Balancing Autonomy with Instruction

Lately, I have been struggling with the balance between student autonomy and instruction. Many students are not ready for complete independence, some feel most comfortable when they have guidance every step of the way. I want to add 1:1 conferencing but have found that students are not ready for self-assessment. I feel as though my biggest challenge is the time crunch of semester classes.  This is the plan to build a supportive scaffold for my dependent learners.

Question Focus Technique- I have begun using the QFT from Right Question Institute. Through this introductory activity, students are introduced to a new topic or concept and develop their own questions to investigate. Specifically, I am using this with my Physiology students; giving them an image of an organ and they develop questions. This has led to some focused investigations around Science and Engineering Practices and Cross-Cutting Concepts. By starting with student questions, students are looking for answers to their own questions. This has resulted in more engagement as students have determined their own focus questions instead of going through the motions of a teacher-appointed task.

Lab(s) – I determine which lab to start with based on the questions that students have asked. I have found that they usually ask the same questions that a planned lab would have answered anyway. The difference is that now students are invested in the activity because they are searching for answers to their own questions. So far I have found it necessary to plan at least two labs to answer all of the students’ questions. In the future, I will make it a point to show students which of their questions will be answered in the lab.

Notes to support (need evidence of reading/review) – This is where I am stumped. There are still students who want the notes, direct from the teacher. I understand this need; they may not be confident that they have reached the objective or the lab activities have sparked a new interest or new questions. Students want confirmation, in addition to my feedback, that they are on the right track. Stand and deliver instruction is not how I want to use precious face time with students. I am considering adding more interactivity like Mentimeter or Poll Everywhere. This will be my focus for this week.

My focus in the coming weeks will be assessment and reflection. How do I prepare students to self-assess and reflect?  As I type this I realize that reflection should be first… Just breath, one step at a time.




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.