It’s Not Always Easy, But It’s Worth It

Is there a better path?
December 3, 2012
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December 4, 2012

It’s Not Always Easy, But It’s Worth It

Do I believe whole-heartedly that my classroom should be student driven? Yes, and I constantly work to make that happen. One of the most important things for a teacher in a student-driven classroom to remember is that he or she is a learner, too.  Tradition says teacher-driven. Kids’ needs, motivation, and natural curiosity? It’s makes student-driven learning just right.

I don’t believe this change just happens overnight. It’s a journey.  But if you’re looking to get started on it, where could you begin?

1.) Be open to kids struggling right in front of you. Be willing not to “rescue them.”  May sound easy, or even harsh. It’s not like you’re just sitting with your feet  up, while the kids struggle.  You are there, asking questions to guide, listening to their thoughts, or just watching to learn.  Because what you are seeing and hearing? It’s going to guide your teaching to just the right place… a place the kids need.


2.) Toss the patterns aside and let the kids build their learning.  This one’s hard for me. I want things to look… well… even, and straight, and have cute little rows.  But, I’ve learned that this is not what learning is about.  So, when my kids set out to trace Australia and put their animals all over the map, it was their paper, their drawing, their discussion on how to show the animals.  I’m quite sure there was a day where I would have given them a neat little map of Australia and asked them to color it and we’d have moved on. I would have said, “Do this.”  Instead? I said “How could we organize the information we’re collecting?” From that question, they discussed, collaborated, created, and found their own way.

3.) Be flexible with the standards.  The standards can be woven into many different types of projects.  Find out what kids are interested in learning about, then embed them.  Allow ginormous, thought provoking questions to guide the kids learning. Insert the standards and formative assessments where they fit.   Our Australian animals research became a huge lesson in measurement.  To create a “drawn to scale” version of their animals, we had to understand the metric system, using the meter stick, converting measurements, how inches and centimeters related (or don’t) to each other. Imagine if all of our standards fell naturally into projects, rather than forced by what chapter or page they’re on? Which one is truly student-driven?

4.) Engagement more than management. I believe that when kids are truly engaged in a student driven learning environment, the need to micromanage their behaviors becomes non-existent.  Engage them in thinking. Allow them to get so deeply interested that they are not even thinking about being off-task.  Does this mean the room is quiet and orderly?  Of course not. It’s busy. It’s kids sitting, doing, moving, and discussing.  It’s whatever it needs to be for learning to happen.  When that learning is right, management becomes less of the focus and engagement reigns.

5.) Keep learning.  Everyday won’t be a rosy photo of a picture perfect classroom.  That’s just not how learning works.  You’ll look around and notice some days your kids are so engaged they won’t want to stop for recess, and some days, things just don’t flow.  Embrace it. Blog about it. Reflect on it. Keep trying.  When things don’t flow, it may lead you to figuring out how to help the next day flow better than ever.

I wish I could say it was easy or that it’s some simple, magical overnight change.  But, I can promise you one thing. Turn the learning over to your students, step back, and watch them go. You’ll see that even though it’s not always easy, it’s worth it.  
Krissy Venosdale
Krissy Venosdale
Forever Learner. Collaborator. Sharpie Collector. Poster Maker. Eternal Optimist. I still wish on stars.


  1. Krissy, thank you for a wonderful post. I am trying my best to become more of the facilitator of learning rather than the director, and I was especially struck by your remarks about engagement vs micro-management. Sometimes I look at my classroom and think “This looks like an absolute mess,” but if I can get myself away from that initial reaction, I notice that learning of all kinds are taking place. Is it always pretty? No. Is it sometimes difficult? Yes. But, in the end, allowing students to take charge of their own learning is so much more rewarding, both for me and them. Thank you for all that you do–your work matters!

  2. I am currently a student working towards obtaining my elementary education certification and have started my student teaching this quarter. I really appreciate your first point about letting students struggle and not rescue them. It is so easy to jump in and help them out with an answer or idea. I tend to feel uncomfortable with silence and have a hard time not filling it, especially if it appears that a student has been put on the spot. However, over the past few months of spending many days in the classroom with students, I have started to observe the significance of wait time and what a great strategy it is to use as a teacher. I have seen how it gives students time to think about their ideas and time to answer. If students are permitted to work through a concept and discover it themselves, then it becomes more meaningful and memorable for them. I understand that the idea of allowing a student to struggle (within reason) is so much more powerful than just telling them the answer.

  3. […] were important to pose to others.  I tried again, but felt more comfortable.  I made a comment on Krissy Venosdale’s blog about being open to students’ struggling, which was much more relatable to my current work with […]

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