A teacher’s job is to design engaging, beneficial, realistic learning experiences…period. Engaging meaning exciting, beneficial meaning there is a relevance to society and personal development, and realistic meaning collaborative environments consisting of meaningful relationships, leading to greater success with what is being learned. So how do we do this? For starters, we can get out of the way.
During my time as a second and third grade teacher, I always told parents at conferences, our classroom is roughly 70% small group or independent-led and 30% whole-class because anything else to me, is unacceptable. Percentages aside, the point is, students need to have control over their learning to some degree, and we can help with the true “soft” skills that are necessary to achieve with learning content. In my opinion, Google’s research project, Project Oxygen, is a great indicator of what skills lead to acquiring and using the content we learn; I personally love that STEM skills came in last. While a majority of the learning activities incorporated in my classroom probably fit the STEM category, education has a habit of taking new buzz words and making it seem as if we are introducing a completely new form of learning and make the focus around the given concept rather than the true processing skills that happen along the way. Maybe this is due to the fact that it is hard to teach soft skills. These are sometimes the skills that kids and adults alike believe they are either capable or not of achieving- the growth and fixed philosophy.
I don’t truly believe teachers need to get out of the way, but what we can do is be patient, observe, collect the verbal data from classroom discussions, and then speak. It is very easy for a teacher to share too much in a way that dismisses a student’s chance to develop appropriate questions which would help them self-direct and identify what they are trying to learn. When researchers conduct a study, their ability to identify what they know, do not know, and still need to find out are quite possibly the single most important skills. Why deprive someone of this opportunity, as it is applicable in all career fields? In our learning commons at Wilson Elementary, this is the philosophy. Students often have 4-8 projects they can work through, which leads to an experience often times of organized chaos. This is perfect because a few things happen in the process:
- Students have moments of uncertainty over what project to pick which leads them to often times either join with others to develop an idea, or they seek out someone who can help with the organization needed to pick a topic and dive in. This is exactly how people become successful…They recognize their own ideas are not the only ones that can help them get to where they are trying to go.
- Resources are provided via Schoology, and students have to figure out how the learning that occurs fits in with their vision (see below)
3. I am not the expert of the information, because some of this stuff I have never even learned or tried myself. If we as teachers spend our whole planning time trying to become masters of everything, we provide less moments for students to find their passions or simply learn more about the world around them (including people and content).
Bottom line, I hope this blog post serves as a moment of reflection and reminder to let students lead. It is awfully easy as a teacher to talk and fill up space and time, and yes the challenge of helping students self-direct their learning at times can lead to different forms of behavior and levels of effort, but this is a work in progress we all must engage in for the sake of all students having the ability to self-learn as they develop the skills needed for their future.
Bradley, Richard S., et al. “The NOT So Surprising Thing That Google Learned about Its Employees – And What It Means for Today’s Students.” National Soft Skills Association, 22 Dec. 2017, http://www.nationalsoftskills.org/not-surprising-thing-google-learned-employees/.