Why “off task” is OK

By McQuinn https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcquinn/2302823476/in/gallery-38392447@N05-72157623450240233/

By McQuinn https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcquinn/2302823476/in/gallery-38392447@N05-72157623450240233/

My friend Russ tweeted this quote (questioning it):

“Every spare moment in our classrooms should be packed full of engaging, learning opportunities.” from The Edvocate.

I replied that I’m ok with students being off task sometimes. You see no one is always “on.” We all get distracted sometimes and we also need brain breaks. This may not have been the point of the post, but I often hear people talk about students like they need to make sure that they are working hard on what they are “supposed to be doing” every second of the day.

I think that there are a couple of dangers with this attitude. For one the teacher can become a taskmaster that is always policing the room. The teacher then is seen as an adversary by students, rather than someone to learn with. I think this kind of teacher rarely reflects on the types of activities in their class and whether boredom is the cause of the off task behavior.

Secondly we miss the opportunities to teach students self management. Rather than worrying about whether students are on task we should focus on teaching students to set deadlines and meet them in regards to their projects and work. Successful students already do this and are viewed as “good” students by many. I wonder how many of our “struggling” students are really just students lacking organizational and time management skills?

In the past I have not done enough to seek out the reasons why students are not meeting deadlines. This year I will conference more with students who fall behind and facilitate a conversation to help them figure out how to keep up in class. I will support them in organizational skills as needed.

Finally, sometimes it is ok to just have fun in class for no specific reason. As Dean Shareski always says we need more joy in schools. Sometimes that does not look like a learning experience, and that is ok. Humor, joy, and relationships are the building blocks of trust that will allow deeper learning later. Humans were not designed to always be working. We need to remember our students’ humanity.

7 thoughts on “Why “off task” is OK

  1. Wm Chamberlain

    I wonder how we incorporate this into our daily activities too. We have been talking about running/biking and lately the consensus has been to run less for time or speed and more for simply enjoying the activity. I suspect this has a lot to do with the need for slack.

    1. Michael Kaechele Post author

      I think this comes from the overtesting and hyper critique of schools accountability. Teacher feels pressured to make sure that students are always working toward some learning target that will be evaluated later.

  2. Russ

    One phrase that gives me the willies is “learning opportunities.” There’s an implication that those “opportunities” are created by teachers for students. Yes, much of what we do as teachers is create those opportunities, but teacher-created, teacher-led should not take up “every spare moment” of a student’s day.

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  4. Matt Miller

    Great thoughts, Mike. It does seem that if a student is off-task, I’m immediately trying to get them back on-task. As a student goes throughout the entire day, they have to be “on” for 7 different teachers for 8ish hours every day. I’m not “on” all the time. I like the idea of conferencing on time management/organizational skills. Thanks!

  5. Kathryn Roth

    I agree. I do not believe it is beneficial for students to be “on” the entire time they are in school. Brain breaks, talking breaks, laughing are all great ways to revive students. Everyday I give my students a ten minute snack/brain break. Over the years my administration has encouraged me to have students eat during instruction or independent work. I have always pushed back. I believe that after 90 minutes of focused time the students should have a break before we jump into the our next instructional block. Allowing them that time to take a break, talk to their peers and eat their snacks all allow for productive work in the second period of the day. In addition, I also need to take a quick break and refuel myself. It helps me get ready mentally for the next block and I too feel refueled and ready to go.

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