Autonomy: trusting that students really CAN do it for themselves

Sugata Mitra shares his findings from the “Hole in the wall project”. If ever we needed evidence that standing back and allowing learners to explore, discover and learn for themselves, this is it.

So what is the role of the teacher? Has Sugata provided us with evidence that teachers are redundant? Well, no. But it does provide us with an important message about who should be doing WHAT in the classroom and what the role of the teacher needs to be. I think of the role of the teacher in the 21st century as an ‘Expert Pedagogue’. 

It connects, for me, to the work undertaken by John Hattie, found in ‘Visible Learning’. Some of the most powerful findings from this work for me are as follows…

Teaching is an intrusive intervention – I think of this as more of an ‘interruption’ in another person’s thinking. Because of this, we (practitioners) must make sure that these interruptions are both mindful and deliberate. Just as a teacher intervention has the power to accelerate the thinking of a student, so, too can it obstruct the thinking of a student.

Now this is nothing new, I admit. But what it does do for me is to remind me about the importance of every interaction between teacher and student. As far as possible, I need to ensure that each and every one of my interruptions is deliberate and really well planned. These interruptions really need to earn their place in the classroom to make sure that they result in the progression of thinking, rather than the halting of thinking. 

If I mistime my intervention, I may well shut down any deep thinking. I may detract from the requires time and reflection that is integral to the learning process. So for me, it’s about asking myself:

How often do I deliberately hold back and allow people to ponder? When working with teachers, this is can be a particularly challenging thing to do as often, I find it hard to resist the temptation to jump in, push on and ‘get though the stuff…’

What can I do in the learning opportunities that I design that will create and nurture the space and time that is necessary for deep, ponderous thought? What does a ‘Pondering learning environment’ look, sound and feel like? And how would it be judged by others?

What do I need to do to establish a ponderous climate for learning that is both thoughtful and purposeful? 

How much courage will it take to really step back, to observe with my eyes and ears in order to inform my interventions? (And how will this feel for me and for the learners?)

Do I have the courage to test Sugata’s theory that, if left to their own learning resources, learners (adults and young people) will be able to progress their own learning? This will hinge on achieving, as with all the good stuff, a quality balance between mindful interventions and thoughtful observations.

The role of the expert pedagogue is characterised by this delicate balance between the observation of learning and provision of timely quality feedback. This is rests on the ability to foster quality learning conversations that both progress thinking and promote self-efficacy in/ for all learners.

Much to ponder…

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