Today I was observing preservice teachers at a local elementary school and all of them were creating digital stories with small groups of elementary students. As I was wandering around taking field notes, one group caught my attention, so I followed along. This group of students were trying to find elementary students and teachers to interview about pit bulls and what they thought about them. As they moved about the school talking with students and teachers, one teacher they approached explained that he wouldn’t be a very good person to interview, because he doesn’t really know much about dogs. He suggested talking with someone who might be more reliable and turned it back to the students to figure out who to call. This is where it got fun.
While the students were working, their preservice teacher was doing a great job of letting them have the freedom to take charge of the project. She had given up control to her elementary students. I was curious, though, how this was going to go now that the elementary school teacher had thrown the elementary students for a loop. What happened next is exactly what I hoped. The students with minimal direction from their preservice teacher, started talking as a group about how they could find a reliable source. One suggested calling a veterinarian or the human society. One student pulled out a chrome book and another used the preserve teacher’s iPad to start looking up emails, but then a student took it to the next level and advocated for a position. She thought it would be best to call and talk with someone. This took some convincing, both with the other students and with the preservice teacher. The preservice teacher was more concerned with how they would capture the conversation, while the students were more unsure about what to say.
The students again took charge, came up with a way to capture the conversation on the iPad using a voice recording app and they came up with the questions. A few minutes later they were on the phone talking with a representative from the local humane society. The excitement, and anxiousness, of the preservice teacher and her students was great. There was no guarantee it would work, but they all went with it and it went perfectly. I’m excited to see the final product from this group as they head into the next week and a half.
This gets at a deeper issue though. How often are we pushing back on our students to figure out their own problems and to use real, authentic, reliable sources? I know I try my best, but as a colleague of mine would say of herself, I’m a helper. I like to help people figure things out. This is a reminder of how I need to continue to take a step back and let students take control of their learning. I’m not helping by helping, because I’m not going to be there once they leave my classroom and become the teacher in the school. This applies to my work with experienced educators too. I can’t be everywhere, so I need to make sure I set up my learners to be able to make those decisions by themselves. That’s the only way we’re going to see change. Just like Dori says to Marlin, “It’s time to let go.”