“It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants.  The question is: What are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau

As I was reading in bed,  I stumbled across the quote above and it really got me thinking about the learning that goes on in classrooms today.  There was a time, not so long ago sadly, that I would look across a crowded classroom and if there were heads bent over work, silence and moving pencils, I believed that good learning was occurring.  I don’t believe that anymore, not really.  I’m certainly not suggesting that learning can’t occur in these situations, I know it can.  I am simply suggesting that it doesn’t have to.

As I look back at my own teaching experience, how many times would I give out a “comprehension” assignment based on a reading to an entire class and then take the opportunity while the students work, to assist struggling students in concept attainment?  Many!  What’s wrong with that?  What may be wrong with that  is what we have the students doing in their desks may not be productive work that will enhance their skills for future learning – it may just be busy work.  The question that we need to ask as professionals is “How is the task that my students are involved in leading them to be ethical, engaged and entrepreneurial citizens of the future?”

If the work we are giving students is mindless, where they can memorize the night before and forget it once they have spewed it on to paper in the morning, then we really need to reevaluate what it is we are wanting from our society.  As two of my older kids prepare for their finals, putting in hours of time filling their heads with definitions and facts, I can’t help but wonder if they will have any retention of this in two weeks.  My kids have great teachers – don’t get me wrong.  It’s the system that really needs to be looked at.  They’ve had months of great instruction with lively debate, projects that they invested in and critical thinking exercises, and now, a huge chunk of their mark will be determined by a one shot evaluation.  Seems wrong to me somehow.

In ending this entry, just remember to give conscious thought to what your students are busy with.



Interesting Reads

Mindsets - Carol Dweck
Teaching Boys who struggle in School - Kathleen Palmer Cleveland
Drive - Daniel Pink
Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell



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