Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dare to Teach Differently #1: Letting Students Figure It Out

Being a teacher is challenging. One of the biggest challenges for me is letting go. We as teachers often enter the classroom as if we hold the keys to the content. And then our job is to dispense that knowledge to our students. This is somewhat true, but there's more to it than that.

I've tried to change the way I teach recently. One of the ways is that I try to find different ways for my students to explore, collaborate, learn, and create. I look at what we are trying to learn and try to find new ways to do that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I want my students to never know what to expect when they enter my room.

Last semester, my world geography students were studying Canada. In addition to "memorizing" Canada's geographically features, we were exploring where Canada's metropolitan areas existed and discovering why. I needed my students to realize this in a fun and unique way.

What did I do? I came into the room and told each class they had 20 minutes to come up with a way to show, demonstrate, create a map of Canada. I gave them no other instructions or requirements. I just stepped back and watched it happen.

Both classes decided to use their own bodies to create the map. One group involved the desks, the other didn't. One class used signs to label themselves, the other didn't. Either way, they all had to figure out what was important to show and what wasn't, they had to determine who would do what, and then they had to put it into practice.

Why do this? First, my bodily-kinesthetic learners loved it. Secondly,  they had a personal and active interaction with the learning. Finally, I got to see how they handled group dynamics of a task with very little boundaries. They had to work together because everyone had to be involved.

Teaching like this is risky. (Later I will do a post on how to prepare students for this type of learning.) It also will not work with every group of students. Students, as well as teachers, have to be willing to get out of their comfort zone to make things like this work.

But giving students an open ended task and letting them figure it out can be an exciting way to see how much they understand, a means of seeing how well they can critically think through a task,  and a challenge to them to figure out knew ways of learning.

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