A couple of years ago, our oldest child got his driver's license. I was SO nervous and a complete wreck knowing that he would be on the roads...alone. I remember asking him to drive me on the interstate in Dallas because, I knew if he could handle Dallas traffic, he could certainly handle the small highway he would use to get from our home to work and school. He agreed but soon regretted that decision. As soon as he began to drive, I had all sorts of advice. "Slow down, use the blinker, how fast are you going, are you using your mirrors?" I was like a parrot in his ear just chirping away. Finally, he pulled over and said he couldn't drive with me providing constant direction.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks later. I apologized to Cory and asked him to drive me into town to pick up some things. He quickly declined my offer as he remembered the previous events. I offered Cane's chicken and he was in. I decided to keep my mouth shut and just let him drive. And, you know what? He asked questions when he needed answers. He said, "Mom, do I need to merge into the other lane, am I going too fast, who has the right away?" He knew when he needed me and he sought help when it was necessary.
I think this is a great illustration for what we often do to our learners. We feel like we need to "help" them so much that we forget to put them in the driver's seat and let them ask the questions. But, the thing is, it's when they are in the driver's seat, that they learn the most.
Let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that we as teachers sit in the back seat and keep our mouths shut. I'm simply suggesting that we design experiences that put our students in the driver's seat while we remain in the passenger seat ready to step in and provide direction, guidance, and assistance when needed.
You see, on the day that Cory went with me, I still had to tell him where we were going. However, I let him use his resources and skills to figure out how to get there. Does that make sense?
Below are five benefits to putting your learners in the driver's seat...
D - Determination: When our learners drive, they are often more determined to show us what they are able to do when we give them some control over the situation. They want us to see what they can do and seem to show more determination when they are given the opportunity to learn on their terms.
R - Relevance: Often times, learning happens as a result of relevance. In other words, our learners have to be able to connect to what is being learned. Putting them in the driver's seat provides the opportunity for them to make those connections and therefore, relevance makes the learn real and meaningful for them as individuals.
I - Independence: How many times do we complain about the amount of assistance our learners require to get things done? They want to know how to do, when to do, where to do, and what to do. Giving them the opportunity to drive lets them practice independence, a skill that will be necessary well beyond the walls of the classroom.
V - Value: Being in the driver's seat brings value to the learning. When learners are unable to find value in what is being learned, they disconnect and become apathetic. It would be similar to someone following you at the grocery store and putting things in your cart without sharing why you need those things. Chances are that you would put those things right back on the shelf. Our learners do the same thing. We put it in their cart and they take it right back out. However, if we value what is being put in our cart or understand why we need it (for a recipe or something that will be on the menu that week), we are much more likely to keep it in the cart. When our students value the learning, they will keep it in the cart and remember what has been learned for a longer period of time.
E - Empowerment: Letting our students drive empowers them to learn beyond the walls of the classroom. It provides the opportunity for them to make decisions, become self-aware, and manage themselves in a way that simply isn't possible in a teacher-driven environment. Empowering our learners prepares them for so much more that worksheets and standardized tests. It prepares them for the life that we, as educators, want to see them to live as they graduate and move beyond the school experience.
So that's it. Hopefully, in reading this post, you have been able to see the benefits of letting your learners drive and have some control over the learning. They are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. I often hear this generation described as spoon-fed and coddled. Here's the thing...those are things that are done TO someone. If we don't want that to be the case, we simply have to stop spoon-feeding and coddling them.
Set a goal to move into the passenger seat this school year. Choose one of the benefits above to really look for and help your learners attain. In doing so, I think you will realize not only how capable they are, but how much more fun it is, as an educator, to be guide on the side throughout their learning journey.