|surveying my classroom like|
It wasn't my finest moment, but I was angry.
I still am.
The article, bestowed with the inflammatory title "The Tyranny of Being On Task" seeks to remind us that science says brain breaks are good and that it's okay if your kids don't look engaged because they might be processing differently. I have thoughts about that - that are generally positive - but we need to talk about this title. I understand that it did just what it was supposed to: make me click. But I had my mind made up about this article before the page loaded. (Never mind my aversion to the particular hashtags in the retweet.) The "tyranny" of being "on task." Really?
It's cruel and unreasonable, nay, oppressive to teach our students to expand their attention spans? I truly believe that it is part of my job to teach students how to do things that they are not doing outside of my classroom, and that means attending to a task at hand. Pretty sure that doesn't make me Mussolini. As a professional, I have the skills necessary to adjust techniques when attention is waning, but throwing science at me that says "kids can't do this because executive functioning" prompts me to tell you that improving executive function requires practice. Everything. Requires. Practice. (And don't even get me started on the deep attention anyone will give to something they are extremely engrossed in doing.)
If the rebellion of off task behavior - complete disengagement from the activities at hand - to throw off the shackles of enforced on task behavior is students needing a dopamine hit as is proposed by the article above, I'd say the advice to "smile and laugh more" and "move more" are disingenuous. If students are disengaging from instruction or activity entirely, it's a pedagogy issue, not what I'm doing with my face. And I would hope that the advice I got from someone evaluating me would not include, "smile more, sweetie." I would hope for concrete help with specific instructional deficits.
And this is my problem with clickbait headlines with just enough scientific backing to not be an opinion piece: we know as teachers that movement and rapport with our kids is good. We also know that having our kids on task is good. But then something like this comes along and says, "Welp, your kids can't really be expected to be on task, and you're a tyrant for wanting them to be, so let kids be kids." and then rehashes brain breaks for the umpteenth time and ends with this:
In fact, brain breaks help us as educators to rethink the binary nature of on task and off task and to realize that all the work is on task and helpful to children as they learn and grow. (Miller, 2017)What? That's not your thesis from before, which appears to beg this question:
Why do we demand on task behavior when it is not equivalent to student engagement? (Miller, 2017)
I'm left shaking my head. I suppose maybe I need the context that in the author's situations, brain breaks (I chafe at that term, by the way) are considered off task. I've never thought of them that way. It's like saying recess is bad. Or that passing periods are unnecessary. Is there a despot somewhere - is The Trunchbull actually out there? I've never encountered these teachers, but if there's writing like this, they must exist.
But this writing? It's just not that helpful. My hope for us as educators is that enough of us will start wanting to have actual discourse about the hows of teaching. There is beautiful, valuable work going on with the whys of equity through #EduColor and others, but all of us who love teaching need some concurrent work. We need to talk less about lofty philosophies, create fewer damn acronyms, and really speak to each other about what works and doesn't in our rooms with the real kids we have in front of us.
And not just so I don't have to rant about articles like this.