Phew! It worked!
One of the most difficult—and most rewarding—actions we can take as teachers is to let go of control. That’s what I relearned today during my class with my first-year advertising students.
We have limited time to impart upon students a series of required learning outcomes and we want it to be done right, so why would we turn control of any lessons to our students? After all, they might not take the assignment seriously. Or, just as bad, they might make some whopping mistakes.
But that’s just what I did today.
I often develop the content for a lesson and then have students deliver it within a framework that I devise. They’ve actually been doing a pretty good job within that format, but today I took my relinquishment of control one step farther: I gave them the content and told them to figure out how to deliver it. The only limitations were that they couldn’t use PowerPoint and they had to make their lesson interactive (thanks for the tips, Tom Brennan).
The exercise was a “grammar rodeo,” a name for a style of student presentations created by my colleague and mentor Christina Decarie to target common writing errors. Throughout the year, I monitor each student’s top writing challenges. Using the ensuing data, I put together a top 10 of this year’s students’ main grammar errors. I then developed a one- to two-page fact sheet on each of these common errors.
Today we created 10 groups to tackle these 10 challenges at the start of today’s class and then I told the groups to figure out their own best ways to deliver five- to seven-minute lessons based on the errors (again, without using PowerPoint).
It could have been a disaster. But it wasn’t.
Indeed, today’s lesson was pure magic. The students rose to the challenge and most of the groups delivered clear, easy-to-understand, accurate lessons that were seriously fun (I’ll revisit the one or two erroneous lessons). They used the white board at the front of the room. They used strips of paper for sentence structures and they used paper cutouts for punctuation marks. They handed out candies as prizes and they played games and created skill challenges.
Indeed, they had fun.
And they taught each other very well. They taught each other by methods that they’d like to be taught, which in itself was a superb learning experience for me as their teacher.
The feeling afterward was similar to how a rock climber feels upon successfully repelling off a high cliff after stepping backward off the edge: exhilarated.
Later, as I passed my dean’s office, I shared the success of what will no doubt become one of my most memorable teaching experiences. I also shared my disappointment that I hadn’t brought a video camera along to capture the whole lesson on film.
What did the dean say?
“You’ll have it with you next time.”
I certainly will. And next time it’ll be a lot easier to take that risk and relinquish control because I’ll know the reward can far outweigh the risk.