Thursday, May 26, 2011

One of my biggest pet peeves (If you read regularly, you know I have a LONG list....) is teachers giving students more work as punishment. Usually, this is a busy work assignment... some contrived worksheet to complete, some additional reading assignment, or whatever lame excuse for 'schoolwork' the teacher can think of off the cuff.

  • Teaching is about imparting not just content to students, but a love for the subject matter, a genuine interest to quest for more knowledge once the classroom door has been closed. In theory, teachers became teachers because they loved their subject matter so much they wanted to share that love with students. True teachers yearn to help mold new scientists, mathematicians, sociologists, writers... They want to see the learning process as it unfolds and awakens in young minds as they discover the excitement of new things. By giving the topic as a punishment the wrong message is sent to students. Now, writing, or reading, or whatever, becomes negative in their minds, something to hate and dread instead of something to yearn and quest for.

  • Punishment rarely accomplishes its goal. When possible, being proactive and keeping problems from occurring is much more effective, in all situations, but in particular in the classroom, than any after-the-fact punitive action. If your classroom is so out of control, giving additional busy work to keep the students 'occupied' is your only option for control, the problem is bigger than any punishment will solve. First off, many of your 'worst offenders' likely won't complete the additional busy work anyway, leaving it more of a burden for the 'good kids' who feel obligated to do anything and everything, while those you wish to punish will sit back and coast along, causing even more grief to the peace and tranquility the teacher is searching for.

  • Students know when the assignment is contrived and even the good students do not give these assignments their due attention. Any educational benefit you might have gained from the work, is lost to all. It is simply one more task to complete, one more mountain to climb. Likewise, teachers seldom even look at this work, making it even less meaninful.

  • Busy work assignments often aren't as 'punitive' as you think they are. Speaking as someone who did more than their share of writing "I will not talk in class" growing up, I quickly learned the fast way to completion. Write a column of "I", follow with a column of "will" and so on. If the process of writing "I will not talk in class" was supposed to make that statement stick in my head, the process was lost. Instead, I remembered, I-I-I-I-I-I, will-will-will-will-will, and so on, NOT "I will not talk in class." Students will find shortcuts to assignment completion, even the good kids. It really will be nothing more than busy work.

  • Fill your classtime with real learning, real engagement, real excitement. Then, your classroom management issues will dissolve, busy work won't be needed, students will be excited to come to class, and you will love sharing your enthusiasm and love of your subject with students and they will likewise love your class.


jclewis said...

I loved your post about being against giving busy work. I can definitely relate, after having taught for 4 years. I was also never really a fan of teaching to the test, for the same reasons. I hope you'll take some time to check out my website: I had teachers in mind when starting this site. I provide teachers with activities that they can incorporate into their classrooms (both ideas, and ongoing and active curriculum). I also have a database that teachers can join for free, to connect with families that may need tutoring or private teaching help.

Laurie said...

Your blog is always right on the money! It should be required reading for all teachers to be, as well as folks who forgot why they decided to become teachers.