Guest post via @jen_hawkins4: Letting go… and gaining more.

“Mrs. Hawkins, if the data in the chart is not a proportional ratio, do the data points no longer create a straight line?” 

“Great question! Let me put up a chart that isn’t proportional and we can graph it.”

“No, Mrs. H. Let me create it…. you sit and figure it out. Tell me if I am right.”

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Whether she realizes it or not, that young lady gave me a gift. She took control and forced me to become a facilitator in my own class.

I handed over my white board marker, took a seat at a table and started graphing M&Ms with another student. For the rest of class, I allowed myself to be the student and have my kids teach me and lead me in conversation about graphing ratios. It was MIND BLOWING.

At the end of class, I quick ran to my desk to gather my thoughts and jot down my ideas. Here is what I learned about letting go:

1. My students learn more by creating than they do “practicing.” 

Okay, so we all know this. “Duh,” right? Blooms Taxonomy has told us this from the beginning of time. Having a child create something is the highest level of thinking and understanding that they can show.

For some reason, though, our teacher brains go to the word “create” and jump to “projects.” We want them to build gardens and use 3D printers. They make posters, anchor charts, and PowerPoint slides. Why aren’t we having students create their lessons?

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Here this girl stood, with a simple question. A question that I easily could have just given her the answer to, but by pushing her for deeper thought, she was able to ask more questions and become motivated enough to test different data samples to draw mathematical conclusions. HOW BEAUTIFUL IS THAT?!?

ON TOP OF ALL OF THAT…. (as if one would need anymore) she motivated all of her classmates to look at the problem a different way and create their own!

At this point, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t crying at the pure beauty and genius of the whole thing.

2.  The confidence that the young woman gained by leading me and the class is unmeasurable. 

6th graders lack confidence in math. This is just a fact that math teachers have come to accept. Even the students who write “I LOVEEEEEE MATH!” (With 15 emoji faces) on their beginning of the year survey, tend to feel defeated by the end of Unit 2. We take them from an elementary school environment of bright carpets, manipulatives, and movement, and try to force notes, PowerPoints and 30 problems of homework at them.

This student needed a confidence boost. I knew it, and she knew it. Which was why I let go of the marker the moment that she asked. I knew that she needed her moment in the spotlight. She needed to show me, her classmates and mostly, herself, that she could do it. Not only could she do it, but she understood in a way that she could enhance the lesson by asking more questions.

She left my class that day with a spring in her step and has been on a roll since. She recently told me “I am super smart at math, and well, anything I want to do.” With a big smile on my face, I told her she was right.

3. Nothing went up in flames. 05onfire1_xp-facebookJumbo

I just wanted to put this out there for anyone hesitating on letting go of the marker, or who are breathing into a paper bag while picturing my classroom. It is still here. No fire or flames. My desk is currently lost under piles of paperwork but that has nothing to do with my children being rockstars.

4. I hate my seating arrangement.

Have you ever sat in a student desk DURING a lesson? I hadn’t. I’ve stood over and next to them, but never with them. Never on their level.

I learned that I put my tall kids in the front and that is just wrong. That my students are looking at each other’s backs instead of faces, and its killing classroom conversation. I also realized how painful student chairs are. There is a reason we get fluffy ones when we become adults. We need to stop forcing them to sit in those chairs 8 hours every day. It is cruel.

5. The learning and comprehension was more genuine. 

PowerPoints of step by step instructions on how to solve problems is not teaching. Any one of your students can Google that. They need to know WHY and HOW and WHEN to use certain formulas, methods, strategies. Instead of me rambling and saying “do you have any questions” at the end of the long explanation, and being met with 30 nodding heads who do not want to disappoint me, I can actually see that my students have an understanding because they are teaching me! It is informal assessments at their simplest and most genuine.


I challenge you, hand over the marker. It doesn’t have to be a big deal or a large production. Pick one class period a day challenge your students to teach you, question the lesson and try something new. I promise you, it will be the best 45 minutes of your day.

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