Writing… as punishment… really?


In all my years of teaching, I have seen a wide variety of disciplinary strategies. I have even been a part of some that, looking back, were probably not the best way to deal with things. As one grows as an educator, one learns. We can only hope that what we learn is what is best for kids. 

I have seen teachers assign various writing assignments as a form of punishment. I have never fully understood the logic behind them. I guess they figure that if they force a student to write a lengthy paragraph about how they understand they made a poor decision, they will take that to heart. I don’t think they could be any farther from the truth. In fact, it is an antiquated practice that has been condemned by the NCTE (LINK). Then NCTE condemned the practice all the way back in 1984! Why on earth do we still battle this problem today?

In fact, I would argue that all a teacher does when forcing a child to copy a paragraph about some random topic is makes that child hate writing. They are taking a task that is supposed to be filled with creativity and making it a menial task. The student is not actually going to believe any differently than they did before. All the student will do is try harder not to get caught, because they now hate writing even more than before.

The teacher might gain a measure of compliance from the student, however what they have lost is of far greater importance. They have drummed any possibility they have to get a student to actually love the creative process of writing out of that student. The teacher’s attempt to get Johnny to be quiet has now harmed Johnny’s education, forever. I actually had students tell me today that two other students pretended to be sick so they could miss school today, because they had to write for another teacher. Wow… way to encourage school attendance.

I have even seen teachers assign students to copy pages upon pages from the dictionary. Even the diacritical marks. What good is that going to do? Our goal as teachers is not to gain compliance. It is certainly not to gain compliance through a process that intentionally forces a student to hate a task that is a critical part of the learning process.

Teachers, stop hurting our students. Stop assigning writing tasks with the threat of “being sent to the office” if they don’t complete them. Manage your classes, and your students. Give the students meaningful work, and an amazing thing will happen… Johnny won’t be so hard to control anymore.


Leave a Reply