Hooked on instruction

Classroom photo - stock.xchngPicture this – a classroom buzzing with activity, with students actively engaged in meaningful projects that challenge their minds. The volume is high and there’s a lot of movement, but it’s obvious that this is not chaos – something interesting is going on. The teacher walks through the room, dipping into student conversations, keeping things on track, and offering suggestions and comments.

Down the hall, a teacher stands in front of the class, talking and writing on the whiteboard. The students are quiet and attentive, taking notes, and sometimes raising their hands to ask questions.

I would guess that many, if not all teachers aspire to more classroom #1 and less #2. So what keeps teachers from teaching this way all the time?

Here’s one reason you may not have thought of – there is an immediate payoff for instruction. Every teacher wants to “see” children learn, to see that lightbulb light up, to hear a student say something smart. When you tell someone something, and they can immediately repeat it back, it feels good. You’ve accomplished something.

If I tell you that the Romans had the most advanced civilization in the ancient world, when you get that quiz question right, I feel good about my abilities as a teacher. It’s the fastest path to validation for the teacher and the student. A+ for both of us!

Students get addicted to instruction just like teachers. “What do I do? How many pages? How many words?” My 8th grade history teacher used to say, “You cook a turkey until it’s done.” Now that was scary stuff.

The payoff for teaching without relying heavily on instruction is different. The teacher has to wait longer and it’s not always as clear. Sometimes it looks messy along the way. But teachers who teach this way will tell you it’s a much bigger and better payoff for themselves and their students.

You can call it constructivist, guide-on-the-side (vs. sage-on-the-stage), project-based, Classroom 2.0, or progressive. When we wonder why it doesn’t happen more often, think about the payoff. Are you willing to wait?


2 Replies to “Hooked on instruction”

  1. I was so effective at the traditional approach to teaching, that I still find it difficult to “let go” and be present…to deal with the uncomfortable feeling that happens when learning takes a turn I didn’t predict or for which I didn’t plan. It’s at this point that I feel fear rise in me and I wonder “will I be able to react quick enough, will I have the words, and the right actions to help, or will I be left standing there, lost, without answers, without questions…exposed.”


  2. Classroom 1 is a class that I learned to teach in when conducting writing workshops with my fifth graders. Those writing/reading workshops a la Nanci Atwell and Lucy Calkins disappeared as the emphasis for accountability–high stakes testing–drove creativity out of schools.

    Now, you find district teacher specialists with these wonderful books on how to teach writing/reading that are engaging, that we KNOW works, but because everything must be scripted, forced into grades from single measures, they are forgotten. Teachers have learned to do things the nonsensical way, even when the sensible way is more engaging and entertaining.

    Should i go back to the classroom, I will do it my way and to heck with Classroom #2…and probably end up being fired.

    Take care,
    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the Corner-MGuhlin.net

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