After describing some of her worse teacher moments telling children off for their mess (beautifully and reassuringly described, as might be expected from her), Vivian Gussin Paley offers her thoughts on teacher intervention in disruptive play:
She first discusses how a young boy’s testing-out of concepts through play created disruption, then writes: “He is acting out ‘mistake.’ Break down and repair; mess up and correct; knock apart and rebuild. Bad crash and all, it looks more like thoughtful practice than random damage.
this trial and error method can work well only in a classroom that avoids punishment as a learning tool. Jason and the others are free to experience good and bad, sense and nonsense, without a punitive finale. Harmful acts are stopped, of course, [-p.86] but the absence of ‘or else…’ means that the children and I can use one another’s mistakes and misunderstandings as lessons in cause and effect.
Most of our errors, teachers’ and childrens’ alike, are errors in judgement. I have made many but none so serious, in my view, as the long ago ‘time-out chair.’ I, who never would have put a dunce cap on a child or put someone in a corner, nevertheless have used this alternate means of removing children from an area of conflict in order for them to ‘think’ about their misbehavior. The fact that the same children always sat on the chair did not make me think about its effectiveness.
I repeated my illogical behavior far more often than Jason has flown his helicopter off course, but we both stopped our unrewarding intrusions only when we began to listen to the children’s stories. Drama will always replace purposelessness if given a chance.
How could ‘locking up’ a child, even in a centrally located chair, be a substitute for reason and discourse? The image of being locked up is a common fantasy in story and play, but there, at least, the element of personal control, social growth, and intellectual stimulation are possible outcomes. My chair offered silence, anger, and now way out. A child can no more think about social behavior in the abstract than I can teach in the abstract. Children ‘think’ by continuing to play and develop new roles; teachers ‘think’ by observing the ways in which each child moves out of an untenable position and begins to make sense of the classroom.” (pp.85-86)
Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) pp.85-86 Vivian Gussin Paley (1990) The Boy who Would be a Helicopter: the uses of storytelling in the classroom. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England.