One of the biggest premises of my classes is that I don't want to do any of the thinking for the students. In planning a lesson, if the teacher is doing more thinking than the students, there might be problems. Nowadays, I see more and more teachers debilitating their students by doing the higher level thinking for the students and leaving only the most basic of cognition for them to do. Independent thought is neither looked at nor addressed. It is no wonder they feel as though classes are not designed for them, but instead, designed for the teacher, by the teacher. This causes them to have zero buy-in and holds little argument about why they actually have to learn the material.

I use a common analogy in my class all the time whenever a student complains that I "make things more complicated". The irony of this statement is that I don't make things more complicated, rather I don't make them easier. Anyway, back to the analogy. Being a coach for over six years, I find this to be apropos. If a coach wants to make this players better, (s)he does not make practice easier (or too hard). (S)he does not shoot the ball for the players nor does (s)he run the sprints for the players. The coach guides the players in the right direction and gives some helpful hints as needed. The coach provides a structure, hopefully with player input and with player consideration. This analogy works well with how to challenge students to do most, if not all, of the thinking. Oftentimes, students are looked at incapable of completing what seems like simple tasks.

This happens a lot in science with the organization of data. Students are given data tables pre-made and ready to go for the students. The filling in the blanks approach to filling in data is not at all how real science (or anything for that matter) works in the real world. There is an art to organizing and interpreting data.

I understand that the rebuttal to this will be that "class is too short to help the students create the data tables themselves" or that teachers don't want to field the questions that students may have regarding the organization of data. Why not? Simply asking the students questions such as "what makes the most sense?" or "what makes it the easiest to understand for others?" are great starters to get the students thinking. Isn't that what we want? The students may never use the material covered in class, but the fact that they are thinking on how to precisely and accurately display data by thinking about how it will be perceived will much more likely be needed in their life.

These implications are far greater than just data organization. They are also included in the experiment creation or any project. Why give the students a step-by-step procedure on how to complete an experiment or project? More thinking would be involved in giving the students a task to complete, giving them some minimal guidelines, and have them try to figure out a way of doing it. Having them work in groups and communicate possible outcomes to various experimental procedures, brainstorming, listening, etc. is priceless for their cognitive functioning. But the students will waste time, right? With the teacher as a guide and dropping some hints to differentiate the process to each group/student, time should not be that much of an issue. Also, with student buy-in increasing, the teacher might find that the students are learning more, faster and that can free up some other instructional time. Depth >> breadth, right? This is not a waste of time.

But what if students make a dangerous experiment or create something totally off what I was expecting?!

I make it a point in my class to discuss and check over all of the procedures and projects that students create. Sometimes, they come up with better material than what I had previously planned. This adds more to my activity ideas for future classes.

I tried student-made experiments in green chemistry class last year. Prior to this, I had students making their procedures while I was an eighth grade teacher. It worked for many of the students, but some just wanted the step-by-step instructions on how to do things rather than try to figure them out themselves. The students that wanted the easy way out did not enjoy science or my class for that matter enough to be motivated to think. They wanted to do the easy part and get a high grade. About half way through the year, I decided to experiment and went the easy route (for the students, not me). The student stress level decreased and those that wanted things the easy route were happy, while those that liked the thinking were upset. I don't know how to tackle this motivation issue, but I'm sure if we started early with the habits of thinking and figuring out how to solve problems, students would be better and more willing to do it.

Let's rewind back to the title of this blog.

Teachers complain about helicopter parents, but in a way, they do the same thing to their students. A definition of over-parenting can be doing something for your child even though the child can do it themselves. Maybe a definition of spoon-fed teaching can be doing something for your students even though the students can do it (or at least most of it) themselves. I say "at least most of it" in order to always focus on pushing students to just above their capacity.

More things that you can do to make the students do more thinking:

  • No more pre-made data tables.
  • No more step-by-step procedures.
  • No more posting processes on the walls, have students organizing their help guides. These skills are much needed in college and other careers.
  • No more process thinking.
  • More figuring out things.
  • No more being afraid of having students fail, but realizing that you learn more from mistakes.
  • More allowing students to make things up and work at their own pace to figure things out!
  • No more guided or fill-in-the-blank notes!
  • No more multiple choice tests.
  • More allowing the students to surprise you.
  • No more over-structured rubrics! Structure stifles creativity!
  • Tier instruction with examples; don't make it the baseline.
Please note, this applies for general education students and does not imply anything for students with special needs that have to receive services per their IEP, 504 plan, etc.
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