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/