Grudgingly, the first period English III class took out their more than 100 written-response questions, some wondering why these questions were important.
Social studies and English teacher Angela Perry, handed a stack of Huckleberry Finn paperbacks to the first person in each row and then watched them pass back the novels. The students flipped through the 44-chapter book, searching for the answer to one of the questions. While some of her students considered the assignment to be “busywork,” Perry believed the questions were necessary for her students to understand details about the plot, characters and themes in the classic work.
The dictionary defines “busywork” as “work that usually appears productive or of intrinsic value but actually only keeps one occupied.” Students and teachers rarely agree on which assignments fit that definition.
“(Busywork) is something that the teacher gives you so they don’t have to teach as much,” junior Mara Shook said. “The teacher probably thinks that it connects to the lesson and the student might think there is no reason in doing it.”
Math teacher Theresa Caldwell has noticed the differences between student and teacher perceptions of busywork.
“(Students) think that busywork is when we (teach) without standing up in front of them, telling them step-by-step how to do every problem,” Caldwell said. “As teachers, we think that busywork is more of ‘I have other stuff to do. I just need to keep them occupied.’”
Although their definitions of busywork differed, Perry, Caldwell and Shook all categorized one type of assignment as busywork: worksheets.
“To me, worksheets are busywork,” Perry said. “By worksheets I mean sheets that have just been copied, sheets that just ask for basic information.”
Sophomore, Regina Babor, considers the amount of written assignments, specifically worksheets, to be excessive in some classes. She feels that she learns more when teachers provide hands-on assignments.
“Right now, the entire weight of my book bag is all papers from biology,” Babor said. “There is a stack about three inches high. We do hands-on activities, but there is just way too much paper.”
Student-led learning is more beneficial to students than when the teacher is the facilitator, Perry believes.
“Students think that anything that they are doing where the teacher is not actively in front of them, force-feeding them information, is busywork.
And of course it’s not,” Perry said. “Studies in secondary education, in primary education as well, say that students learn by doing. One of the
The worst things for students is when a teacher stands up in front of a classroom doing nothing all day but a Powerpoint or lecture.”
In Caldwell’s opinion, different classes require different teaching styles. From her experience, she feels that math classes are better taught with the use of repetitive processes, while literature and writing classes require more discussions and student-led learning.
“When I have my students doing repetitive types of problems, it is so they become familiar with the process, and it becomes second-nature,” Caldwell said. “Once you learn a process, it never changes, regardless of whether you are in Math I, simple-step equations, or solving trigonometric equations in Math III.”
Though it is not necessarily her preferred learning-style, Babor feels repetition is often mischaracterized as busywork. She said the repetitive process of Powerpoints, worksheets and assignments that cover the same material are all teaching methods.
“It’s like in the third grade when we had the multiplication tables,” Babor said. “You had to write them so many times until you got it.”
Perry said students sometimes use the label of ‘busywork’ as an excuse for cheating. She feels the cause of this misinterpretation can sometimes be attributed to students not understanding when to collaborate and when to do the work on their own.
By Amber Detwiler
Student’s and teacher’s weigh in
“Busywork is a worksheet that teachers give us that is too easy where we all know how to do it, and it is just to take up time.”
— Cammi Ochs, 10
“For the most part, the busywork I get in class is like coloring sheets and math worksheets that are basically puzzles.”
— Mary Catherine Ball, 11
“There is a place for book work as part of the overall lesson structure, but it has got to be used in an appropriate way.”
— Frank Gerard, Civics and Economics
“If I’m going to give them busywork, I would rather just put on a movie. I don’t assign bookwork [or] reading out of the chapters.”
— Devon Lategan, Biology