3 Nov 2016

Be Less Helpful

It goes against everything in our teacher DNA, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your students is to be less helpful. You are guiding them toward specific learning outcomes, but if you make all the decisions for them, how will they learn to make good decisions? If you give them the logic and reasoning upfront, how will they learn to think critically? If you expose them to only what is known, how will they create and evaluate new ideas? If they never have to struggle for an answer, how will they develop persistence?

It’s faster and easier to give directions, present the content you want them to learn, and define strict parameters within which they show that learning. But the gains are short-sighted. Here are just a few ways to encourage student ownership of learning and leadership in the classroom.

  • Answer questions with a question

  • Encourage students to answer your questions with probing questions

  • Give students choice in how they demonstrate learning

  • Give students responsibility to lead portions of classroom instruction

  • Ask students to evaluate each lesson and give you feedback

  • Present problems/projects that take multiple weeks to solve

There will of course be times when you need to course-correct and when you need to put them back on the right track. But teaching is not for the faint of heart. If it pains you to watch watch a kid struggle to find meaning, grapple with  concepts, and get frustrated along the way, then you’ll need to put on the emotional chainmail and steel yourself for the good of learning. Trust me, when you see them come out the other side with a hard-earned “aha,” it’ll all be worth it.

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