wall.


My 9 year old brought had to 'write standards' as homework for misbehaving in class. I don't personally have an issue with it, and have on occasion had the kids write things here at home.


I am a teacher. I am also a parent whose son's whole 1st grade class had to write punishment because they were being loud in the hallway. How about have them write about what they did wrong and how they could change it next time (a reflective paper) or something. I don't send him to school so that he can constantly copy words off the board that have no meaning. He is a good kid and he is going to hate writing if the teacher continues this approach for discipline.


It's so easy for others to say, "You shouldn't make kids write sentences." What other suggestions do you have? Their punishment is not "writing"; it is writing sentences repeatedly. What you would like to call "writing" is not the same thing! In today's society, parents are not supportive of the teachers or the school. They expect the teachers/school to be their babysitter, counselor, doctor, teacher, etc. but not allowed to provide consequences or punishments. The consequences given may be the only consequences the student ever receives whether at school or at home. Nowadays, it's what the school has done wrong to the child, not about what the child has done wrong. There are too many parents coming to "defend" their child; that is part of the reason why classroom management fails. Children don't have to behave because their parents believe their kid "never does anything wrong," "they're a good kid," so they will come in and "take care of it." As for a whole class punishment, you try and see how easy it is to pick out, in one quick glance, all those that are misbehaving. I believe those who weren't misbehaving will be sure to point out those who were and influence them to stop.


I came to this post for a possible solution but only find excuses to why we shouldn't do it. I would love to hear an alternative to writing lines as a punishment. I'm all ears...

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