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Book Review: Better Than Carrots or Sticks

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” –widely attributed to Frederick Douglass, pg 1

I’m beginning my review of Dominique Smith, Douglas B. Fisher and Nancy Frey’s excellent book Better Than Carrots or Sticks: Restorative Practices for Positive Classroom Management in the same way they begin the first chapter: a reminder that what we do in the classroom can have lasting effects into adulthood.

This book was precisely what I was looking for after reading quite a bit of theory: real life stories from real classrooms and actual restorative activities, language and procedures to put into practice. I strongly agree that the most important question we ask ourselves about restorative practice is “why,” because the values that underpin how we address behaviors, or what kind of classroom and school atmosphere we create lead us to the right kind of “hows.”

But that doesn’t negate my strong desire to also have some ideas of where to start with the “how” of restorative practice, and this book gave many specific examples. Some of my favorites were:

  • descriptions of different types of circle processes and what situations they might be good for;
  • Ways to empower students who are struggling with behaving positively by giving them “jobs” in the classroom;
  • Techniques for de-escalation of tense and emotional situations;
  • Matrix of questions to ask to understand better what happens before and after a behavior by examining the ABCs of behavior: antecedent to behavior, behavior itself, consequences of behavior;
  • scaffolding language for expressing needs and opinions in ways that are healthy

The last on the list was especially helpful as a language teacher, because while native speakers of a language may need help with learning how to express themselves, in a language classroom where students may be using an L2, it seems extremely likely that they will need scaffolding help.

Quality, Meaningful Instruction as a Restorative Practice?

The book had a section that introduced a new idea to me. While I think all educators agree that quality and meaningful instruction (which includes high and consistent standards for students) are what we’re aiming for, I had never thought seriously about the idea that well-prepared lessons that engage are a form of restorative practice.

The authors focused on these area related to instruction:

  • Using Formative Assessment–assessment that is used to reteach where needed, not as punishment or reward.
  • Gradual Release of Responsibility–teaching in ways that allow for students to have chances to take charge of their own learning.
  • Purposeful Learning–“students have the fundamental right to know what they’re expected to learn, why they’re expected to learn it, and how they will be expected to demonstrate their understanding.” (pg 35)
  • Collaborative Learning–engaging with learning tasks together with peers and teachers; not just listening to lectures.

This speaks to the broader truth that Restorative practices and discipline are not outside of the academic part of our classrooms, but woven throughout. Including this section on instruction helped me to understand that principle in a deeper way.

I highly recommend the book as a great jumping off point for those interested in implementing restorative practices in their classroom. It also has an excellent bibliography with lots of other texts that might be of interest in the same field.



One thought on “Book Review: Better Than Carrots or Sticks

  1. Thanks for your review of this book. I need to add that one to my pile! There is an excellent video with Douglas Fisher talking about the gradual release of responsibility (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjURdvzty4c). I so much agree with the statement that “restorative practices and discipline are not outside of the academic part of our classrooms”. Many issues termed as “classroom management” are related to kids not being interested or engaged or not seeing a purpose in what they do in the classroom. Thanks again.


    Posted by Marg Epp | March 7, 2016, 1:02 pm

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Contributing Author

Abigail Long is a 2012 graduate of Messiah College in Grantham, PA, and a member of Fairview Ave Brethren in Christ Church in Waynesboro, PA. She spent 14 months teaching English in South Korea at the Connexus Language Institute and is deeply interested in the connections between language learning, teaching and peacebuilding.

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