Planning Puzzle: Moving from Teacher-Directed to Student-Engaged

Teacher directed to student in mind

There are two parts to this topic of teacher-directed vs. student-engaged, and we are only dealing with the planning part here.  The conferencing part is for another blog.

The graphic above is a portion of a slide projected at one of the many dynamic Great School Partnership/New England Secondary School Collaborative conferences I attended over the past 5 years.  This puzzle of moving away from the teacher to the student is foreign and terrifying to many educators — whether they are elementary, secondary, or post-secondary.  I see it daily.

I equate this puzzle with the person who has never traveled outside of the country:  You need a passport whether you are traveling to the EU, an African country, or a next door neighbor — Mexico and Canada. Seems easy enough to get the passport and all should be good to fly away.  But as many travelers know, a passport is only one travel puzzle piece.  Another piece is standing in line to clear Homeland Security.  The inexperienced traveler puzzles:  Why do some people get to go in that shorter line by showing that other card?  Why am I not in control?  Upon arrival as a visitor, I am coming to spend money and enjoy my time not stand in more lines to clear immigration and then another line for customs! The puzzle continues for the new international traveler.  Coming back to the USA, possibly running late for the plane, and once again there are those 2 lines:  One is short and quick to use that Global Traveler card — the other is endlessly long, possibly opening luggage, answering questions, and time is running out. Why don’t I have one of those cards; the puzzle pieces aren’t coming together. For those who have not traveled it is a puzzle.

Teachers don’t feel in control with the idea of their planning not running the lesson.  “Students need to suck-it-up. I have taught it this way forever, and kids got it!” Have you heard teachers respond this way? It is how some teachers react when I work with them to move the learning to the students.  More often I hear these frustrations when the instructor looks at low assessment results. “These kids don’t work hard enough.” “Why don’t they do their work?” “They don’t get it.”

It’s not a puzzle: That’s not how students learn.

Teacher directed to student in mind

Backward planning is essential.  What do the students ultimately need to know?  And only after fully answering that essential detailed questions, do we decide how to get our kids there through their engagement.  It is NOT about the teacher; it is about the student.  All of the pieces in between are the student-engagement puzzle pieces — not teacher-direction.  Yes, there will be the teacher’s mini lessons which lays foundations along the way.  Yes, the teacher is constantly involved, but the change in the puzzle of teaching is that the student is at the center — NOT the teacher.

With my backwards planning, I have to think through and carefully plan how my students are involved in their learning each day.  They are not passive: Those puzzle pieces don’t put themselves together without help.  If they are bored and not learning, the pieces won’t fit together.  We know from research, that forced pieces break or get bent and are no longer part of the educational puzzle — they drop out. Student engagement doesn’t mean just paying attention; it means they are involved in their learning.

One way to do this is through the Jigsaw instructional strategy.  According to John Hattie’s 2017 updated work, Jigsaw has an effect size of 1.2.  It is within the top 10 most powerful ways students learn.  Not surprising that this strategy is when students learn and are engaged with their peers. Ironically, jigsawing puts puzzle pieces together!

Are you moving students to the center of your classroom? Are you reflecting how engaged your students are? Did you plan the end first or did you plan what you were going to do?

Have you put your student puzzle together?

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