A Theory of Busy Work

Brian K. Sohn, Knoxville, TN.

I currently work as an instructor for a class in Applied Educational Psychology. It is required for future teachers. Pre-service teachers are uniquely positioned in between being students and being teachers, so they are, in my opinion, most qualified to develop a theory on busy work.

I asked my classes to comment on what characteristics busy work or non-busy work has. We looked at their comments together and pulled out a few ideas and themes, and with subsequent classes I teach, I will encourage the students to build on this current Theory of Busy Work:

Value is a big part of busy work theory: who places value on the work (student or teacher?) How do they show that value? (quality of work, teacher feedback, time given, how many points it’s worth, teacher preparation for the activity or assignment)

Does the work further learning? Is it excessive practice?

Is there a balance between the time spent out of class vs time given in class?

Is there a balance between the time spent working and how much value is placed on it?: for some students if something is easy they will think it’s busy work.

How is the work connected to the other work you’re doing in the class?

Do students perceive the work as redundant?

As teachers we must reveal the intent behind work.

Pre-service teachers are also an ideal audience to learn the lessons of busy work theory: How can they motivate their future students if they give what is perceived to be busy work? As with most of the blog entries I write, I often come back to the same solution. This is a question of motivation, in essence, and if work is real, authentic, and connected to place, students will see it has value beyond the four walls of the classroom.

This is a work in progress, and I hope to add to this theory in the next year. I welcome suggestions.