Today I gave out extra assignments as punishment. As soon as the words left my mouth “and you will be completing an extra assignment for me tonight…” I instantly regretted it. It was an act of desperation. My lesson was failing, the kids were losing interest and I needed to get their attention back. So I resorted to handing out the extra assignment to gain everyone’s attention. It worked at getting the whole classes attention instantly but, I doubt that any lasting lesson was learnt by the students.
The reason I regretted it is because I was using school work as punishment and taking their personal time to do a boring irrelevant task for me. I am still wrestling with the idea with how I feel about using work as punishment.
One side of me feels that it builds the association of doing work with the negative feeling of being punished. While the other side of me thinks the extra work brings home the message that if you do not pay attention in class you will be given extra assignments to be done at home. *Side note perhaps my difficulty has to do with the fact that the assignment had nothing to do with the social studies I was teaching. But rather was an ELA exercise.*
The second and perhaps the most profound reason I hated doing this is because giving the two students extra work meant that they had less of their ‘home… kid time’ that evening. I truly do believe that students need to have that decompression time where they are allowed to relax and take it easy. I know I need that time in order to perform my best when teaching! The students in my class are all very busy. Like many young students they are engaged in a number of extracurricular activities from dance, music, gymnastics and swimming to name a few. So that makes their free time even that much more valuable to them!
It must be noted that the one student was actually very excited at the prospect of doing the particular assignment he was given. So is it really punishment if he likes doing it? Or is he really being challenged in class? The second student spoke to me about not having time to complete the assignment that evening due to having a dance class. He asked if he could possibly hand it in a day or two, I of course said yes because at that time I was shrinking under my guilt. (It was also nice to see how conscientiousness he was being about doing his work). I was shocked to see that the next morning both students dutifully handed in their work completed and ‘on time’. Lesson learnt some may say but amusingly enough, both were right back to chatting two days later! Lesson thought about but not learnt!
If I look back on it I must consider the students that got given the work. They are both hard workers, both high achievers and both highly motivated. Now imagine if I had given the assignment to students who were not motivated, who struggle in school and or have immense challenges at home.
What would the effect have been then?
Would they have handed it in the next day? Then what would the next step be? Take their recess time, until they did their pointless task. Would the work have been high quality work? Would they associate school with boring tasks? I imagine it would have had even less and more negative impact on them.
It may seem a bit silly to some but to me it really got me thinking about giving work to be done at home. As I struggled with my decision that afternoon and evening I told a few people about the struggle I was having. Almost everyone I spoke to said that there was no reason to feel bad and that it needed to be done in order to gain control and the attention of the whole class. But does it?
School should be a place to learn, a place to perform at your best. It shouldn’t be about control but rather a place where a community of learning takes place. Punishing students for inattention says as much about their ability to listen as it does about my ability to engage them. Lessons should be engaging, expectations for listening should be clear and all students should be given the space to learn.