Saturday, March 12, 2011

Are teachers doing too much of the work for their students?

I came across this TED talk from Priya Ganesan yesterday on the Tech & Learning blog. Bob Sprankle's post is about play time, using the Sandbox Mode.  As it happened yesterday afternoon I was helping one of our teachers who was subbing in Middle School for another teacher who was away.  She was doing Grade 6 IT and asked me to pop by to help with a lesson on Photoshop.  I was interested to read her sub notes and to find the teacher had asked the students to "play in the sandbox" - to discover how to move things from a layer on one image into another image.   It was great to see the enthusiasm of the students, how they problem-solved and how they were able to help each other out.  Actually I learned a couple of new things about Photoshop during this session too!

Bob Sprankle posted the above TED talk after he met Priya Ganesan at the TEDxRedmond conference. This is what he says about her talk on creativity in schools:

You'll hear her talk about her experiences in school where "half of the work" has been done for students, as in her example about writing a poem. She questions why schools don't trust students of being "capable" to create the entire poem themselves. 
This is a profound question. Does it actually have to do with trust, or are students provided half of the poem to speed things along in order to get through the curriculum? Or is it a matter of control... making sure that all students reach the desired (successful) outcome? No matter what the reason, Priya brings to light that students aren't being allowed to fumble on their own; aren't given the time to create an entire piece independently; are restricted by strong routines set in place.

Are we as teachers ---unwittingly, and with the best intentions--- doing too much of the work for the students?
As anyone who reads my blog regularly will know, I'm all for choice, for allowing students to use different tools to express their understanding.  But yesterday I caught myself out too.  I was teaching a group of Pre-Kindergarten students and I wanted them to be able to draw closed shapes with the pencil tool and fill them in with the bucket.  I thought it would be a good reinforcement of the work they'd done in maths on different shapes and at the same time give them practice in the different tools in the Pixie drawing programme we were using - the pencil tool, how to change the colour of the line, how to change the thickness of the line, how to use the bucket.  So I tended to give them very specific instructions.  I asked them to name different shapes that they could draw, I asked them to choose a different colour for each shape, and a different colour for filling in each shape.  I asked them not to use the "textured" fill patterns.  I even told one student to change the colours he was using when I noticed that he was just copying the work of the student on the next computer.

So now I'm reflecting on this.  Did the students' final drawings look a bit "samey"?  Did I do too much of the work, or too much of the thinking for these students yesterday?  Did I limit their creativity?  Did I have an idea of what "good" looked like and try to steer them in this direction?  Should I do it differently when I have anothert class of PK students next week?


  1. I think teachers are trained to model. Model. MODEL. I think technology is about learning through experimentation. We often bring that modeling to the computers.... and it doesn't look good. Games no longer come with instructions- you just turn them on and start playing them. You figure it out as you go along.

    I see much more excitement and viral learning when students get to discover things on their own. And they remember those things! Because it was their discovery. They own it.

    And I've been guilty of the 'over modeling' with the Kinder people too... and ended up with 20 almost identical projects. And I've also tried 'undermodeling' with that age (make a valentine for someone special- here's how a heart is drawn if you want to use one), and ended up with some very confused children. Not sure what the balance is, because we so train our children to be GIVEN everything that they are unsure what to create when we don't tell them exactly what to do. And that scares me. Bunches.

  2. Priya Ganesan is amazing - how articulate and insightful! I really look forward to reading your blog Maggie becuase I know it will be full of opportunities and ideas to make me reflect on my own practice. Thank you for taking the time to share.
    PS Are you on twitter? I'd like to recommend you if so.

  3. Hi Julie, thanks so much for your comments. I've decided I am going to try a different approach with the next class Pre-K class that I have on Wednesday. However I'm very conscious that at this age students can only really remember a very limited amount of steps. I do want to reinforce the idea of different shapes (square, circle, rectangle, oval, triangle and so on) as this supports their maths - I don't really want a random collection of blobs. At the same time I want them to explore the different tools in the drawing programme. I also know that the children get very upset if they do something and "lose" their work, or do something that ends up not looking very nice at all compared to other children. The undo button is a great thing, but there are a limited amount of times it undoes! Perhaps I'm being over ambitious and expecting too much to do all of this in one session?

    Karen - I am on Twitter as MaggieSwitz. Thanks for your comments too!