It seems in education that we are constantly adding. Rarely do we identify and abandon significant tasks and activities. Yet, if we were able to do so, we could create time for other important activities. We could preserve energy to make life more satisfying and successful. However, we want to be certain that anything we might abandon does not disadvantage or undermine the learning of our students.
The good news is that there are several common tasks, habits, and preoccupations which we can choose to abandon that can make our lives better while not sacrificing learning. Here are five things to consider.
Opportunity #1: Stop doing things students can do for themselves.
Like mother birds, we sometimes “pre-chew” what we give to students. We may even “digest” the information for them and then tell students exactly what they need to do with it. Yet, confusion and challenge can be useful to learning experiences. We may also find ourselves constantly reminding and nudging students to plan, prepare, and perform when they can do so themselves, if given the responsibility and allowed to experience the natural consequences that come when they are not constantly being reminded. We may think that we need to set goals for our students; however, students are more likely to own and seriously pursue goals they set for themselves. Rather than defaulting to our judgment, we might provide students with rubrics to evaluate the quality of their work. The list could go on. Beyond the time we spend doing things our students could do, we risk fostering dependence and learned helplessness.
Opportunity #2: Stop being the sole driver of learning.
It has been said that the person who gives the most effort in a classroom is the person who learns the most. When we spend all or most of a class period talking, we risk cutting off opportunities for students to engage, discuss, examine, debate, and learn. Further, learning that comes from reflection, effort, and challenging thought tends to be valued more highly and retained longer. When students play a more active role, we move from driving every activity to facilitating, monitoring, and redirecting.
Opportunity #3: Stop stepping in too quickly when students struggle.
Of course, while we do not want students to engage in excessive struggle that leaves them feeling defeated and unwilling to try in the future, we must note that some of the most important learning students encounter comes with struggle. Struggle forces students to focus, think, and explore new strategies. If we step in too early when our students are grappling with a challenge, they are more likely to see us as a quick solution rather than discover or develop the solution on their own.
Opportunity #4: Stop piling up our feedback.
When grading student work, providing analysis and guidance, or coaching students, we need to be careful to limit and focus the feedback we give. The truth is that more feedback is not necessarily better. We may feel that we need to point out every area that could be improved, but when we do this, we risk overwhelming students, and the result can be the rejecting or disregarding of everything we have offered. On the other hand, feedback that is specific, targeted, timely, and actionable is more likely to lead to the improvements we seek. Meanwhile, we will have avoided spending our evenings and weekends preparing feedback that will not be applied.
Opportunity #5: Stop assigning excessive homework.
Homework provides no benefits if students choose not to do it. Further, practicing problem solutions is only effective in small amounts. We do better when we assign moderate levels of work that is worthy from the perspective of students. The greatest benefits accrue when we assign purposeful tasks that encourage independent thinking and application of knowledge. If we don’t have a meaningful task for students to do outside of class, we need to consider not assigning homework. Of course, brief, meaningful, targeted homework—or no homework at all—requires less of our time, too.
Not every opportunity for the abandonment of the tasks discussed may feel right for you. Feel free to adopt those that will serve you best. Also, please note that this list is not exhaustive. As you read and reflect, you may discover additional opportunities that will serve you and your students well. If so, now is a good time to put them into practice.
Note: Tune in next week to learn five more things we can stop doing!