Why do I sometimes have the impression that my students are baby birds with their mouths open waiting for me to fill them with wormy pearls of wisdom? Oh yeah, because sometimes I just talk too much, spewing out maggoty messages to fill my students’ heads with knowledge. It could be, once again, I’ve been tangled in helping my students create the perfect product and have made the rookie mistake of focusing on the endgame instead of focusing on the process of investigation and inquiry.
After reflecting on this problem, I’ve come to the conclusion there are several factors in play: teacher assessments are often based on products, contests that are won based on products, school assessments are based on data gathered from final assessments, and let’s be honest; focusing on a product rather than a process is easier to control. We teachers are evaluated and assessed on outcome, which is easier to measure than the process. How can we focus on the process?
We can allow our students to struggle.
While it is uncomfortable to not immediately answer when a student asks a question, it’s okay for students to wrestle with a problem…better than okay, this struggle is what grows the brain and allows students to become resilient and persist when the going isn’t smooth and easy.
My co-worker Bonny has a rule that her students are not allowed to ask for help until after they have tried to solve their question for about five or ten minutes. At first students angrily complain,”Why aren’t you helping me? Isn’t it your job to tell me how to do this?” (Yikes, have we been teaching them it is our job to immediately provide any and all answers?) After students have unsuccessfully tried getting us teachers to do their work, they often dig in and try. If students are still frustrated, ask students to make their questions specific. This encourages them to think about what they need and where there is confusion. Support students with guiding questions.
We can ask our students to summarize their learning.
When students struggle, ask them to summarize what they think needs to be done. This will give you insight as to where the confusion lies. Address the confusion with a question instead of explaining everything. For example, if a student does not know how to write a reflective, thoughtful conclusion to their essay, instead of rushing in like a star quarterback, explaining every detail, coach them by showing some examples, allowing them to examine good writing techniques.
We can require students to self-evaluate their work instead of addicting them to our praise.
Instead of telling students what they have just learned, ask them to reflect on what they gained from the process. Too often students wait for the nod of approval and acceptance from the teacher. We are turning our students into praise addicts. We should be teaching our students how to evaluate their own success, building their self-confidence instead of making them dependent on external validation.
When we keep our mouths shut, we help our baby birds build intellectual, problem solving muscle, and soon these birds will mature and fly on their own.