I am currently on holidays in London. London is a fairly easy city to get around if you speak English fluently, but I have an extremely bad sense of direction (I sometimes still get lost in my hometown of Sydney). I am just someone who just takes a little longer when getting my bearings with a new place.
I am in London with my partner. He has an extremely good sense of direction and learns his way around new places quickly.In London, he has been the one leading the way from our hotel to the nearest underground station, Southwark. He has been the one figuring out which stations we need to change at and which colour lines we need to go on. I’ve just been daydreaming while following him. Even though I have walked from the hotel to the Southwark station many times, I wouldn’t be able to tell you how to get there. I looked like I knew what I was doing, and I was successful at getting from A to B, but really I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even bother looking at or carrying a map of the Tube, because I knew I didn’t have to use it. I can just follow my partner.
Today my partner was sick. While he was resting in the hotel room, I ventured out into London city by myself for the first time. The first thing I noticed was that there were orange light poles that pointed to where Southwark station was, telling you when to keep walking straight and when to turn a corner. I never noticed these before. I made it to Southwark station without getting lost at all. I wanted to get to the British Natural History Museum and worked out I needed to change at Westminster station for the green district line. I was much more aware of signs that gave clues to where I was supposed to go. If I was with my partner, I would never have noticed those signs because there was no need to notice them.
This experience has made me reflect on the way I have designed learning for some of my students. Some students generally take more time to do some things (like how I am with learning new directions). This may be team work, a mathematical concept or extended writing. In these situations many teachers, including myself, often hold our students’ hands and lead them from A to B; just like how I was led from A to B. We give our students scaffolds that tell them exactly what to do. We work through questions in worksheets as a whole class so all students have to do is copy the answers from the board or write down what they heard from another student. Students look like they know what they are doing, but really they were like me, just following someone who knows what they are doing.
But what if we just let our students get from A to B by themselves? Why are we so scared of letting them find their own way? They might take a little longer, or take the wrong turn and have to double back. Instead of assigning an extended writing task and giving them a scaffold straight away, why don’t we let students figure it out by themselves, but provide the clues for them. Figuring out something by yourself is one of the most powerful learning experiences. How can we design learning experiences that allow our students to do that? How can we design learning experiences that strike a balance between giving students the freedom to discover things for themselves and enough guidance so that they are set up for success?