Beyond Pain and Punishment, II

Shortly after I published yesterday’s post, I was busy with my face-to-face students.  It was the first day of a new reporting period,  but in each class, a few students needed to finish the culminating tasks from the last one.

  • Some Latin I students needed to finish recording the videos of their “familia novissima” experiencing a “cena novissima.”
  • Some at every level needed to do their individual-response task, a short prepared reading of each student’s choice and a short unfamiliar reading.
  • Some of us had finished, so Latin I classes had a vocabulary consolidation activity you can find here, and the start of a motto-creating activity that will continue over the next few weeks.

More about all of those later.

Our culminating tasks were very different from factory-model assessment – no multiple-choice tests, no scan sheets, just students using language in meaningful, authentic situations.  Good news: My face-to-face school district has begun to embrace this type of 21st-century assessment in our world-language classes.  Better news: The products themselves were really good. Even my not-so-focused students rose to the challenge and demonstrated their levels of linguistic and cultural proficiency.  Best news: even the most grade-focused students were as interested in their strengths and weaknesses – and in how they could improve – as in how the rubric levels translated into those all-important numbers.

So, in many ways, it was a very successful day.  And I expect to say more about those successes another day.

But today I want to focus on what happened while I was listening to individual assessments and while groups were filming, waiting to film, or working on the other tasks – the times when my students really had to manage themselves.

That wasn’t so successful.  I wish I could forget how many times I had to stop and ask people to manage their volume level or manage their behavior or manage their attention or … manage themselves.

Some of my most brilliant, amazing students are dismal failures at self-management – at least in school!

Why is that?

Partly because they’re teenagers, and teenagers (in our society) are self-absorbed.  They don’t think about the effects of their  actions on others. When you work with teenagers (in our society), you expect to spend time helping them develop empathy and self-awareness.

But self-absorption explains occasional redirections, not a constant chorus!

Maybe my students aren’t good at managing themselves in school because they’re not expected to.  The pain and punishment system – the factory-model system – is built on external forms of management.  Wherever students go at school, an authority figure is there to manage things for them, to manage them.  Why? Because factories have external management – or did when factory-model schools were designed.  Factories also have bells to signal the start and end of shifts – or they did.  Schools punish children for being late because … well, you know.  And we have short breaks for meals – and people monitoring our “workers” as they eat and use the bathroom – because, well, you know, factories do.

Or did in 1920.

Hardly any factories have shift bells anymore , and hardly any of our students will work in a factory.  But the factory-model school endures.  It functions as designed even though hardly anybody remembers why.

It’s like the story of the roasting pan: funny, but sad.

As we move beyond pain and punishment to design a replacement for factory-model learning, we need structures that build up our learners’ executive function and self-management.  But how do you build a self-control system when all you’ve ever known is other-control?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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Published in: on October 2, 2012 at 9:42 am  Comments (5)  

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  1. Once again, I appreciate and enjoy the observations you have made in today’s post. You bring up some very good points about self-control and intrinsic motivation. I have pondered the questions you’ve posed, but I haven’t come up with many solutions. Although the majority of teenagers are usually self-centered, if they know how much something they do bothers someone else, they usually change their behavior (as is true for most of the human population). It’s more of an awareness issue, I think, than actual lack of empathy: It’s not that they don’t care about others, they just don’t know what they are doing affects others (and if they did, they would “feel” for that person). Even if they are told it, until they experience it for themselves, I don’t think they can truly be aware of it. Then the problem becomes: “How can we demonstrate that this is a problem to some people?” I wonder if it is even possible to demonstrate to a person who is adept at processing many things, for example, that some people are unable to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Could it somehow be shown?

    Another great post! I can’t wait to read more of your observations of factory-modeled schools and alternatives.

    • Glad you liked this post as well! And I agree: when teenagers (or adults, for that matter) act in annoying or frustrating ways, it’s much more about awareness than about deliberate malice. We had a good discussion about those issues in all of my classes today. I have a small but significant cluster of students in each class who really are able to process multiple channels of auditory input pretty well: they can hear what I’m saying to them or what the class is discussing AND the conversations they’d like to have with their friends. I’m that way too, so “sidebar” conversations don’t really bother me. But they do bother my less-auditory learners, and they also send an unfortunate, stereotype-promoting message to any adult visitor who isn’t familiar with teenagers: “Those darn kids are loud and rude and disrespectful and – get OFF my LAWN!” There’s a great conversation going on about this series of post on for Monday’s post and for today’s post.

      I’ve been thinking about ways to demonstrate the effect, but I’m not quite sure how to do it best. Maybe a multiple-visual-input, extremely busy, flashing PowerPoint that they’re supposed to “pay attention” to? That might work for folks who aren’t visual learners.

      More observations on factory-model schools and alternatives are on the way. And of course you can find some more observations on the I’m keeping for the MOOC this fall.

      Thanks again for your inspiring and thoughtful comments! I hope we can get something like a Three Column School started in your area pretty soon.

  2. […] comments on yesterday’s post, anarbitraryauthor and Laura raised a pair of critical issues related to our search for […]

  3. […] that explains some of the loss of focus I talked about on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Maybe it’s the unsuccessful pattern some of my students have followed […]

  4. […] students theoretically know how our end-of-reporting-period assessments work. But they were still anxious on Monday and Tuesday.  ”What will our midterm be like? […]


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