05 September 2011

Keep kids busy or they might start thinking

While reading Teacher Man, Frank McCourt makes the comment "Keep kids busy or they might start thinking."  He is talking about how too many teachers are just assigning work, yet they have little meaning for the students and rarely makes them think.

I had a conversation with a former supervisor over mandating summer assignments in all Honors science classes. The reason he gave me was: 1) we need to reduce the number of students who are dropping out of the honors program after school starts; this will hopefully scare a few of them off, 2) we need to provide assignments that keep the kids busy for the summer, and 3) we need to eliminate the summer slide that so many of them experience.  You can imagine my reaction.

Now, I am not opposed to summer assignments, but the kids need to find meaning in them.  Give them articles to read and perform research on or give them experiments to do in their kitchen so they can explain the science behind them (or food is always a great experiment) or let them pick their own book to read to demonstrate their understanding of theme or character development.  Don't give them copies of a textbook (which is what came out of my colleagues) and have them mindlessly complete exercises.  If the teachers don't want to grade it because it is so boring, what makes you think the students will want to do it?

One of my goals this year (a formal list will be coming later this week) is to have the students develop 1 assignment in each unit.  I will give them the requirements and the learning objectives and let them run with it.  If one of my classroom rules is going to be "Think Critically" then I need to give my students the opportunity to do so.

Am I wrong?