Thursday, October 10, 2013

Busy work: A learning style that doesn't work (blog six)

I'm going to invert the prompt and discuss something on my mind: that is, busy work--a learning style that never works for me.

There are various ways to "hammer home" a subject. These can be useful in elementary settings, as some things (grammar, basic arithmetic, etc.) just need to be memorized and cataloged in one's mental economy for later reference. However, in advanced learning settings, these methods should not be used. Indeed, they are insulting to students operating from more developed intellectual curiosity.

I am going to briefly discuss a terrible tendency of educators to rely on busy work as evidence for students' comprehension. Busy work is work intended in many cases to merely give them something to do. Even at its best--and probably a residual effect of capitalist mentality--busy work is used as a way for a student's learning to have a material form.

Unfortunately, however, busy work is antithetical to developing one's intellectual curiosity about anything. Quite to the contrary, busy work is an excellent way for your student to develop an antagonistic relationship to whatever you're teaching. Busy work--for example, asking a student to take time out of their day to extend their thoughts on some minor issue discussed in class for which they don't actually care--invites students to care even less for whatever will be discussed in the future.

The busy work looms over the student's mind, and it muddles any concern the student may have otherwise had about a subject's intricacies--the subtleties that can speak to the individual student. Busy work attaches itself like a parasite to all aspects of a class, and it prevents the student from following up on the one interesting thing they may have otherwise chased, because they were instead bombarded by a slew of forced responses and reflections. Subtle and personally meaningful interests are asphyxiated by the tyrannical demands of busy work.

Outside of the chains of busy work, engaging in the subject in a meaningful discourse (in class) sparks particular interests for students, which blossom into deep research, and personal/intellectual development. The seeds of intellectual growth are planted by clearly articulated objectives and standards for what a student is to learn over the course. The mile wide and inch deep request for responses, far from eliciting further investigation, never rises above that status of annoying and time-consuming busy work.


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