How to Lighten Your Workload and Let Your Students Think

runners' feet

Written by Abi

23rd January 2017

I am sure there have been days when you left the classroom utterly exhausted. You would have what you thought were picture perfect lesson plans, where you had to ask all the questions, provide all the activities and students had to keep up with your pace. You had to teach it ALL! Inevitably, that pace is not sustainable. I have learned that not only is the trick to let the students do the heavy lifting, it is much more beneficial to their learning process for them to do the groundwork themselves. Teachers should be mere facilitators, who guide them through their quest for knowledge. Here are some tricks for lessening your workload and increasing students’ curiosity:

Student Created Reflective Questions

This technique is marvellous and was created by The Right Question Institute. Follow these steps to have your students use thinking skills and reflect as they answer:

  1. Provide students with a focus before they begin to formulate questions.
  2. Ask students to write down as many questions as possible about that statement in small groups. At this stage they are not allowed to answer or judge the questions and must write everything down verbatim.
  3. Then students sort the questions, prioritising the ones that they think are the most important.
  4. Have students answer the questions. As if by magic, they start working independently to determine the answers. Not only are they engaged in the activity, they are invested in the learning process, because they own it. It becomes intrinsic, personalised, meaningful work.
  5. Allot a time during class to check-in with students to make sure they’re heading down the right track.

Don’t be put off if this feels like a messy, ambiguous process. It might feel that way at first, but once you begin to see how beneficial and productive it is to have your students work in this way, you will start to get used to it very quickly!

Take time to Step Back

That awkward silence we all loathe is actually a beautiful thing in a classroom. Throw out an initial question, that isn’t declarative. Starting with an open question will arouse students curiosity and kick start the thinking process. Tell students that you’re stepping back from the conversation and allow them to speak amongst themselves. Let it get awkward if it needs to. Students tend to direct their comments to the adult in the room, so encourage them to redirect their thoughts to their peers. Eventually, the conversation will start to flow. They will start learning, debating and discussing the content on all their own. Choose appropriate times to intervene and redirect if necessary, but then revert back to observing. I’ve had the awkward silences go on for over five minutes or so – and that’s okay. We talked about it at the end of the class. Those were the times students revealed their insecurities, the pressures they feel, the judgment they are afraid of, all of which we need to eliminate.

Plan & Prep Collaboratively

This is one goes without saying but is really crucial for you to relieve the pressure you might feel. Try to have six weeks of lessons mapped out, with the topics you want to work on. Specific content may not be completely decided on, as things change throughout the weeks. Also enlist the help of either your teaching assistant or other students, to help you prep for activities that require a lot of materials. Ask for help when you need it! Teaching is such a collaborative vocation and we need to utilise each other more. We do A LOT, but we can’t do it all. When things feel overwhelming figure out what is it that is making you feel overwhelmed. Dissect that task into smaller pieces and ask someone to help you. Once you get that under control routines become more fluid and lesson planning much less of an arduous chore!


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