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WORKING SMARTER, NOT HARDER


checking off agenda items and objectives on the board as they were addressed throughout the class period. This both encouraged and helped keep the other students on track. The next class period, the same student repeated the performance without prompting, and the teacher eventually realized he could completely turn over the objectives and agenda to the students. Upon arrival in the classroom, he simply passed a handwritten paper to a student – several additional students began to seek out this task – who took charge of copying the day’s objectives and agenda onto the whiteboard, and checking them off throughout the lesson. The teacher was freed to talk with students as they settled into the classroom and attend to other matters related to the lesson. Meanwhile the students felt more ownership of the classroom and involvement in the flow of the lesson. By creating a student-managed routine, a task that had been a burden on the teacher became a leadership and learning opportunity for students.


Similarly, students and teachers both can benefit when students do more of the higher order thinking in the classroom. Many educators feel that they are not “really teaching” unless they lecture or lead whole-class discussion. A student teacher observed by one of the authors designed a cooperative learning activity, and his students broke into groups to tackle their problems. The teacher, however, instead of monitoring and allowing the students to learn and discover on their own, continually inserted himself into group conversations. He took over their conversations and unstuck the students at the first hint of trouble. Such an apparent need to be active may be unsustainable for the teacher and unhelpful for the students. He certainly looked harried as he rushed around between groups. Learners need opportunities to struggle with content and to devise their own solutions. Our busybody tendencies should not deprive students of such opportunities. This particular teacher might have better served his students, and himself, by stepping back and listening to the different problem-solving strategies his students tried. He could then coach the students in strategies that would strengthen future attempts at problem solving.


Assessment is another area in which students can do more of the classroom’s work. During a recent workshop on sustainable teaching, many of the participating teachers and administrators brought up issues related to assessment. Teachers expressed frustration at how much of their time was taken up by the need to provide formative and summative feedback. Both teachers and students could be better off if students took on more responsibility for assessment. Teachers learn very little about content by correcting tall stacks of assignments with clear right and wrong answers. Students who engage in peer checking, on the other hand, are made to reconsider their own work, and can be exposed to alternative approaches to that work. Benefits will accrue as well if teachers help students become better at self-assessment (McDonald & Boud, 2003). Many students make it through high school


44 Virginia Educational Leadership Vol. 8 No. 1 Spring 2011


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