The Simplest Things…
Sometimes it’s the really obvious things that are the hardest to spot… and the first we should change… Following a fascinating chat with a very bright teacher I’ve realised that there’s a strong case for making some changes to the way we approach ‘punishments’.
Every now and again, I have to supervise ‘detention’. I sit in a room with the Usual Suspects and growl at them if they dare to raise their heads from the laminated edition of the school rules they are copying. I have often suspected that the theory behind detention is to create an environment of such stultifying and oppressive dullness that the pupils would rather behave than be assigned after-school detention… except it patently does not work. As I’ve already mentioned, the fact that detention is the resting place for pretty much the same people week after week after week after… means that rampant boredom is not too effective as a deterrent. This is not good…
I’m an English teacher first and foremost, and so part of my passion is directed towards encouraging pupils to read and write. I love books and literature and do try to get this across to my classes with varying degrees of success. In any given class, I can expect to find the full spectrum of ability — everyone from the fluent to the strugglers. Sadly, one thing is reasonably predictable in all this and that is that the strugglers make up most of the ‘detention’ clientele. So… here’s the really obvious problem that was pointed out to me by a pretty smart colleague:
Why are we using writing as a punishment? What message is this sending out? How can we ‘sell’ writing as something worthwhile and fun… while we are using it as a punishment?
Given these questions, it’s not really a surprise to think that there might be a relationship between using writing as a punishment and kids becoming even more reluctant to write… I’m certainly keen to move writing away from being a punishment as soon as possible, but what should I try as an alternative? My sense-of-humour thinks I should get them to draw pictures in an effort to make them hate art, but I’d rather be positive instead.
So, having already been given occasion to think by one teacher, I’d like to know what suggestions you might have. Is it possible to have ‘punishment exercises’ that are not going to further dissuade reluctant learners, and if so, what are they?