Why Do We Start With Training Wheels?

I began my teaching career as a substitute teacher then moved into a position as an instructional assistant in the special education department. Although accidental, this was the perfect progression for me. I was able to see the plans that teachers wrote for me, how students behaved in their absence and the quality of work that was expected. The most valuable experience, by far, was working with a magnificent special education department and being the “wing person” for the regular education teacher. As I assisted in delivering instruction to students across content areas, I saw one technique that universally was more successful than others.

A fellow teacher and influencer, Brian Rozinsky, shared this analogy with me:

I don’t know about you but when I was learning to ride a bike I constantly tripped over the pedals; sometimes I even fell because I could not get my feet past them fast enough. Someone came up with the brilliant idea to just eliminate the pedals and focus on balance. I watched my neighbor learn this way and it was amazing.

This is very much like PBL or inquiry-based instruction. Starting with big ideas and letting students add in the details when they are prepared, at their own pace. My vision of my teaching used to be this:

training wheels

Supporting students until I was able to let them go and be more independent. Providing support (training wheels) so that they did not fail (never had to put their feet down). The problem with this is that when the training wheels are removed they still are not ready to be independent, they still “trip over the pedals”.

My new imagery of my students is this:

Provide the tools and experiences that students need to explore independently. Start with the big ideas, phenomena, concepts and add the details of vocabulary and punctuation gradually. Let the students be independent, just let go. It is a bit of a blow to the ego to admit that they don’t actually need me every step of the way. There is no “big release” only gradual mastery and pride in accomplishment.


One thought on “Why Do We Start With Training Wheels?

  1. Love this blend of words and pictures, Bonnie. I’m operating on the hypothesis that students still need us as teachers, though in different ways than what we (and they) have been used to before.


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