Letting Go – Letting Children Learn.

Giving Them The Wings To Fly – Letting Go And Letting Children Learn.

I can remember a few years ago I was complaining to a friend how tired I was with all the effort I was putting into my planning and the difficulty I was experiencing planning exciting lessons.  I began to moan about how time consuming the whole process was.  He smiled and casually asked,

“Are you busy planning for teaching or learning?”

The question hit me like a brick:  What was I actually doing?  Was I just actively keeping myself busy to justify my Local Authority salary or was I facilitating challenging, exciting, thought provoking learning?    His comments caused me to question my whole existence as a teacher.  I had to ask myself the question:

‘Within my classroom was I the fountain of all knowledge or was I the lead learner modelling the skills of how to seek knowledge?’

Was I the proverbial ‘Sage on the Stage?’ or was I endeavouring to be the ‘Guide on the side?’

I realised immediately that all I had done since I became a teacher was to act out the role of the teacher; in exactly the same way I had experienced it as a child.  As Ian Gilbert(Independent Thinking Company) says “I had learned to do as I was told and do it well.”   I had taken on the mantle of the expert – a role where the children had not only to guess what was in my head but more importantly what was contained within my planning folder.

The dilemma I then had was: How do I plan for learning?

I had sailed through a history degree and a PGCE in Primary Education and during this time  no-one had told me the difference between teaching and learning.  I must have also missed the seminar where they explained how exciting learning could be when the teacher ‘lets go’ and allows the children to become the co-authors of their own learning journey, of their own identity.

So how does one “Let go, so to speak?”

Firstly you have to remember that as the adult in the learning relationship we are naturally the ones with the knowledge and indeed most of the answers.  However, its not our job to dish the facts out willy-nilly – our job is to empower the children to develop skills so as they can seek the knowledge and facts for themselves.

A few practical tips that I suggest in helping practitioners to ‘let go’ is to immediately hand the lesson over to the children within minutes of starting. There is nothing as boring as hearing a teacher harp on and labour the point for 25-35 minutes of a lesson.  Let the learners know where the following lesson fits into the big picture and what they need to be looking out for throughout the lesson. Then explain the lesson objective: ‘We are learning how to…’   I am learning how to ….’

I usually start with “Today your going to learn something that’s going to transform your life!”

Whether is does or not; I guarantee you’ve got their attention.  Then throw the lesson open!

“Right two minutes with a partner; tell each other everything there is to know about 2D shapes…!”

You have engaged the children instantly and also assessed their prior knowledge.

Once you have them back; ask them to think of a few ‘High Order Questions’ (see our Blog from the 22nd May 2011 – Using Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Classroom.)  Again this is another speaking and listening; collaborative learning exercise.

Following this your teaching input could then last for approximately 10 minutes – This is where you demonstrate a concept or introduce and new piece of learning.  Once you have completed this its back ‘letting go.’

“Okay on your wipe boards create a few irregular heptagons; but they must have at least one set of parallel lines and one perpendicular line containing within them – off you go!”

After 10 minutes convene and share your ideas!  Address any misconceptions or misunderstandings – at this point you’ll know who is flying or who is struggling to take off.

Encourage the children to ask questions to devise a new set of criteria for the next shape (AGAIN IT’S THEM! AND NOT YOU!)   Trust me they will come out with some gems.

“Thank you Sophie – Sophie would like to see how many octagonal shapes you can create that are symmetrical and have no more than two obtuse angles – okay off you go!”

Finally the plenary can be used to sum up the learning; iron out any problems that are still arising; ask questions about how you can apply the learning into an everyday life situation.    Another superb way to achieve a quick assessment of a child’s learning is to say:

“Hamzah you are at a bus stop and the bus is coming and you’ve got thirty seconds to explain to Sheeva what you have learned today.”    The children love this and ninety five percent of the time if they can articulate it;  they can apply it using pen and paper.

I hope that has helped some of you!  If you are thinking you cheeky toad I knew all this already. However, so many times I have seen teachers with the best will in the world helping children to such a degree they actually protect them from failure and stifle all learning. So, whilst this blog may not be for you, the ideas may help colleagues within your setting.

There is a beautiful analogy about a small child helping a butterfly that was struggling to escape from its cocoon – click on the link below.

