Off-task behavior

When I first started teaching, I was taught that the goal was to have students on-task for the entire class period. I operated this way for years. Now, it makes me uncomfortable to see kids chatting or otherwise wasting time. I don’t think this is a bad thing. But, lately, my classes have been challenging me in this area.

I will look around class and see students smiling, laughing and “chilling.” There’s a part of me that thinks it’s kinda fascist to feel that way. They can’t enjoy themselves?

So, either this post will be an exposure of the weakness in my methodology or it’s a revealing look at a paradigm change.

So, one of my foundational beliefs in running my class this way is that students should be given as many choices as possible. I am trying to give them the choice of what to learn, how to learn, and when to learn. One reason I don’t take off points for late work, and accept all late work as much is as reasonable is because I believe that some students take longer to learn something than others.

Kids can take advantage of this, obviously.

One thing I have been trying to do to combat this is to give detentions to students missing work and getting poor grades. I have also been using the school Teleparent (automated calling) system to call parents and let them know if students are missing work.

But, I also have had some thoughts on this matter. One is that I have been in lots of meetings with people I work with, in a variety of settings, not just education, and I have been part of and witness to people chatting and goofing off during times when they should have been on-task. These are adults. Also, I have witnessed adults putting off work and then doing it at the last minute.

So, why should I be surprised, or punitive, when teenagers do it?

Well, I should if my goal is to create obedient people who respect authority and weed out the troublemakers. But, if my goal is to teach students to think better and to acquire the skills described in the standards then maybe I can relax a little. Maybe those kids aren’t ready to learn it yet. Maybe they’re just being normal.

Some of my kids are happy getting a “C” in the class. This bothers me. Technically, that means they aren’t proficient. They are showing a basic proficiency, as in they understand the skill in a simple way, but there are some problems and errors. Shouldn’t I push them to achieve true proficiency?

Right now, my answer is, kind of. I am suggesting to them that they try again. But, some of them just don’t want to. English is hard for them and they’re happy. Haven’t I seen some adults decide that the minimum effort was enough for them? Yup.

So, I’m going to try something a little different. For some of these kids, I’m going to see if, having gotten a “C”, there’s something they would prefer to study or read. I mean, after all, they engaged the material the district required. They attempted and showed some proficiency with the standard. Maybe I can get them engaged in something else and then sneak the standard back in there.

To me, though, this points out the weakness of the system as it is designed currently. This assembly line mentality that all 165 of my students should be learning the same thing at the same time. And, that they will spend 56 minutes each day continuously working on it as well also seems ludicrous.

Why couldn’t I, as an educational professional, an experienced teacher, devise a specialized curriculum for students so they could pick different readings or different standards to acquire? Especially in these cases with students who struggle or traditionally quit, it seems like this would be very useful.

I’m going to continue to make my rounds in the class and ask students to get to work when they are goofing off. But, at the same time, I feel like I have to let them choose to not work sometimes. Otherwise, I’m being hypocritical. Am I off-base? I will grant that students notoriously make poor choices. But, my theory currently is that my role in the classroom is to be a guide and tutor. I should offer suggestions, supervise their behavior, and give instruction when requested or needed. But, maybe I should let kids make bad choices, too. Experience is a pretty good teacher, too.

Do you have any thoughts, Dear Reader?


2 thoughts on “Off-task behavior”

  1. Thanks for reading, Gary. What do you think about the off-task behavior? Is it tolerable to some degree? Is giving kids the autonomy a worthwhile methodology even if it means some kids choose to be satisfied with a “C”, or even a “D”?


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