Thursday, December 5, 2013

I Don't Teach My Students.


“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
-Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!


I'm a teacher, but I'll never teach my students. Through exploration, inspiration, frustration, and curiosity, I help my students teach themselves.

More often than not, when one of my students asks me a question, they are met with a smile and the reply, "I don't know. You tell me."
Every class is always the same... in the beginning of the school year their responses range from saying, "But you're the teacher!" to "But I need help!" Sometimes tears are even involved. 

It's a tough way to start the year but months later, the tears were worth it. For the fourth year in a row, 4 months in, my students are transforming into independent thinkers, learners, and teachers right before my very eyes and I love it!

I love overhearing conversations like:
"Let's go ask Mrs. O'Brien how to spell (insert 2nd grade word here)."

"She's not going to tell you. You should remember what she told us to try."

"You're right, I should sound it out first."

"Good idea. Mrs. O'Brien would be proud of you."

My students do not run to me every other minute begging for all of the right answers. They use the tools and strategies they see me model, in order to figure things out for themselves. 

 Most of them have the right answers all along, but they feel the need to have an adult confirm or validate them, instead of being confident in themselves.

In addition to pretending to not have the answers to everything, I also encourage class debates. I pick a side (sometimes the right side, but often times the wrong side) and we pair up and try to explain to each other why we believe what we believe. 

Today my class found themselves in the middle of a heated debate about the meaning of the word: aware. I've been using it in sentences all week long. We recorded our thoughts and slowly but surely, narrowed down our definition to "know" and "not know" (This was amazing, considering on Monday and Tuesday, mad, scared, and see were in the running.) We got up and had a classroom mingle. The students that thought the word meant "know", had to convince the other students that they were right. The students that thought the word meant "not know", had to persuade the other students that they were the right ones.
Students were passionately trying to convince each other that they had the right answer by using examples, repeating sentences that they heard me use, and even bringing up the word from other scenarios they'd heard it in. When all was said and done 18 out of 19 students were 100% sure that aware meant "know". Before the mingle (that I did not say a word during,) they were split 10 to 9. Without me "teaching" a thing, they were able to come to the right answer, or teach someone else using examples to sway their thinking. Even though that one student was wrong, he was still ready to defend his side, knew why he thought what he thought, and later was able to listen to an explanation from a peer and realized where he misunderstood. It was incredible, but it's everything I think a terrific student should be able to do. 




Terrific Students Should:
1. Be able to think for themselves.
2. Work together with their peers.
3. Know what they know, and know why they know it.
4. Share their ideas with confidence.
5. Admit when they are wrong and be willing to embrace and accept different perspectives.


I consider it a challenge to mold each child I come across into an independent thinker that learns to trust their own thinking and be confident in what they know. 

In a classroom where thinking outside of the box is encouraged and problem solvers that persevere are praised, my students thrive on teaching themselves, inquiring, and coming to conclusions on their own. They are constantly telling me things they figured out, inferred, or predicted right, and it really excites them. They make me proud to be their teacher.

Of course if my students are steering the boat completely off course, I step in and nudge them in the right directions, but even when they are completely wrong, getting some insight into the way they think and reason helps me to see where they are coming from and allows me to give them some strategies to open their sails, check their compass, and redirect their path of thinking. 

There are the times when they say, "Will you just tell us the right answer?!" I remind that I won't always be there to tell them. This may sound like a frustrating or weird way to teach children, but I challenge you to give it a try. Smile and say, "I don't know. You tell me." What would your students do? Would they band together to figure it out? Would they bring up background knowledge?  Would they remind each other of strategies, pull out a book and start reading? Or would they cry, become frustrated, give up, or just guess? 

It gives me a good feeling to know that when I say good-bye to my students at the end of the school year, and they start a new grade level, they will be thinkers. They will be fighters. They will be teachers. They will be confident. They will persevere.  I won't be there to give them all the right answers, but that's okay. They don't need me. I never taught them anyway.

xo
Mrs. O’Brien

 

 








2 comments:

  1. Great blog! I found you on the TPT forum! Looking forward to sharing ideas!
    Sherry

    ReplyDelete