Some Roads are Better Not Taken

Yesterday’s post, “The Trailblazer,” reminded me of an article I wrote awhile ago called, “Tell Your Students to Get Lost.” Both essays carry the message that it is important to give our students opportunities to find their own ways.  Every time I see an innovation, I think to myself, “Now that person understood that we don’t always have to do things the same way.”

One of the readers of yesterday’s post made a good point, however.  How can we allow students to blaze their own trails while still ensuring they comply with non-negotiable rules?

For example, I realized I had created my own monster this year by making it very clear that I wanted my students to do their own problem-solving attempts before coming to me.  One day, when I needed everyone to learn some tricky maneuvers for logging in to a web site they would be using, chaos ensued.  After I told them the first step, they decided to figure out the rest on their own – leading 10 different students to 10 different illogical pages and a quicksand of links that would never take them to the right destination.

And so I learned that, just like life, we need to know when to be adventurous and when to be compliant.  What I needed to teach my students was how to determine the difference.

Now I try to verbally model the inner dialogues that I hope my students will eventually develop as habit.

“Is this a time I can be creative, or do I need to do the exact steps my teacher is giving me?”

or,

“Can I use the loopholes in this task to do something unusual, or do I need to honor the intention of the assignment?”

Just as I imagine Angelique’s trail guide taught important safety rules and basic riding techniques, we teachers need to gently release our students to blaze their own trails as they adhere to certain behavior expectations and learning standards.

I am not advocating complete student anarchy just as I don’t advocate for complete student compliance.  However, I think many teachers rely on the “nose-to-tail” type of journey a large percentage of the time.  I think our schools would better serve our students by preparing them for and allowing them to go off the beaten path – while teaching them to recognize the occasions when it’s better to pay attention to your guide.

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image from Jonathan on Flickr
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