After teaching arts and crafts for nearly 20 years, there is one thing I am certain of – the most important learning comes when I stop teaching.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying teachers are unnecessary. It is vital to have someone show us the basic skills, for, without them, we can’t do much of anything.
There comes a point, however, when the teacher should step back and see what the students can discover for themselves.
That is where the most important learning happens.
Years ago I joined a craft group that was focusing on making Christmas ornaments. One class had me produce possibly the most perfect thing I have ever made. It was a ribbon covered foam ball.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? In truth, it wasn’t that hard but there was a definite order to how you had to place the ribbons for it to turn out. Our teacher slowly took us through each step. The little ribbon pieces had been pre-cut for us so all we needed to do was follow her direction to create the perfect decoration. I diligently hang that ornament every year and instead of feeling pride when I look at it, I feel kind of empty.
CREATING OPPORTUNITIES FOR MOST IMPORTANT LEARNING
Sure, it’s pretty near perfect, but nothing about it reminds me that I created it. It taught me an important lesson though. As a teacher, you need to give your students enough rope (or ribbon) to either hang themselves or create their own version of perfect – not your version.
It is a skill that has been much appreciated by my employers when teaching people with disabilities. I encourage them to think independently and try new things.
I always have a lesson plan for my arts and crafts workshops and often have things pre-cut. This saves a lot of time when you are dealing with up to 10 children aged between four and 12. Or a group of 12 or more adults with disabilities.
As we go through the activities the students gain confidence. They start suggesting additions or alterations to the project and I fully encourage this.
The best time is towards the end of the workshop when I ask them to come up with their own designs. I call this my Wacky challenge.
Some are a little daunted at first. They all manage to be inspired as they walk around the workshop gathering supplies which range from all kinds of recyclables and nature finds, to glitter, colourful pipe cleaners, craft sticks and more.
They all end up creating something wonderful from their own imaginations. These are usually the things they are most proud of.
Not all of their ideas work out at first. Then it’s time to investigate ways to make it work. This is an amazing opportunity to foster divergent thinking and flexibility. It also facilitates independence, problem-solving and resilience skills.
To steal the words of career educator Ben Johnson, great teachers don’t teach.
They engineer learning experiences that manoeuvre the students into the driver’s seat and then the teachers get out of the way.
EVERYONE CAN CREATE MOST IMPORTANT LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES.
Knowing when to step back and allow the most important learning to begin is not a skill for professional teachers alone.
I used the word ‘professional’ as I think we are all teachers to the people around us. And we are all students.
I’m using this technique as a grandparent too. As the Goddesses are getting older there are more disputes among each other or frustration at not being able to do things.
Instead of giving them the answer, I ask them how they think they could fix it. Sometimes I’ll offer a few suggestions and often have an outlandish idea mixed in to help lighten the mood. Little kids can be quite emotional. 🙂
They are so excited when they’ve solved the problem it will be the first thing they tell their parents when they see them, regardless of the other wonderful things we may have done during the day.
This is a good skill for employers too. When a staff member alerts them to a problem, instead of providing a solution, employers can encourage their staff to investigate the possibilities. Could be the employee comes up with a better solution.
By creating a space for independent thinking and problem solving, employers will ultimately have fewer demands made on their time.
CREATING MOST IMPORTANT LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES ON A PERSONAL LEVEL
The fact is, we are regularly being spoon fed information. We are told how to live life and even how to break free from all the rules and advice. It makes it hard to remember how to think for ourselves sometimes.
That’s what makes it so important to promote independent thinking, especially in children.
With so much information at the tips of our fingers, we are all at risk of getting lazy brains that are dependent on being told how and when to do things.
How often do you turn to the internet for how-to steps without even attempting to work it out yourself first?
I, for one, am often guilty of this. I seek a teacher to tell or show me the steps, even when I have the basic skills needed to work it out for myself.
Yet, just like the kids, I feel most proud when I engage my problem-solving skills to come up with my own solution.
It may take me several attempts to get it right, but that is where the most important learning comes.
Do you allow yourself time for the most important learning?
Wishing you many learning opportunities and a gleeful week, Tamuria.