I admit to liking control. I won’t go far as to say I’m a control freak, but I am freakishly close. As I age I realize I like more and more things in neat little rows, even my To-Do lists must be lined up perfectly, so I can make tiny check marks with my Precision pen.
I am ridiculous.
The hardest part of teaching for me is letting go. It’s also been the best thing for my teaching.
To be an effective workshop teacher, we step aside so our students can step in. They want to know their opinions, ideas, and choices matter. They’re hungry for it. We’ve written a lot about choice reading on this blog, and I know many of us advocate for self-selected independent reading, protecting sacred reading time like an O line protecting our quarterbacks.
I wonder what other choices we offer our students. How else do we invite them to own their learning?
Recently, I read this post “The Inspiration in Front of Your Eyes” by George Couros. He begins:
Often when working with educators, I try to give relevant examples of ideas that can be implemented into learning but get very specific to either a class or grade level. My focus is not adding something to the plate of an educator but replacing something they currently do with something new and better than what they may have been doing before. For example, instead of a teacher spending hours searching a video to explain a concept in math, or even creating it themselves, why not have the students find the concept and say why it is powerful, or having the students create some form of multimedia to explain the concept themselves? The flip is putting the learning into the student’s hands, which can lessen the work for the educator.
Deeper learning for the student, less work for the teacher. Sounds good to me!
Couros goes on to explain the importance of being observant and connecting ideas we find in the world, and reshaping them to facilitate deeper learning for our students. Of course, this resonated. This is how we find mentor texts like author bios and user manuals. But Mr. Couros got me thinking about shifting the finding to my students.
Then before school a week ago Monday, I saw Kristen Ziemke‘s Padlet, Take a Knee. And I got another spark to shift my instruction.
I’d never used Padlet before, so while my students shuffled in to first period, I quickly made an account and created a board. I put one thing on it: Kwame Alexander’s poem, Take a Knee, which I knew was the perfect quickwrite for the day after so many NFL players knelt in protest.
After we wrote and shared and talked in small groups and as a class about the issue. One student said, “I just don’t know enough about it to know what I believe.”
The perfect intro!
I suggested we make a text set that could help us understand the why’s and who’s and what’s of this hotbed of a topic, and I issued the challenge: As a class of individuals with a wide variety of beliefs and backgrounds, we’d search for articles that would address all sides. We’d use Padlet as our storage space. Then we’d use the text set we build together for our learning in class.
With their phones and iPads, students went to work, and in the 10 minutes I gave them in class, they talked. Students talked about where to find information that “wasn’t biased,” “would tell them the truth,” “will help me want to know more.”
I leaned in to these conversations, teaching terms, suggesting sites, encouraging objectivity — and why it is important for our understanding of human needs and desires.
Our Padlet What’s the Argument is not complete. We haven’t had a chance to return to it yet, but we will. Maybe we’ll use it as we learn to ask better questions in preparation for whole class discussions. Maybe we’ll use it as we learn to synthesize information from a variety of sources. Maybe we’ll use it to spark ideas for the arguments we’ll post on our blogs. It doesn’t matter.
When we return to our Padlet, or even create another one that coincides with whatever hotbed topic fires up the nation (sadly, there are so many), my students will know I value their input. They’ll know that helping them make sense of our world is as important to me as helping them love books and become good writers.
And maybe they’ll remember to look at all sides of the issues, to see into the hearts and minds of those we may disagree with so we can find a space for conversations.
If my giving up control makes space for that, I’ll take it every chance I get.
What ideas to do have to flip the learning into students’ hands, let go of control, and invite deeper learning? Please share in the comments.
Amy Rasmussen is a neat freak in her classroom but not her bedroom closet. She loves sharing books with student readers and reading students’ writing. She is the mother of six, grandmother to five, and wife to one very patient man. She teaches senior English and AP English Language at a huge and lovely senior high school in North Texas. Follow her on Twitter @amyrass