Teachers thinking about learning…

It’s great to work in a school where a bunch of dedicated teachers will come in voluntarily before school to share practice, discuss ideas and learn together. Our group is enhanced by the variety of age, experience and subect discipline of the teachers who come. Our head himself comes, which is both supportive and encouraging.

The focus of this week’s session was stepping back and allowing students to be more responsible for their own learning. It’s a difficult one for most teachers. Veterans are used to having control and often find it hard to let go. Less experienced teachers are often struggling to gain control in the classroom. I think you need to have some control before you can let it go…

We watched Sugata Mitra’s TED talk in our last session, so today we just had a quick look at a short clip of The Hole in the Wall. It was a good trigger to provoke thinking about just how capable kids are of learning independently. We used the thinking routine ‘Headlines’ to capture its essence. It’s one I use often in my class to help students capture the gist of things.

We imagined what it would be like to have someone else set you tasks, give you instructions, check up on you, tell you when to do what all day long. We discussed ways to ‘let go‘, like talking less, testing less and focusing on learning rather than on work. We talked about the importance of classroom layout. We discussed the way kids tend to ‘talk through’ the teacher and how difficult it is to get them to look at each other in a whole class discussion. Rubi told us she sits outside the circle while her students talk. We talked about the challenge of personal goal setting and Hailey shared how her students sometimes set goals for a particular lesson, so that they can focus on them, rather than long term ones they tend to forget. We talked about the value of feedback, not just to the teacher but between members of a group. We wondered how habit can be overcome, when kids come to us already conditioned to see the teacher as ‘boss of learning’.

I took the issue to my classroom after the session. I love to tell them that teachers are learners too and get their perspective on the things we have discussed. I gave them scraps of paper to jot their thoughts on and asked them to think about all the teachers they have known so far. Here are some of their responses…

What are ways in which teachers tend to take control of learning?

  • They keep demonstrating and don’t let us have a go
  • They think only one answer is right
  • They think they have to give us all the information, instead of letting us find out
  • They give us worksheets about a topic instead of letting us talk about it
  • They stand out front telling us what to do
  • They over-explain

What helps you take more control of your own learning?

  • Having choices
  • Working things out together in groups
  • Having time to think independently
  • When the teacher doesn’t over-explain but lets us put our learning into it
  • Having time to talk in between about what the teacher is saying to us
  • When the teacher gives us a menu and we choose the order we want to do things
  • Choosing our own inquiries
  • Trying stuff out for ourselves

Nothing to add…


18 thoughts on “Teachers thinking about learning…

  1. Hi Edna,

    Thank you for giving us a window into the exciting and vibrant learning community at your school. Your postings inspire me to reflect on my daily interactions with the learners in my classroom. You demonstrate the power of the PYP and I wonder whether it is possible to have such a community without the PYP framework?
    Mitra’s TED talk demonstrated how some teachers can get in the way of learning and how letting go is powerful.




  2. Hi Edna,

    just stumbled on your blog. Sorry for being a wet blanket. While letting children decide what they want to learn is motivating, when do we let go?

    So a colleague of mine shared how some schools in Australia allow their children to learn arithmatic or language (or ….) even at a young age. Where do we draw the line between what is basic and what is optional and thus for the optional, go where your heart is?

    I am a teacher from Singapore, and I think our views of what is basic is much more than what others may think (maybe too much). I agree with the need for stduent interest driven education, but when?


  3. I’m not suggesting letting go of all learning. There are certainly basic skills in many subject areas that need to be explicitly taught. Even within the teaching of ‘basics’, teachers don’t need to be in control of every aspect of learning though. Learners can be given opportunities to practice the skills in different ways and choices too. That doesn’t mean kids are sent off to learn what they like when they like. (although it might in some settings!)
    We strive to have inquiry as a stance at our school. It might look like some of these…
    -exploring, wondering and questioning
    -experimenting and playing with possibilities
    -making connections between previous learning and current learning
    -making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
    -collecting data and reporting findings
    -clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
    -deepening understanding through the application of a concept
    -making and testing theories
    -researching and seeking information
    -taking and defending a position
    -solving problems in a variety of ways
    … and can still be within a structured framework. Take a look at our new inquiry blog http://inquiryblog.wordpress.com/ and see what you think.


  4. @ Edna,

    I’m really enjoying looking through your inquiry blog. I’ll be recommending it to others!

    Inquiry learning isn’t something we talk about much at my school but I’ve learnt a lot about it from your blog and it’s something I’m striving towards. In my experience, the typical Grade Two classroom doesn’t involve very much inquiry learning but by using some of the methods you’ve suggested and “planting the seed” with some students they’ve surprised me enormously with what they have achieved and discovered.

    Keep up your great posts please!!


  5. Fabulous post! If only we could be brave enough to do all that is on their list. What can we do to get rid of those things that prevent us being the teachers we want to be I wonder?


  6. i believe learning is natural.
    i believe mathematical thinking is natural.
    i believe curiosity is natural as is self-construction.
    i believe figuring out how to communicate is natural.
    and those are the basics.
    we need to trust that.
    and we need to trust each other as we head for that.

    we’ve boxed things up because it was the most efficient way to do public school in the past. (and – our economy was fed by people who followed rules.)
    but now – the web allows connections we’ve never been able to access before – and now – we can personalize in public ed. and now – that is the most efficient and rewarding and self-motivating and … way to do public school. it feeds hungry hearts and keeps them hungry for more.

    these connections are allowing everyone to play.
    if we could all break away from our urge to manage and compartmentalize…

    love love love your posts Edna.
    huge bravo – for listening to kids.
    we have so much to learn.


  7. Hi Edna,
    After talking to you I asked my class how can I have less control and give them more independence. The responses from quite a few of my students were “you explain too much” and “give us more discussion time about a topic” Later on we were doing an activity and I explained it once with visual clues as well but there were a few kids who did not get it. I asked my children what should I do now. The best part was some of my students wanted to give up their time to explain it to their friends- which was great! I was excited.


  8. I like the way that you had teachers put themselves in the position of the student. It is easy to forget what it is like to have your every movement and thought dictated day in and day out. Students don’t get the opportunity to discover learning for themselves. We are doing a disservice when we don’t allow students to take the reigns more.


  9. Hi Edna,

    I love that comment: I think you need to have some control before you can let it go…
    This is very true.

    Some of the students’ comments about how teachers take control of their learning makes one ‘squirm’. ‘ Obviously, without needing to, we try too hard sometimes. Being aware of this, is certainly making me ‘listen’ to my teaching. A little voice is beginning to say ‘enough’ let them figure it out for themselves. Even though this goes without saying, I still need to mention that the kids always need to know we are there for further explanations at all times.


  10. Hi Edna,

    I had a ‘bingo’ moment i wanted to share with u after seeing your blog.

    Year 4 are looking at systems and in the last 2 years to be part of this inquiry, the students in music get into small groups and draw a picture of the solar system and use this picture as a graphic score then perform their picture with instruments they choose to best represent it.

    One student put their hand up when i was introducing graphic scores and showing an example and asked, ‘can we choose ANY system?’
    I was stuck for a moment because ‘that is how I ALWAYS teach it.’
    I answered nervousely (without them knowing), ‘of course’ and I am now seeing different systems being drawn and discussed and performed….YAY!!!!
    Now I totally understand what you were saying…they led me…not me leading them.
    I’m pleased it happened BEFORE I read your blog. It happened naturally and without planning.


    : )



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