Learning is a waste of time?

A day of conversations.

Good to record these and then reflect and analyse.

Firstly, a conversation with a Year 7 student who was ‘unable’ to do any work during English class because his laptop wasn’t working (note: he managed to remain undetected for most of the writing session before we realised, and then his visit to the computer centre was uneventful because he forgot to take the obligatory note, and the second visit left him without a computer until the end of the day). During our conversation, I told him that he should put the session down to valuable life lessons – taking the initiative to solve the problems instead of sitting aimlessly and wasting time, etc. – and he said these lessons were irrelevant because he was going to change schools the following year anyway. (My eyebrows raised involuntarily). He continued: the new school didn’t have a laptop program until the senior  years, and all his problems would be gone. What problems? You know, internet not working, things disappearing. He would get more work done. So, after a respectful pause, I asked him what he thought his future life of work would be like, wouldn’t it include functioning with technology? With all its glitches? And he would have to continue to problem-solve because there would always be problems? Yes, he agreed, but in the meantime he’d get more work done at school without the technology. It would all be in the book; easy to find and keep. (Has he heard of the technicality of losing the book?)


Get more work done…

Funny he should say that. Later in the day we had a meeting of the teachers involved in the Year 8 immersive project (mentioned in previous posts). I was late to the meeting, and I came in at the point where  groups of teachers were doing a post mortem on the project. The group I veered towards was engaged in passionate discourse, expressing negative views. There were too many points to remember them all, but the gist of it was that the big picture week-long, student-driven project didn’t work and was a waste of time. A waste of time because it took time away from the real work that had to be taught.  If it weren’t for the project, they would have ‘got more work done’. Work that was valuable.


I ventured to say (I never learn, do I?) that all the problems and difficulties expressed were part of the teachers’ learning process, and that a collective discussion of these would result in a very different project next time – properly scaffolded, rubric based not on theory but on specific skills and capabilities demonstrated (or not) during the course of the project. The need to provide consistency throughout the different classes, the need to maintain seamless transfer between teachers, to deconstruct the questions at the beginning, to check for understanding, to get feedback from students on each day’s progress, etc. – all these observations I thought were valuable reflections, driving the discussion towards collective analysis and future improvement. But what I viewed as positive, some viewed as evidence that the project was a waste of time. The project took valuable time away from real work.


Not entirely surprising, though. I think you have to expect the initial digging in of heels, the panic and confusion when things are not spelled out, when teachers are just as much learners as the students, when stepping out onto unchartered territory. I can’t say that I”m not uncomfortable in new situations – of course I am. But if at least half of the teachers see the positive elements of the project, the rationale behind passion-based, student-driven, enquiry-based learning, then I hope that the scales will tip in favour of trying this out a second time. View this as a first draft, and collaborate towards an improved second draft.


And please, consider the definition of ‘work’. Think about what it means to ‘get something done’. Or maybe you’d rather refocus on ‘learning process’ and navigate your learning  instead of getting it done.

Any thoughts?

6 thoughts on “Learning is a waste of time?”

  1. If it’s any consolation, those kind of sentiments are always expressed by some at my school when we hold inquiry weeks. You are very right in what you say; this kind of learning experience is quite threatening for some teachers. They lose the control they hang onto so tightly and their teaching becomes very transparent. Plenty of people don’t like that. Unfortunately.

  2. It is unfortunate. Although, I can understand it. It’s just that I’m not ready to give up. There were also teachers who found the immersive project to be positive on the whole, and some who were sceptical at first and pleasantly surprised. I think it’s just not going to be a quick conversion. And really, it’s a good thing for teachers to be critical so that they don’t embrace technologies superficially but use them to create deep learning. I get all that, but I’m wondering how long it will take for people to see that if something isn’t working, the best way to go is discuss it, modify it, and move ahead. Things don’t work out perfectly the first time. Anyway, I appreciate your feedback, Jenny. Thanks.

  3. I have experienced inquiry weeks at the same school as jennylu and I agree that there are often mirrored comments.. Nonetheless, there are also comments that some (yeah- not all) of the students exhibited the ‘appropriate behaviours’ and ‘reflected, refined, achieved’ etc… many of the end results are creative and innovative- the students appreciate the opportunities to direct and construct their learning as a whole.
    I have also been speaking with a friend and colleague from a previous government school considering IB.. links in with Habits of Mind… she is very keen about the process and structures to enable students to be able to (hopefully) overcome such hurdels as lap-top boy… a typical excuse… did he have a pen on him?

  4. You’re right. There is a mix of positive and negative. The reason I isolated these two examples is that I’m interested in examining mindsets that consider ‘work’, which is seen as productive, as separate from an enquiry project which is considered as out of context from the normal curriculum, and therefore, disruptive. Maybe it would have helped to introduce the project and spell out the educational justification, as well as talk about the types of skills and learning which prepare students for their future.

    As you know, my son did IB, and the Habits of Mind are the strongest aspect, in my opinion, and something he appreciates now that he’s started uni.

    Thanks for your comment!

  5. Oh Tania, how interesting to read your comments about that student and the meeting. It sounds a deep resonance in me…where in this world in desperate crisis is there the interest in changing the way schools work? It all feels like ‘re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’ (an increasingly favourite metaphor!) Yes – if we could all use the same worksheets year after year wouldn’t life be easy! I think I’d rather open a liquor store at the moment!

  6. Dianna, you and your metaphor gave me a good laugh! I do know someone who owns a successful liquor store in Melbourne. Maybe you could learn from him. Personally, if I had to do the same worksheets for more than a day, I might consider opening up a soup kitchen.

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