The English Teacher

Busy Work, No Work

Another teaching practice that often grows into a teacher created discipline problem is 'busy work.' The term 'busy work' refers to work that is simply designed to keep the class busy. Often it is used to manage discipline problems. If a class has plenty of work to do, then there are few discipline problems [as the reasoning goes.] The students are too busy to cause problems. However, there are problems with this approach. First, if the class is to be kept busy, the best students have to have enough work to be kept busy for the desired period of time. Therefore, slower students will have homework for no other reason than class control, [not for learning]. A low grade hostility builds up toward the teacher and the subject.

When busy work becomes 'institutionalized,' among other teachers or the entire school, it creates such an overload of work for the slower students, that they have to 'buy out' of the system. They will always have more work than they can do because the work is assigned for control and not learning. Once a student or students buy out of the system, many of the usual discipline techniques no longer work because the student feels no longer connected with the educational process. They either have to quit the system or accept the label of failure because they can not keep up. *This giving up is also caused by assignments that are made quite difficult as a punitive measure. The punitive assignment usually has a great deal of value toward a grade. It may work for much of the class, but when one, two, or more students 'buy out' of learning and cooperating, then the punitive assignment does not create the effect that is intended .

Also, many students then take their 'buy-out' attitude on to the next school where they may resist all assignments, and not just 'busy work.'

The worst, teacher caused, discipline problem is class time with Nothing To Do, no direction. It would be better to say that the students could talk than to leave them to their own device, to determine what they could do, or what they could 'get away with.'

Return to: Strategies for Classroom Discipline