Teachers spend hours carefully designing lessons that we hope are informative, engaging and cause students to think critically about their subject matter. Teachers also consider pacing, differentiating instruction, individualizing the learning and allowing time to be able to check for understanding.
By nature, teachers are very structured, and indeed, need to be. However, I wanted to share what happened in a couple of instances where teachers I was working with, made some big adjustments in what they had planned…and got great results. Understand that students do need direction, guidance and monitoring, but here's what might happen if you loosen the reins just a bit.
A teacher wanted small groups of students to work on different tasks during the class. The way the teacher had it designed was to assign different students the tasks, and then have them work on it at their individual desks. After watching the 1st period class, I made a request:
Let’s take the next period, which is your planning time, and design the lesson to create stations where students would work. The teacher agreed with some reservation, fearing the students would be unruly. As the class progressed, and students rotated through four stations, there was some talking that rose above the normal level in the room. I asked her to move to each station and listen in a few minutes. When the teacher came back to me, they reported that the noise was elevated, but that the students were all talking about what was happening at their stations…and said, “I’m pleasantly surprised, and glad we did this. I have a new perspective on small group work. It was worth it to plan the session and then get out of their way. Thank you.”
I was in a class where a rubric was handed out in a class for a technology project. Although I didn’t think it was out of line, it was very lockstep as to how the projects were to be done. However, I will give credit to the teacher who told student that this was a framework rubric and that if they had something a little different that they wanted to try, to come and they would talk about it. This teacher gave flexibility to the assignment, and simply told the students to make their final work worthy of not only their efforts, and a major grade, but also of a project that the student would be proud to present. It was amazing to see the projects that students turned in…they were artistic, well organized, creative, very innovative, and way above the original expectations. A great example of giving an assignment, and after checking for understanding, simply “got out of the students way.”
These are just a couple of samples of what happened in a classroom, where students lived up to the expression I often used when I was a Principal, and that is, “As the tide rises, so do the boats.” Sometimes we just need to give them a direction, and then get out of their way and let them navigate, problem solve and create. They most often will produce way beyond what we thought we might see.