Remember all we do is help the children to develop their own wings so they too can fly.

Cheers David & Lee (The Thought Weavers)

There is a lovely story of a butterfly struggling to get out of a cocoon – check the link below:  http://www.brianchong.net/2011/04/the-butterfly/



9 thoughts on “Letting Go – Letting Children Learn.

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I feel like I’ve recently come to this point where I felt like I needed some mojo injected into how I do things or a different perspective on my teaching. Thanks to you guys (and many others on Twitter) I’m currently reading Ian Gilbert’s Essential Motivation in the Classroom and feeling a bit of a shift. Learning, learning, learning.

    1. Thanks Claire
      Glad to be of some help. Ian Gilbert’s ‘Essential Motivation’ is by far the best book I have ever read, truly inspirational. Have you seen the goal planning exercise on page 22 ‘The Wish List’ its great fun to do with colleagues, friends and even your partner! It’s amazing what comes out when you know you cant fail. We should all endeavour to make our learning environmental like that.
      Check out the Though Weavers on Facebook
      Cheers David (The Thought Weavers)

  2. Thank you for this post – it comes at a time when I’m looking at how hard I’m working in the classroom and what the benefits are for the learners. I find it increasingly difficult to get Key Stage 4 learners to engage with the independent process. Unless of course it’s on computer. Any ideas on how to translate this excellent practice to Secondary would be much appreciated. Thanks again, TTC.

  3. Hi TTC,
    I know we’ve heard all the sound bites about ‘Working Smarter rather than Harder!’ But the reason I write with such passion and conviction is that I have genuinely made all these mistakes. However, I usually save my worse performances for lesson observations or interviews (see last week’s blog ‘I Get Knocked Down…’)
    You’re on a sticky wicket with KS4 as in the eyes of the Education System the students seem to be neither adults or children – The real life ‘Inbetweeners.’
    You are also competing with a world where we use electronic devises to enhance our learning but to prove our academic ability it’s still pen and paper most of the time.
    It’s still worth throwing yourself at their mercy and asking them what would you do in my situation? Obviously we all know we have GCSE and AS Levels to achieve but it’s truly amazing some of the things they come up with.
    Remember Paul McCartney, James Dyson and Professor Brian Cox were once 15!
    Let me know how you get on and I will forward you any useful tweets that I received.
    Check out the Thought Weaver’s on Facebook.
    Cheers David (The Thought Weavers)

  4. This is indeed a blog for me and very in tune with how I came to teach after I had got over ‘acting like a teacher’. One particular experience comes to mind. We had organised an Industry Day; the pupils were put in very mixed ability groups. It was lead mainly by local business people, they had no preconceived views.The teachers watching felt as though they had to intervene, they found it so difficult to sit back….however I insisted that they did. What emerged was very interesting as the natural leaders of the groups were sometimes not the most able pupils. I have often found this on residential courses as well, barriers come down and more natural learning can take place.
    I also tracked pupils from my form and found that I had to learn from the pupils on either side of me as I often did not understand the teacher. Incidents like this began to shape the way I taught.
    I think there can be a stereotypical picture of what a teacher should be like – and yes you copy the ones that taught you.
    Charles Dickens in ‘Hard Times’ warned us about being a teacher there to ‘fill the little pitchers full of knowledge’. Taking a step back, being prepared to go out of your comfort zone often is a very productive way of teaching.

    1. Hi Mary,
      Thanks for your comments and just like you I was ‘acting like a teacher’ for years as that’s the way I was taught at university.

      I love writing these blogs because there is part of me that says (when I sit down to write them) ‘Who on Earth will find your ramblings the least bit interesting?’ Its reassuring to know that i am not the only one that makes mistakes.

      We do a new blog every Thursday and we never ‘really’ know whet we are going to write until we sit down and start hitting the keys on the keyboard – you’ll have to look out for it.

      Check out the Though Weavers on Facebook
      Cheers David (The Thought Weavers)


  5. Nice blog post guys. Coincidentally I experimented with this yesterday (http://goo.gl/8lmwX) and it was hugely liberating. Additionally the students got loads out of it. Granted I don’t think I could teach like this all the time as the kids would get bored and unmotivated, but now and again letting them take control is hugely rewarding.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s