The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.John Maynard Keynes
I write this as an educator who is no longer in the classroom (and I’m aware that any number of people will stop reading right there since I’m not “in the trenches” any more, which is a horrible expression to use in education. Do you really feel like you’re involved in trench warfare with your students on a daily basis?).
I spend my days helping teachers integrate technology in their classrooms, although lately much of that work has been focused on “how-tos” rather than “why-tos” as we deal collectively with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (my thoughts on how we’re doing on that front will come soon), scrambling to provide some sort of remote learning options for students that involve something other than mountains of paper packets that seem little more than to-do lists for students.
Ultimately, we’re replacing paper packets with digital packets. We’ve taken the work that students did during in-person instruction and replicating it in a digital manner. Mostly motivated by convenience but based in our never-ending hunt for higher test scores. We give students assignments that are aligned to a standard, make them practice that standard, and move on.
We can say we covered the content, that students have seen everything that’s going to be on “the test” and we can lay our heads down at night knowing we’ve done our best.
At least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves. And our students keep turning that work in, day after day.
Or do they?
During my years in the classroom, I was well aware of the number of students (shockingly high) who chose to, rather than complete work that was assigned to them through Google Classroom (and likely other LMSs but I am most familiar with Classroom), simply clicked on the “Turn In” button to submit the assignment.
I won’t spend time arguing about whether or not it is great design that students can submit an assignment at any time they choose (which is 100% the case with Classroom and, BTW, it’s a terrible design but I don’t have a recommendation for fixing it) but I will spend some time on why I think my students, and yours, choose over and over again.
Please keep in mind, I’m not laying blame here. What we are dealing with right now in education is unprecedented and we really are all doing the best that we can to get through it.
I could go on and on about why students just click the “turn in” button when they have work to do. I could speak from the viewpoint of those who contend students are a sneaky lot, looking for every opportunity to get out of work.
We won’t talk about the number of adults who actively cut corners every day in every profession around the world.
I could talk about parents who aren’t engaged in their student’s education but frankly that’s just mean. Parents have enough on their plate, especially when the world is seemingly turning upside down, more jobs are being lost every day, riots are happening almost daily, and some folks have been in their homes for six months without a break. So I won’t even go there.
Here’s what I think: students are just turning in the work without doing any work because they don’t give a damn about the work you’re giving them.
Yes, that’s harsh. Trust me, I’ve been there myself. Many, many times.
Yes, I know that no matter what work you have students do, no matter how engaging, purposeful, applicable to their future lives, and downright incredible and exciting, there will always be some students that just don’t engage and do the work. I get it. I’m still holding my ground
You and I can get as righteously indignant as we like, it will not change this truth. We’re stuck in our comfort zones of giving students work that, in the grand scheme of their lives, has little to no lasting impact.
When’s the last time you needed to remember how to do that 4th grade math problem that had no application outside of completing a worksheet? When’s the last time you needed to spell that word correctly and didn’t have a way to either look it up or have some device spellcheck it for you?
I could go on but I won’t. I’ll finish with this:
We have an opportunity to change what school means for millions of students around the world. We may never have this opportunity again.
Will we take advantage of it? Or will we only be concerned with continuing to assign work that has no meaning and only prepares them to get better scores on standardized tests that don’t mean anything when you’re 35 years old and are having trouble making your rent?
What do you think?