Letting Go

I’ve been trying something with my class, trying to hand over more ownership and responsibility to them. It’s been thought provoking and challenging and humbling and rewarding. 

I started small. Students individually signing up to workshops. This moved into students having a literacy block to plan and run independently. The next step was students planning their own timetable for an afternoon based on one of our current inquiries. And finally last week, the students planned their own timetable for an afternoon based on something that sparks their interest. We spent the week using classroom learning to provoke thinking and create a list of potential questions to investigate, which helped to guide the sessions.


Each time I’ve seen an increase in purposeful engagement, critical thinking, extended focus and meaningful collaboration. Amongst other things they are creating podcasts, co authoring books, exploring fractions, analysing suffixes and investigating how languages evolve over time. They are coming to realise that it’s about the thinking and the learning, and not about looking busy and working. They can see how their learning is becoming deeper and more connected. They’re moving in and out of collaboration naturally, discussing ideas and sharing thoughts and suggestions. The buzz in the room has grown each week as the students begin to find their flow.

Each time there have also been challenges. A few students who, even with support, have been stuck. I haven’t been able to conference with as many students as I’d like. Some students have been ‘working’ rather than learning. Some inquiries have just simply been unsuccessful. There have even been a couple of heated arguments along the way. On the flip side, each of these situations paved the way for authentic learning opportunities. How do we decide what is worth investigating? What matters to you as a learner? What effective strategies could we use to resolve conflict? How can a guiding question help focus our inquiries? How will you know when you’ve learnt something? What do you do when you get stuck? What self management strategies will help us? There’s a lot still to explore. As a learning community we’re really just at the beginning of this journey. 

This week I’ve overheard multiple conversations about how personal learning time is the best part of every week. They are loving it, and I’ll continue to lean into the idea that my role is to foster curious learners and not produce compliant students. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I thought my comment was overly harsh (calling people eduquacks was maybe a bit much)so I have removed it but here's an edited version:

      It’s a good message and one that ‘feels right’ but it also sounds like a case of the Emporer’s New Clothes. How much control are we putting into the students’ hands? Can they just learn what they like, and opt out of what they want to? Who decides what is age appropriate and what should be part of a school curriculum? What is considered essential knowledge and what are considered fundamental building blocks that must be learned in order to be able to understand more complex concepts? How much choice should they have over these concepts and ideas? What are the non-negotiables that will need to be taught at grade 1, 2, 3, etc? What CAN”T they opt out of?

      Also, why are we assuming that students know best about their own learning? They don’t and it’s okay to say that as educators. The myth of ‘learning styles’ is still hanging around like a bad smell in a lot of schools. This had a similar fundamental flaw – students were expressing a preference of style, not the style they best learned in. Research has now debunked the idea that students can make correct decisions about HOW they best learn. Choice should be encouraged. But within limits and with caution as it can result in students attempting tasks and approaching concepts they don’t have the working memory capacity or background knowledge to deal with. Children also don’t have the maturity to select the material to be learned that will be most beneficial in the long run. They don’t know what they don’t know, and adults/teachers are supposed to be the experts who are paid to make these informed decisions. I fear this push for agency will be just as badly implemented as the learning styles.

      I hope I’m wrong but I’ve seen no research published or used in the defense of complete agency for students or the case for teachers ‘letting go’ (care to share some?), whereas all the research (mountains of it) that suggests guided instruction with clear goals and gradual release of responsibility when students have sufficient guided practice and opportunities to build knowledge seems to be getting ignored. Students can still be actively engaged and make choices in their learning when there are clear goals and benchmarks for them to aim for. A common analogy when talking about these kinds of workshops and ‘studios’ is that the teacher is a ‘guide on the side’, acting as a roadmap to direct students, as well as other nauseating metaphors and descriptions (facilitator of learning, anyone? Or as Guy Claxton recently coined – designers of learning. When did we stop being proud of being called ‘teachers’?). Well the best guides know where they’re going and know the most efficient way of getting there. As should the best teachers.

  2. I have taught at an IB school where agency was taught, facilitated and carefully planned for, as it appears in this post, Letting Go. I know that the growth and progress made in this educator's classroom was not accidental. I think the author's explanation of their process and the candor with which they admitted successes and failures of this process are to be applauded.

    I have taught for 30 years and am learning more every year about how well students can make productive and successful choices about their learning. This doesn't happen in a vacuum. Students make good decisions about their learning when a carefully planned and monitored structure is set to guide students in their decisions and learning activities. I see this in the article.

    In my planning for the new school year ahead, I am working on structuring my teaching so that I know well the mandated curriculum requirements and can work with students in deciding how we achieve them. I believe this gives students ownership over their learning and gives them a stake in their success beyond me dictating how they will learn and hoping that they comply. I know there will be failures in this process and adjustments made, but as I teach and remind my students, this is how we learn.


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