Letting go is hard to do…

Guest post by Art teacher, Elena Sacks…

As most specialist PYP art teachers know, time is always of the essence. We need to cram in as many skills and techniques into the year as well as tying in with some units of inquiry. I always have felt compelled to feed the children with information as well as modelling techniques.

Lately I have begun to let the students learn what I used to spoon feed them through self discovery. I got to a point in my teaching where I realized that the majority of kids were switching off as I rambled on excitedly, together with numerous visual examples on my smart board. In reality, the kids just wanted to “get on with it”.

After being mentored earlier this year by a fellow teacher (Jocelyn), I soon realized that I did far too much talking. This became evident after Jocelyn filmed me teaching. When I reviewed the footage, my first reaction was “God I talk a lot!” It was then that I decided to reassess how I conducted my lessons. Jocelyn also advised me to read the book “The 5 Minute Teacher”.

After some reassessment, I decided that it was time to let go and hand over more ownership to the students. Initially I found this difficult to do, but very soon I realized that by letting the kids work more out for themselves, and the less I tried to control the lesson, the more engaged the majority of the class was. Yes the less is more theory definitely rang true! Surprisingly there was less petty socialization during the lesson and more discussion about the activity and sharing of ideas.

Last week I took the letting go a step further. I had never let the children go off in different directions to do an art activity outside the art room. This was because I always wanted to make sure I could oversee and have control of the activity. I decided that I wanted to do a photographic project with my Year 6 kids to tie in with their Science inquiry. They would need to go around the school in small groups to photograph. I was very nervous before the first session: What if they mucked around when I was not in sight? What if they didn’t stay on task? I decided to bite the bullet and just see what happened.

To my surprise the kids behaved responsibly, working collaboratively in groups of threes and fours. I merely became an observer, only engaging with them if they required some assistance or advice .

The students spent a good hour experimenting with ways to create ‘forced perspective’ photos. The only provocation I gave them was a 40 second clip and two photographic examples. From there they had to work out how this concept worked and why or how it connected to their Science unit of inquiry.

Here are some of the results:

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 6.47.23 pm Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 6.47.51 pm Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 6.47.58 pm Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 6.48.04 pm

Yes letting go is hard to do and I still struggle with it at times, but when I do manage to do it, I feel a sense of exhilaration and success for myself and the students!


About whatedsaid

Teaching and Learning Coordinator at an IB PYP school in Melbourne, Australia. I'm a teacher, a learner, an inquirer...
This entry was posted in Inquiry and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Letting go is hard to do…

  1. pypspicewood says:

    i love this video clip! I was just preparing a PD on powerful provocations. This will fit in nicely!


    • Elena says:

      The kids were absolutely fascinated by this clip and asked to see it a few times. It was enough to stimulate and inspire their photography.


  2. Thank you so much for sharing this Elena (and Edna). So many teachers I work with mention fear of students “fooling around” when we talk about small group work or letting students drive their own projects/inquiry. I’m so impressed with their work. I wonder how the students would describe the experience. Did they notice you really “backed off”? What did they take away and would they put this lesson into a different category? Again, thank you!


    • elenasackS says:

      Even though I was merely an observer for this activity, several of the kids asked for advice and help during the process. I tried not to get too involved by supplying solutions. I wanted them to work out most of the issues themselves. When they saw each other’s photos I think they were blown away as was I!


  3. lanafleiszig says:

    Wow Elena! The power of ownership of one’s learning. The final photos are amazing but the process the students went through is what they will remember! I agree it’s hard to let go but that feeling of successful learning is what will keep you on this path. Keep us posted about other year levels.


  4. lsacker says:

    You are so right Elena, knowing what to do and trusting yourself to let it happen are two different things. Fantastic to read and see your learning.


  5. Robyn Sinclair says:

    Thank you for inspiring story of “letting go”. We are a PYP school, where inquiry underpins our curriculum. We decided to take it a step further and introduced iTime – a period of personalised inquiry, at the end of last year with our Year 3 and 4 students. The results were powerful that this year we are rolling it out to the rest of the school.

    The student’s chosen areas of interest and learning were varied, from learning Afrikaans to talk with their Grandma on the phone, to investigating rodents to convince her mother and landlord to allow her to keep a rat as a pet, to researching about dairy farms so when he visits his uncle in the holidays he can help him on the farm. But it was the focused work on themselves as learners that made our iTime so successful. The students did not simply choose a ‘project’ to work on. They were challenged to identify and strengthen the skills they needed, following through the school’s inquiry model and state how their inquiry would benefit themselves and/or the community. One student may of been learning about leopards – but alongside this he had chosen to work on his note-taking and persuasive writing skills. He wanted to communicate to a wider audience the consequences for leopards with the loss of their habitat. The students carefully prepared for their investigation and put their proposal to the teacher, identifying how their chosen inquiry will develop their skills as a learner. The teachers supported the students to carefully plan their research, identify and reflect on their own goals for iTime.

    The teachers all reported that iTime was hugely successful. The students were extremely motivated and there was a high level of independence and initiative shown by them. There was a real shift in the teacher’s role from being “the teacher” to being a “facilitator” and where the students exhibited responsibility for their own learning. The students felt empowered to take their learning in the direction they wanted including in the way they presented their new learning and showing action. The learning was highly relevant to them and purposeful. They developed confidence in their own ability and in the capacity to learn new things. They saw themselves as capable of effecting positive change in their own lives and in the community. They reported back that they felt trusted as a learner and that the teachers believed in them – letting them choose their own direction in their learning. Students made connections to previous learning, and both the academic and creative students were able to shine.

    One comment from a teacher really sticks in my mind…she thought iTime and this personalised inquiry approach was a revelation! She felt free from the burden of getting through the curriculum and was able to focus on what really matters – building 21st century skills. She had finally “let go”!


    • elenasacks says:

      Thank you Robyn for sharing your experience of itime with us. It sounds like such an empowering way of approaching inquiry for the students. I agree that allowing students to follow their own direction it is far more powerful and engaging for them. However, as educators, I feel at times we have a responsibility to teach certain skills to students as long as we can find a way that is not too prescriptive.


  6. freemind48 says:

    I really enjoyed reading this blog. I love Inquiry Based learning, it is so powerful and I can’t get enough of it. When teaching, if the end result is more engagement, and ownership over their own learning you are doing something right. Its amazing how a different view of teaching, via camera or another set of eyes can really put into perspective some things. This success story has inspired me to continue on learning about how to become an inquiry based teacher, creating activities that will lend to this style of learning.


  7. elenasacks says:

    Thank you freemind48. So happy to have been able to inspire another teacher. My approach in the classroom has completely changed since”letting go”. I briefly provide my students with provocations and I find as the lesson evolves the many perspectives that emerge as well as much more engagement from students through the ownership of their learning. The best of all is that you see far more self expression and individuality in their art pieces as opposed to having every piece looking almost the same. Good luck with your new adventures!


  8. Pingback: The Story of A Teacher Without a Classroom: 10 Lessons Learned – HonorsGradU

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