Punishing Students for Behaving like Adults
I often wonder about how teachers set up rules for students that adults never have to worry about. Lateness, in particular, comes to mind. Adults show up a little late to stuff all the time... but they're on time for important things, and sometimes they're early. So why do I put so much mental energy into maintaining a military regime of punctuality? Sure, punctuality has some worth, but have we perhaps lost a bit of a sense of proportion?
Anyway that's not what's on my mind right now. I ran a whole series of 30 minute training sessions for our school conference this week. The sessions went wonderfully, with my colleagues attending in droves and having a ball, and learning heaps. By all measures I couldn't be happier with what was achieved.
But I noticed a whole series of interesting behaviours in my class of colleagues. Some didn't read the instructions on the board and got stuck for this reason, some raced far ahead of me, and some remained several steps behind. When I gave instructions, in my assertive, clear teacher voice, many of my colleagues were clearly tuned out, focused as they were on what they were doing at the time. Indeed they'd talk over me, incessantly.
I smiled to myself about this even at the time. All my colleagues wanted to learn, and they were getting on with it, in their own way, through experimentation, asking the person next to them, and yelling out for me to come over and help. It was very loud and chaotic, and wonderfully fruitful. They learnt far more than if I had insisted on confining them to some rigid master-plan, relying on an 'all eyes on me, listen to me!' approach.
The punchline, obviously, is that teachers try to eradicate the very behaviours that, from what I saw this week, go hand in hand with great organic learning.
I think we do this because we assume bad faith, like we're trying to get students to do something they don't want to do. Therefore, we have to wrench control of student behaviour. In the result, we sell ourselves and our students short, and learning limps along slowly and stressfully.
But if you assume good faith, then there's no need for control, and from the chaos springs great, often unexpected, and always idiosyncratic learning.
stamp on our students
when they display behaviours
that we ourselves display
when we're learning!