Since my very first day of teaching, I’ve always preferred to focus on the hope of what students can do as opposed to the fear of what they cannot. Of course, there are limits to what any human realistically can or cannot do, but I’m increasingly frustrated by the all-too-often teacher reply of, “But my students can’t do that” when discussing changes in curriculum or creation of common assessments. However, until about seven years ago, one of my most consistent approaches to teaching was inherently grounded in a version of this very sentiment I loathed — it was just slightly softened to become, “But my students can’t do that… without my help.”
It was with this unconscious mindset that I so often employed the “I Do, We Do, You Do” strategy, providing students with a safe pathway for growth and learning through imitation. I would supportively guide students through my own thinking before letting them work with a partner or in a group to further their understanding, before finally allowing them to try the skill on their own.
And then I read it…
“Mr. Bronke’s class is great. As long as you follow all the examples he gives, it is a really easy class.”
I still remember the very moment that these two simple sentences permanently pierced my teaching soul. I’d volunteered to let a previous district in which I taught test out a possible student survey, and this was some of the feedback I received.
Now in the grand scheme of feedback students can and do give, this really wasn’t a bad thing; in fact, it was a compliment on many levels — the student liked my class and found he could be successful in it. Some might say, “Isn’t that the goal of teaching?” However, I’ve never wanted student learning to be “easy” in my class.
I spent that summer reflecting upon my approach to instruction, thinking of ways to make my class more of a challenge, and that’s when it hit me,
“I need to make learning messier, less controlled, and more student-centered; in short, I need to get out of the way.”