Teachers, Enough Already with “I do, We do, You do.”

In my role of teaching pre-service teachers about teaching, I hear this phrase a lot, from my students, practicing teachers, and my colleagues who teach in teacher ed programs: “I do, we do, you do.” It’s an easy way to remember a simple lesson design model. First, you model how to do something, then you have students practice in groups, and lastly they practice on their own. It’s an effective model, but only for a few teaching situations. It’s a good coaching model for getting learners to develop a routinized set of skills, often skills requiring muscle memory, such as hitting a golf ball, throwing a Frisbee, shooting a basketball, playing a musical scale on an instrument, or such things as basic math and grammar skills, etc. However, even with these examples, to move beyond competent to highly proficient and incorporate those skills into a sequence of practices, the individual usually needs to develop their own “flare” to that skill to truly “own” it and make it into a craft.

Unfortunately, I see this model used for teaching concepts much higher up on Bloom’s Taxonomy than simple recall and memorization. Here’s the trouble with this model. Beyond routinized, rote-learning, this model of lesson design is ineffective at guiding students to do more than “rent” the skill, concept, or information for the short-term. This model of instruction robs the learner the opportunity to make their own discovery, work and wrestle with a concept, and incorporate a lived experience into their previously existing worldview, paradigm, or understanding.

You might be thinking, why not just tell, show, or demonstrate the concept to the learner so they don’t have to go through the frustration and time required for the “struggle” of discovery. Well, quite simply, that is not how the human brain works. Mammals make meaning and construct knowledge (so learn) when they have opportunities to take in new information and understand it by resolving inner cognitive experience, participating in collaborative discourse, and then actively reflecting on what they learned and how they learned it. That is the learning theory of constructivism. That is how humans truly learn complex concepts.

So, now you might be thinking, yeah, but there isn’t time for students to puzzle through and wrestle with all that I have to teach. My initial response might be a glib one; Well, then I guess they won’t really learn it will they. Or, maybe a more constructive response might be that you have to prioritize, and really focus on those concepts that Wiggins and McTighe would call the “enduring understandings.”

Those might be false choices though. It doesn’t have to be as hard as you think. I teach my students a simple 3-step lesson design process that I call “Consider, Construct, Confirm.” I feel a little like I’m hocking a magic elixir, but I assure you it isn’t magic, it does work, and it isn’t very complex. I’ll illustrate with a couple of simple examples that might be taught often using the “I do, we do, you do” model.

“I do, we do, you do”

“Consider, Construct, Confirm”

Now, let’s compare the two models. First, look at the sequencing of the activities. Really, all I did with the second model is I reversed the sequence of activity, to be (roughly), “you do, we do, I do” (with an I do added to the end). Now, compare who is doing the heavier cognitive activity in the two models and when. In the first model, the teacher does the majority of the work and the student is passively receiving. In the second, that is reversed. By having the students first consider what they know about the topic, you are facilitating them exposing and exploring their prior knowledge. This is important, because in the end you want them to either confirm what they already new or replace it with the correct conceptualization. However, if you don’t first uncover the prior knowledge, it doesn’t effectively get “over-written” in the learners mind. Therefore, the misconception eventually comes back and even bumps back out the new conceptualization you “taught” them.

The students are constructing their own understanding by working together to figure it out with each other’s help. Then, by having the students present their own procedure (for the equation) or findings (for the metaphor) you can more accurately identify any misconceptions they have (as they have to verbalize with they think and why), which allows you to know more precisely what you have to then “teach” in the last phase.

Lastly, by “lecturing” at the end, you are now taking a passive lecture experience that might happen at the beginning and convert it into an interactive exchange between the teacher and student. The lecture becomes an active exchange involving a comparison of their examples and previous experience with the accepted or taught ideas from the teacher (the expert). Through this, the students effectively “confirm” what they have learned as they compare and contrast what they did/discovered with what you (as the expert) now tell them.

Reversing the lesson, in reality shouldn’t take much more time, but now the sequencing is properly aligned with constructivist learning theory and giving students an opportunity to make meaning that will endure, rather than storing a memorized procedure or example in their short-term memory. So, enough already with the “I do, We do, You do” model of instruction. We can do better.

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1 Response to Teachers, Enough Already with “I do, We do, You do.”

  1. joseph pahr says:

    Hi, Tim,

    Thanks for this post. It was a good read as I hunker down on the couch during our “don’t freeze your ass off” no school day. Kinda weird to have school shut down for winter conditions that Minnesotans would shrug at, but then Lincolnites aren’t used to wind chills in the negative aughts, let along the -20s.

    So, the real reason I’m writing is because I’m curious about how to put your 3-C’s into practice. I’ve been really struggling with teaching the Theory of Knowledge course for IB, partly because I’m trying to comprehend it at the same time I’m trying to teach it, so most of the time I don’t know what my objectives truly are. Often I’m inclined to just throw the kids a real life situation and say “use the Think TOK method to figure it out, like I’m fucking doing, quit whining about not getting it ’cause I don’t get it either,” but that feels neither responsible nor productive nor conducive to job stability. Currently, I’m working through the process with them, but it still feels less than optimally engaging. Plus, it feels like I’ll never cover a fraction of the content that could be covered.

    I guess my question goes to the first C, the Consider step, which by the way, appears borrowed from project-based theory. What sort of ground work needs to be laid before I can expect a class of gifted high achievers to analyze a real life situation using think TOK? The ultimate question is, regarding any real life situation, “how do we know what we know?” How deep do I need to go into each possibly relevant concept and step before I pose the situation? Is it enough to give them a sample, show them where they can find more info, and then set them to task, which is my current scheme, or do I need to dive deep into the theory first? By the way, their ultimate assessments are a presentation (assessed by me) and an essay (externally assessed by elves in IB land) which, according to the IB organization, don’t measure what the student knows, but assess how well the student thinks and applies theory of knowledge concepts.

    Now, after having written the above, I feel a bit guilty for dumping my frustrations on you and I apologize for blindsiding you with a question that can’t be easily answered. However, I would appreciate your helpful thoughts. How would you approach something like this?

    Stay warm, and cross your fingers that Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow,


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