It’s Not What the Teachers Do, It’s What the Students Do

During the last month, teachers have had to rebuild their ship while sailing. That was a daunting task. I’m sure some have done it with grace and style while others have really struggled. Could be that those who were dynamic teachers in the classroom have found ways to engage students via remote learning.

I think a key guideline to remember is that how much students learn is not as much a matter of what the teacher does as what the student does. I am not absolving teachers of any responsibility for what their students learn. In fact, the opposite. Here’s my “prime directive” as a teacher:

The teacher’s job is to make it as easy as possible for as many of his or her students as possible to learn as much as possible to the highest level as possible.

I’m not saying school should be easy. It should be difficult. Learning new things is hard work. However, the difficulty should be in the navigation of understanding difficult concepts, not navigating the learning environment.

The pandemic has thrust us into a worldwide natural experiment about how we teach. Out of that may come a broader acceptance that the student learning is maximized when the focus of teaching methods shift from what the teacher is doing to what the student is doing.

I’m sure that there are some teachers whose conversion to remote learning is to simply post five 50 minute lectures and then use an online objective test. Hopefully this will be the outlier and what those teachers, students, and parents will learn is the limitations of that teaching style is that much of the learning is ephemeral.

This method of teaching, which has been the primary teaching mode for a long time, is largely ineffective because the teacher does the work and the student passively observes. There can be a place for that, but it should not be the means to learning. Of course everyone knows we learn better by doing. Teachers really know their subject because of the experience of doing the act of teaching it.

There’s a a silver opportunity in this pandemic cloud. Many teachers will realize the didactic lecture method works even less effectively when there is minimal give and take between student and teacher, or even student and student within the face to face classroom setting. Instead, shifting their focus to providing students an engaging question to answer, a problem to solve, a task to complete, and then providing students time to practice, dig in, collaborate, and then perform, present, or share the results of that work with the teacher and peers is significantly more engaging for all and, therefore, more effective. The teacher shifts from doing most of the work for the students to setting the stage for, coaching, facilitating, and then providing feedback/evaluation of student work and progress.

So, teachers thrust into a new way of doing things, what are you doing via remote learning that shifts the work from you presenting and students listening to students actively engaging with a concept and working with that concept?

Share your thoughts and let’s start a useful dialog to make us all better teachers.

3 thoughts on “It’s Not What the Teachers Do, It’s What the Students Do

  1. Matthew Inman says:

    Hi Tim,

    I may have had an advantage over many of my peers since I have been half in the distance learning model for almost a decade now. Simply put, you are not going to put five 40 minute videos up and expect the students to watch them. Distill it to the basics. What do they need to know? Give them a couple of examples and move on. What I am finding is that the students who can manage their time are doing well and those who struggle with time management are not doing well.

    I am also changing the types of assessment I am giving them. They are being given a written set of problems to complete but must create of video of themselves explaining a problem. You can watch the first fifteen seconds of the video and have a pretty good idea of what grade they should earn for about 90 percent of the students. They will begin their second major assessment today and I have put a couple of questions which synthesize multiple topics and require them to really make some connections between ideas. This may also require them to make connections with each other to actually complete and be able to explain the problems.

      1. Matthew Inman says:

        It is clear that some of them practice their solutions before actually recording them for submission. I don’t think this is a huge problem. If they are practicing the problem to make sure they have it right before they record, isn’t that learning?

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