The Invisible Teacher: How to empower your students for self learning.

I came across Sugata Mitra‘s experiment a few years ago and it challenged me to rethink some things.  His experiment is called the “hole in the wall“.  He simply placed a computer in a wall in the slums and watched to see what would happen.  Before long there were un-educated children exploring this new device.  When he went to check in on them he found that they had taught themselves english because they had to in order to use the computer.  In one of his experiments he simple asked a friend of the children to stand behind them and admire what they were doing and just ask them about it every now and then.  This is what I think could be the new model of the teacher.

At Ipadpalooza this year I met several other educators that are building new ideas about what teaching should look like.  Rabbi Michael Cohen, who wrote about the invisible iPad, talks about how it’s not about the device but what we can do with it.  Another amazing speaker was Richard Wells.  He shared a story where he was late to his class and walked in to find his students working on projects already.  So I began to think about all this and what it could mean for the future of classrooms.  What if we made the classroom less about the teachers?  I don’t mean to say we don’t need great teachers in the classroom, but rather the role of the teacher is beginning to shift.  If we want to have a student centered classroom then teachers need release our control on the classroom.  You might think that sounds crazy, but if we release our control and guide our students they become empowered.  They become inspired.  They become creators and innovators.

At the start of my education career I thought that the consumption part of technology and the gamification of education was what was going to make the most impact.  I still think games are a fantastic way to learn, but they are not the deepest way to learn.  What I finally started to see was that creating was ultimately the greatest thing for my students.  Creating allows them to dive deeper into the topic and really explore from multiple perspectives.  If I set them loose on a topic and let them explore it deeply I can become their guide in exploration.  I can essentially fade into the background and become the invisible teacher.  I don’t mean to suggest that I sit back in my room and do nothing all day.  I’m just no longer the center of my room.  I’m no longer the one giving them information, but rather I’m there to help them discover it on their own.  A great example of this is Meghan Zigmond.  She had great examples of how she let her students create in various ways.

I saw an article by Mind Shift that talked about a study in which some students got the typical lessons from a teacher while others were handed a problem and had to solve it with out help.  The students that did not receive help showed more progress and a better understanding of the knowledge because they had wrestled with it.  After reading this when my students would come to me with a question I would just look at them and say “good question”.  After looking at me funny for a while they would go try and figure it out.  What amazed me was some of the way that my students started solving problems that I would have never taught them.  They would try and fail and try again.  Through that process of failing and trying something new they began to understand concepts on a deeper level.

My challenge to us as educators today is how can we become invisible?  How can we fade into the background of our classroom and be there to support students when needed.  I believe our students will be better learners if we step out of the way and allow them to explore in their own way.  They will make mistakes along the way and it’s not our job to fix those mistakes for them.  It’s our job to let them fix those mistakes so that they can become the great problem solvers and innovators of tomorrow.

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2 thoughts on “The Invisible Teacher: How to empower your students for self learning.

  1. I do love this idea in theory. In my heart I’m on the progressive side of educational philosophy, but on my feet I find that there will always be students who require a very visible teacher for behavior and attention needs. I love the idea of giving students tools for discovery and the time to struggle with problems though. When I think back to my greatest learning, my favorite has always been project based and self-driven.

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