An insightful colleague once told me that many teachers are overwhelmed by major change. They are scared to death of the deep end of the pool. “That’s too much,” some say. “I could never do that.” The path to change for these trepidatious educators may start in the shallow end. They need to dip their toes, before they leap headfirst from the diving board.
When an education book or presenter suggests what you perceive as major, and frightening, change, consider one of the following ways to dip your toes into the shallow end.
Try one new technology–Years ago, I presented 10 web tools for the classroom at a major education conference. Several people approached me afterward, suggesting that they could never take on so many new things. “What if you tried just one?” I asked. One teacher considered the question for about five seconds before saying, “Sure, I suppose I could do that.” She tweeted me a week later, explaining how much she and her students enjoyed the shallow end of the pool and that they couldn’t wait to wade in deeper.
Replace direct instruction with video–For one lesson, spend 15 minutes searching for a video on Youtube or TEDEd or another service that you might use to replace your lecture or other form of direct instruction. Keep it short, and see how much your students love it. As an added bonus, save the video in Youtube archives or create your own cloud-based system. This way, you’ll have the video for posterity. As unorthodox as it might sound, education needs less from teachers, which leads to more from students.
Throw out homework for one week–For teachers who have relied on homework for many years, this one is tricky, but take a moment to ask yourself, “What if my homework assignments are a waste of time?” Try eliminating homework for an entire week. Spend more time in class on the concepts and skills your homework is built on, and see how your students do. Encourage them to find creative ways outside of school to extend the learning, but don’t make it mandatory. I’m guessing you’ll jump into the deep end on this one sooner than you believe, because after a week, you’ll see just how unnecessary homework is.
Make learning messy–If you believe in a quiet, controlled classroom, spend one day making things messy. Create some work stations. Cut instruction to a minimum. Allow students to choose partners or small groups. Encourage talking and movement. Scary? Remember, you’re dipping your toes into the shallow end of the pool for one day. If you find the water too cold, you can always return to your old way the next day. Observe carefully what messy learning looks like. Talk about it with students. What are the advantages? What barriers must be considered. This is how good teachers become great ones.
Throw out traditional grades for one assignment–Have you heard of the Teachers Throwing Out Grades Movement? Yes, it’s a thing, and it scares the bejesus out of some teachers; that is, until they try it. Pick one assignment that you would typically work on in class then collect and grade with numbers, percentages or letters. This time, tell students there will be no grade. Explain that you want to observe their work, discuss what they did and how they might improve. Then, allow them to rework the assignment as they like. If you need help, use the SE2R model, pictured above. This just might change how you assess learning forever.
If you combined all of these tips for changing your classroom, you’d create a Results Only Learning Environment. This can be daunting. If you think you’re not for this kind of sweeping change, start altering your approach in the shallow end.
Before you know it, you’ll be leaping headfirst into the deep end of amazing student-centered learning, and you just might change the world.