The Students Surpass the Teacher

When students are in charge of their own learning they can master anything and teach their peers.

Photo of Maria Reza

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In the beginning, I stood in the middle of the classroom and taught. I expected my students to learn and apply all my teaching and somehow pass the end of unit assessment. After having to reteach several times, I realized that I should be the teacher I needed when I was younger. I realized all the kids learned and applied their learning in different ways.  I then started to create activities in which the students could expressed what they learned using different modes. Some just wanted to write, some wanted to create a poster or a play! I found that the more I let them lead and take charge, the more they grew. They grew as learners, as thinkers, and they were also proud of their work! 


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Photo of Lesli Brown

I had a very similar experience with that same aha! Exploring how to design opportunities for kids to take charge of their own learning in their own way is such an interesting idea that could go in so many directions!!! I'm interested to see what ideas evolve from this insight!

Photo of Emma Scripps

Thanks so much for this honest reflection! SO important for other educators to hear. 

Photo of Michelle Fontenot

Hi Maria! I, too, had to reevaluate my perception of teaching to allow students the freedom to make discoveries on their own. Seeing how my help became a crutch which students leaned on far too much motivated me to shift some of the thinking "burden" to their shoulders. It was only then that I began to hear them justify their thought processes without having to ask me if they were on the right track. I wonder how we can provide more opportunities for students to take ownership of their learning and express their thinking in the modality that works best for them. Thanks for sharing!

Photo of Lisa Yokana

What a great insight! Check out Mark Carlucci's post about his older students teaching younger ones-I wonder if there are some similarities between your two experiences? How are your students learning the content? Is that part still teacher driven or are they discovering things based on the challenge or activity you set up? Would love to hear more and also to hear about some of their reactions to this change!

Photo of Maria Reza

Some of the concepts are introduced by me in small group. I have three stations set up: technology, hands-on practice and teacher led small group.  Since I teach everything in Spanish, I have to scaffold a little more. The students love having more choice and independence in the classroom and I have seen it pays off in the end! They are now creating their own posters and anchor charts to put up in our classroom! 

Photo of Scott Lewis

Maria, I think you pointed out something important here with respect to scaffolding that might be part of your original statement - the role of the teacher or more knowledgeable other in helping the independent student master the learning. I think teachers may sometimes forget how critical of a role they play in assisting "independence" - either through little scaffolds they provide or even setting up the context in a way that the learner may more easily achieve mastery. 

Photo of T.J. Edwards

To stick with the scaffolding piece, I know it has helped me to think of it as exploring the adjacent possible.

I'm like you, Maria, I used stand and deliver before making my class almost entirely project/activity based. Also, like you, I've had student want to demonstrate what they know through all sorts of avenues. What I learned, though, was that students needed a little introduce to new tools or software to match the level craftsmanship I was looking for. That meant if a student was making a poster, maybe we introduce her to Adobe illustrator. Or the student who wants to capture data, introduce them to Arduino. It's our job as teachers, I think, to introduce those adjacent ideas.

Photo of Lisa Yokana

Yes, and! This is exactly what teacher as facilitator is all about!
Can't wait for you guys to work together in the ideate phase!

Photo of Maria Reza

I agree with you! I am eager to learn more ways to use technology so that my students can also use it when they are working. Right now, all the kids have a Google account and they have used google slides for presentations. Do you know of any apps or sites where the kids can add text, pictures and record themselves?  

Photo of Erin Quinn

I had the privilege of being in a workshop with Erica Halverson ( last week. She said something really interesting that shifted my thinking around this very topic you bring up. When we shift our language a bit, and use "instruction" rather than "teaching" or "facilitation," then we can understand instruction to be distributed across people, tools, and time. It's a more generous view of teaching and who can be a teacher, and where, and when.

I wonder if you have observed this distributed theory of instruction in action?

Photo of Michael Schurr

Hi Maria,

Yes to everything Lisa just said! I am so curious what a student might share about what that experience is like for them? Questions for a student that come to mind: How do you decide how to share your learning? How does that feel to have voice in your learning? Tell me about a time where you felt in charge in the classroom.

Just a few thoughts to start a conversation with your students to learn more about why this experience has impact on their learning!

Photo of Maria Reza

Thank you so much for sharing those questions with me! I asked some students today and they all shared that what helps them decide is based on what they are good at. For example, one little boy made a poster about a book he read instead of writing a typical book report. He is an amazing artist! One student shared that having more choice makes her excited about learning. My heart filled with joy with that response! As hard as this change was in the beginning, I soon realized that this was best for my students.