Monday, March 19, 2012

Meaningful Busywork

Is there such a thing?

An interesting article on the subject from Psychology Today that looks at both the student/parent perspective (why should I do something I already know?) and the teacher perspective (not all work can be thrilling, and sometimes it just needs to be done). The article cites Carol Ann Tomlinson who states that work should be "respectful"; that is, teachers should take into account student ability, weakness and preferred modality when assigning work.

Yes, of course we should.

There is a big "however."

Some work is going to be tedious. There is no getting around it. The professional tennis player hits 300 backhands in a row during practice. The professional pianist practices scales and chords until their hands are numb. HoneyFern School, on Friday, sifted through buckets and buckets of fine silt and sand to look for macroinvertebrates in our adopted stream. These are tedious, time-consuming, occasionally mind-numbing tasks. HOWEVER. They are a means to an end, part of the larger process, and thoroughly necessary.

Don't get me wrong; there are some wretched teachers out there still assigning 30 problems of homework a night to students who can demonstrate mastery in 10. They are assigning 3rd grade spelling lists to students who are reading/writing on a high school level. Those assignments, my friends, are busywork. The problem with busywork becomes when there is no grander purpose, and no attention paid to the individual who is receiving the work.

Attention, though, students and parents. I am not a tap-dancing pony. I do not wear bells or a frilly cuff. Although I do my best (with your help!) to make learning that applies to you, there will be things that are not thrilling or exciting. Yes, my 3rd grade tutoring student, you must learn your multiplication tables. Yes, my 6th grade student, you must properly cite your sources in your research essay. When we try to make everything fun, we fail miserably. Some things in life are not fun; laundry, dishes and vacuuming spring to mind. But if we want clean clothes, something to eat our food from and to win the War Against Dust Bunnies, we must do all of these things.

(Or else assign these chores to your children. Just kidding. Sort of. Not really.)

The point is that if a teacher needs to have an ultimate objective that takes the student into account, and they need to be able to explain why the task is necessary. For gifted kids, fake explanations that are manipulative will be easily spotted, and the teacher will lose all street cred instantly. The truth is that not everything is fun, but if it is connected to something meaningful then, although still tedious, it may be a little easier to digest.

Off to wake up The Child. We have some dishes to do.

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