Letting go – a need and a want but how?

Over the past month, I have spoken to many teachers at our school about the notion of letting go. What I’ve come to realise is that the hardest part of letting go is realising that you both need and want to let go!

My 10 tips for letting go (in no particular order):

  1. Spend time thinking about a provocation that connects to the students’ core, rather than spending time planning a great lesson.  See how the thinking unfolds.  This does not mean letting the students learn about whatever they want, but rather encouraging them to explore their own paths, sometimes getting lost along the way and occasionally meeting a dead end.  The teacher’s role is to guide students’ learning in the direction of the big idea – not to plan their exact route to this destination.
  2. Listen to students’ conversations with each other rather than their conversations only with you.  Carefully plan groupings so that productive conversations and collaboration can take place effectively, efficiently and precisely (I’ll focus more on this in another post).
  3. Provide protected times for students to pause and reflect on their learning during the inquiry process. Hand over assessment of learning to the students throughout their unit of inquiry rather than having them wait for teacher feedback which usually comes as a result of a teacher generated summative assessment.
  4. Ask students what learning, thinking and understanding mean to them.  I’m not sure too many of their responses will relate to the teacher. So stop over-planning and doing the thinking for your students.  Rather provide opportunities for them to discover, notice and name how to learn and understand for themselves.
  5. Less is more!  Encourage students to generate many questions but explore only a few in depth.  As George Polya, a famous Mathematician once stated “it is far more beneficial to solve one problem in many ways rather than solving many problems”.  Maths teachers often get caught up in expecting students to spend lesson after lesson solving many problems, generated by the teacher or the textbook.  Imagine how much deeper the learning could be if the teacher let go and encouraged students to seek multiple strategies for solving the one problem.  Imagine the many student generated questions that this provocation may stimulate.
  6. Audit the walls of your classroom.  How much is teacher generated?  How much is student generated?  How much of an emphasis is placed on neat and pretty?  If thinking is made visible does it always need to look polished?
  7. Get to know your students’ passions, interests and emotional responses.  Encourage students to make connections to these and their learning is likely to become self-directed rather than extrinsically motivated by you.
  8. Assist students’ learning by noticing and naming what, how and when they are learning. Often students do not realise that they are learning for themselves.  By noticing what they are doing and giving it a name, students can apply ‘it’ to future learning, without always waiting to be taught by the teacher.
  9. Encourage students to make their thinking visible. There are many thinking routines that teachers can introduce to scaffold thinking.  In addition,suggesting the use of different colours, when adding new ideas/learning to an existing list/question (with corresponding dates) is a great way for students to see their growth in understanding.  This is often more powerful than a teacher’s grade!  There is a shift from teachers noticing and evaluating learning to students noticing and evaluating their own learning.
  10. Make sure students know why they are learning something.  Is it an important skill or concept?  Is it to make them a better person/citizen?  Is it to recognise beauty? Throw the why onto them rather than doing all the explaining and reasoning for them.  It’s amazing how many perspectives can be explored simply by asking the three letter word “why?”  Once it is established that learning is for themselves, NOT the teacher or to satisfy their parents, then teachers can let go of feeling that they are solely responsible for each of their student’s learning.  It is a shared endeavour between students, teachers and parents – but primarily our responsibility to make this known!

About lanafleiszig

Lana Fleiszig is the Numeracy Co-ordinator and a Year 6 Mathematics teacher at an IB Primary Years Program school in Melbourne, Australia. Learning with understanding is at her core.
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3 Responses to Letting go – a need and a want but how?

  1. jonfrederickapp says:

    Reblogged this on Approaching Learning and commented:
    One of the hardest, yet best things a teacher can do. Let go….


  2. i love many things about this post, but especially in response to your point 9:
    When a student notices where he makes errors, that is a big step, a huge leap forward in learning. But it is quite different from me telling him where he needs help. When he analyzes his work and notices the patterns of errors he makes, it is a sign that he is fully engaged in the process, and has taken control of his learning.

    When I analyze his work and point out the pattern of his errors to him, it is a sign that I am fully engaged in the process, but he may or may not be paying attention.


  3. Pingback: Lessons Learned Outside the Classroom: Letting Go, Moving On, and Growing | this time – this space

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