Routine Tasks in the Classroom

 

I’m a teacher, but I’m also a parent, and I’ve occasionally had disagreements with my kids’ teachers. Once a teacher complained to me about my daughter’s resistance to doing routine stuff like copying out spelling words repeatedly. “Most of our lives as adults,” she said to me, “consist of doing repetitive, boring, routine tasks.”

My reaction: “Not my kid.” I hope I didn’t actually say that, because I know — as a teacher — how it sounds, but I remember that I thought it.

That kid is now a data analyst for a global firm, doing no routine tasks at all. And it’s not just my kid. The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide shares a chart from Educational Leadership that shows the kinds of tasks that are on the rise in the American workforce, and the kind that are becoming steadily less needed and less valuable:

  • Increasing at an incredible rate: complex communication and expert thinking
  • Decreasing dismally: routine cognitive work and routine manual work

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. In our global economy, the routine jobs are increasingly automated (that is, done by machines) or outsourced to less expensive labor in countries with a lower cost of living. It isn’t the case now, and it certainly won’t be when our students enter the workforce, that only special people that

The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide goes on to suggest that we consider whether “teacher who are only information dispensers, book readers, babysitters, and multiple choice quiz givers” might also be replaced by machines, but even if we’re not worried about that, we should be thinking about the value to our students of learning to do repetitive, routine, boring work.

Let’s say that we want our students to develop some basic tech skills.We could use something like Mouserobics to help students learn to use a mouse — but there are so many games and activities online which involve pointing and clicking that we can just give the students something fun, challenging and/or informative instead. No disrespect intended to the creators of Mouserobics, but try this experiment: try out Mouserobics and also 15 Puzzle. Which required self-discipline to complete? Which required self-discipline to stop playing?

Are you thinking that our students need to learn self discipline? I agree. However, they don’t need to learn the self-discipline involved in doing repetitive clerical tasks. They need to learn the self discipline involved in continuing to work on a challenging problem, the self discipline involved in collaborating well with others, and the self discipline involved in following a process rigorously.

If you want your students to do repetitive things, choose something like digging holes and refilling them, so they’ll get some cardiovascular benefit.

Look at all the hands-on minds-on ways we can let students practice with point, click, drag, drop, zoom, and pan:

We could go on (and please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments). The point is, nearly any basic skill can be practiced in the course of a game or an open-ended project. If it can’t be, then maybe it’s not a task worth practicing.

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2 Comments

  1. You are absolutely right! I am always worried about developing consistency and routine in the classroom in order to assist in classroom management. My class starts every day the same way, with a Do Now posted on the board. It gives my students a task immediately upon entering the classroom, so as to not waste instructional time. It always helps to activate prior knowledge to begin my lessons.

    However, you are correct in that “routine” is becoming less and less the norm in the workplace. The reality is that things like meetings, students asking for extra help, and assemblies are always popping up changing our plans as teachers. We need to learn to adapt to something new and/or unexpected on a daily basis. Incorporating “non-routine” into daily lessons will help to give students the tools they need to adapt to higher-level thinking jobs in the future.

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