821 Sainte-Croix, Montréal, Québec Canada H4L 3X9 | Tel: 514.744.7500 | Toll-Free: 1.855.744.7500 | Fax: 514.744.7505

PDO

Pedagogical Development Office

Teaching Tip: Learning to Let Go

PDF version

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ Freedigitalphotos.net

One of the great parts of being a teacher is having a captive audience hanging off our every word, excited to hear what the expert has to say. Active Learning (AL) turns this aspect of teaching on its head. AL encourages the teacher to periodically step out of the spotlight and to share it with their students. The class as a whole now becomes the central player, where teachers and students alike participate in the development of knowledge and learning.

Letting Go

One important aspect of AL is resisting the urge of always acting as the expert who lectures, and knowing when to take a step back. Letting students work through problems on their own or in groups without interfering until they need help, waiting while a class starts a discussion, or allowing students to access resources and information on their own, requires a disciplined teacher who knows how to hold back from the desire to always lead where the class is going and how students are working on the material.

Empowering Students

In a course where Active Learning is encouraged, students begin to have more control over the kinds of learning they are doing, the issues they are considering, the time spent on certain activities, even how much material can get shared in a class. In order to allow students to engage more directly in their own learning we have to let them have some control over what is happening in the classroom. As teachers we like to believe that we know what is best for our students and their learning. Sharing that control can sometimes be hard. However, sometimes we have to give our students the chance to make choices, and mistakes, in order for them to learn from these experiences.

Guide on the Side

Sometimes letting go of control can just mean waiting while students work on class assignments or problems. This involves resisting the urge to check student work and make comments right away. One model for active learning is to be the “guide on the side;” however, we need to let students try to navigate the path on their own before we step in to give them helpful directions. If we step in too soon, students will learn that they just have to wait a few minutes and the expert will show up with the “answer.” Instead, we want them to struggle and try to resolve their problems and only turn to the guide when they really are lost. Giving students enough time to start working on assignments and discover problems before we check on their work, is a good way to make sure they have understand the problem at a deeper level.

“I don’t know”

One important aspect of a more student-centered approach like AL is that there is more room for a teacher to say “I don’t know.” In fact, these can be great teaching moments. When a student asks something and you don’t know the answer, you could look it up, or you could also ask the student to research it. Alternatively, in an AL approach, you could say “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out together.” By working through the question or problem with the class, you not only ensure that every student receives an answer, but also that every student experiences how an expert would come to that answer by modelling the problem solving process and approaches.

For more suggestions for AL activities, please consult the Active Learning in Action Teaching Tip

For more information on active learning and student-centered pedagogy, please contact us at the PDO!