A parent of one of my former students forwarded this video to me today.
The student in this video is my kind of kid. As Jeff Bliss of Duncanville High is getting kicked out of class, he beautifully articulates what too many kids go through. In the video he’s talking to his teacher, expressing his frustration about how they’re being taught.
He says to his teacher that kids need to learn “face to face”, that “if you want kids to get excited you gotta make em’ excited.”
“You want a kid to change and start doing better you gotta touch his freakin’ heart. Can’t expect a kid to change if all you do is just tell ‘em.”
“You gotta take this job seriously, this is the future of this Nation. And when you come in here, like you did last time and make a statement about: “Oh this is my pay-check.” Indeed it is. But this is my countries future and my education.”
“Since I got here, I’ve done nothing but read packets, so don’t try to take credibility for teaching me jack.”
WATCH THE VIDEO:
The Problem with Packets
“Packets” refer to a groups of worksheets or other copies, stapled together and passed out for classwork or homework. I’ve had to bite my tongue plenty while working with teams of dedicated teachers who still insisted on overusing packets. And now, I coach many students who “hate” packets. Unfortunately, by the middle school level, students often associate this disdain with school, teachers and subject matter. It’s sad. While packets aren’t inherently “bad” there are some common problems with the way many teachers use them:
- They’re usually the same for all students regardless of diverse learning needs
- They often feel like boring, meaningless busywork
- They’re rarely engaging
- They can teach kids to resent school
- They’re impersonal
- They don’t “teach”
In my experience, most teachers who stay in the profession more than a couple years are very well-intentioned, caring, dedicated, hard working people. So why do so many rely on packets?
- It’s what they’ve seen modeled in schools for years and few question it. Questioning school protocols and going against the grain is ironically frowned upon for people who are supposed to teach critical thinking.
- They are convenient- Easy to manage and grade.
- They are often an easy way to “teach to the test.” Many teachers give this sort of busywork for homework so they can better meet school “accountability” goals, not because they find true value for the learners.
- Breaking out of this box is uncomfortable for teachers.
- It requires unconventional and inconvenient methods of teaching and assessment that give a clearer picture of how a student is learning.
- It requires not following the herd.
- It requires creativity, time, energy and frankly, teachers are sapped.
- It requires support from administrators to be creative, to try new things, to focus less on data and standardization and more on the complex needs of the human beings they are serving.
Alternatives to Packets
Make content engaging. As an educator, it’s my responsibility to make content engaging, fun, interesting, to empower students to find value in the content. It’s also my responsibility to make it into bite sized pieces, and bite sized is different for different students and is largely dependent on executive function-a topic teachers need to master soon. Teaching is a science AND an art. “Differentiating” instruction is one of the artistic aspects that packets don’t address.
Guide students to do engaging, interest based projects. Focus more on developing interests, passions, strengths, talents and curiosities.
Give students as much choice as possible in terms of the content they are learning, the process by which they learn it and the product they use to show their learning. Yes, when properly guided, students are actually capable of making excellent learning choices.
Give students the right amount of structure. Some need more, some less. Yes, this requires more time and effort by our overworked and underpaid teachers (and that’s another story altogether).
Rethink grades completely. What do they really “mean?” How are they used? What alternatives can be used to assess true learning?
Rethink homework. Thoroughly question how valuable a homework assignment truly is. If it’s legitimately valuable to a student, great, if not, what are we doing?
About the Teacher
It’s tempting to blame the teacher, but her inability to teach is really sad. Imagine going to college for 4 years, excited about being a teacher and helping kids. Imagine starting your career without proper support and leadership, being overworked, underpaid, undervalued. Imagine getting burned out, losing family time in exchange for grading papers and planning lessons due to inadequate planning time at work and an overwhelming workload.
It’s easy to blame the teachers, but they are often not given what they need to serve students to the best of their ability. Teachers need to be led by real leaders who help them develop their craft. If a teacher is properly led and still can’t connect with students, sure, get rid of them now. But if they are properly supported and encouraged, most of them can better serve our kids.
What do you think?
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Wow!! I’m a teacher in Canada. I’ve been teaching music for many years and have recently moved to teaching the core subjects in the middle school classroom. In Canada, we’re a little unfamiliar with “packets” outside a university environment. I find the views of the student extremely powerful, insightful and true. You bring up many valuable points about differentiated learning. I find as teachers, we get bogged down by the weight of the “curriculum”. Curriculum is nothing more than the WHAT of teaching, not the HOW. All the great buzz words we use in education are there to make our lives easier not harder. My greatest success in the classroom comes from co-created (student & teacher) rich tasks, collaborative inquiry amongst teachers, and planning – planning creative projects with enough time built in to WORK ON IT. Like teachers, students need time to engage. Students need the time to connect, discuss, and braid new and old thinking. My goal each year (although sometimes hard to maintain) is to plan less filler (pointless tasks) and more creative projects that touch on multiple disciplines at once – math, language, social studies, etc…come on, this isn’t new to any of us. For some reason, it’s just hard. We need to work hard! Stick to our values and teach well. Thanks for the sight. It inspires me to reflect on my teaching practices.
-First of all, thanks for all you do to teach kids! I know how challenging it is to switch subjects, especially multiple subjects. It takes a great deal of time and dedication so thank you.
-Yes, curriculum is the WHAT. In the “Content, Process, Product” paradigm (which I find very valuable), the WHAT is the content and the HOW is the process. It’s awesome that you create learning experiences WITH your class. Many teachers are afraid to “let go of control” in this way, but the truth is that the students become much more engaged and that the learning is remarkably MORE meaningful, useful and powerful.
-And I’m so glad you mentioned engagement time, because learning isn’t about the finished product, it’s about the journey. Time… So often teachers rush students to “finish their busywork” rather than engage in a meaningful process.
-Keep going in the direction you’re headed- as you say, it’s hard to create projects that are truly engaging as well as interdisciplinary, and I’d be happy to dig up some of my creatively differentiated projects for you, if interested.
-Thanks for sharing!