Do teachers get in the way?

In reality, at times, we probably do.

Two days ago I tweeted a link to an MIT Tech Review article: Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves. A truly inspiring story, which is basically summed up in the title. The One Laptop Per Child organisation dropped off a batch of Motorola Xoom tablets into two remote Ethiopian villages to see if, without instruction, illiterate children there could teach themselves to read through exposure to the alphabet games, ebooks and other apps installed on the devices. And here’s the amazing thing: they did – and then some. You should read the full article here.

This incredible story got me thinking about how sometimes teachers probably do ‘get in the way’ of learning. One way I’ve been trying to get ‘out of the way’ is through introducing ‘green means go.’

It all started with maths. You see, I have different children, other than just my regular class, come to me for maths lessons and they can arrive within a few minutes of each other. What I didn’t want was a situation where the early arrivals were ready to go, while others were still walking through the door so I explained that I would put a task up on the whiteboard in green, which children should start getting on with as soon as they come into the room. Just like traffic lights, green means go – no waiting around for Miss Lotriet to say something or set you off on a task.

Rapidly, it became clear that this was a great opportunity for AfL. Let’s say the upcoming lesson was about percentages, I would put up a related ‘green means go’ percentages task. Children would try out the task with no input from me at all and I could see how the land lied: who was ready to dive straight in and could explain to others how to solve the problem, who was struggling to remember certain bits and who was looking at me like they had never heard of percentages before. Without this, I think I would be getting in the way of the learning of those children who are ready to have a go at a task straight away.

Now, I’m not saying it went smoothly straight away; some children were out of their comfort zones having to try something without me explaining it first. However, that just made it all the more important in my eyes because as much as being about a good opportunity for AfL in maths, it’s also about developing problem solving skills, risk taking and being ok with getting something wrong or struggling the first time. We are getting there now and slowly, slowly ‘green means go’ tasks are also finding their way out of maths and into other activities.

Do you ever try to ‘get out of the way’ of learning?

The Green Light by Ted & Dani Percival
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  • Great point Claire. I used to start many of my lessons – mainly maths and literacy – in a similar way and it did really help me to pitch the rest of the lesson.

    I also listened to a teacher sharing how she would set the task early on in the lesson and then children who were confident could choose to start on the task straight away rather than being involved in the whole class input. Clearly there are potential issues with that approach, but if children are willing to give it a go on their own – especially if there are clear success criteria – then finding a way to let them is the best way forward.

    • Thank Lara. I think one of the potential issues, as a conversation on Twitter earlier reminded me, is children who think they are ready to move to the task straight away, but actually aren’t. That’s what makes mini plenaries really important throughout lessons that start like this I think. 🙂

  • Very thoughtful post, and I love the simplicity of your “Green Means Go” idea! Consider it nicked 😉

  • Great points made here. I used to have a washing line above my board which had part of a numbe sequence on and children had to work out the rule or next few numbers etc. also used in lit to display words/phrases/sentences which the chn had to identify. Worked brilliantly.

  • Do we get in the way . . . simplify or slow things down more than we need to? I am sure we do for some and others struggle to ‘try’ due to fear of failure. You have modelled a positive approach with many cross curricular applications. Colleagues tell me research very much supports such an approach.

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