Giving students room to “do their own thing”

“but I gave them the room to just do the thing. Figure it out, go create”
– Diana Laufenberg

One of the things I’ve often done with teachers and students alike is just give them a set of materials, say flashcards and then, “just get out of the way”. Let them decide how to use them and let the learning objectives naturally emerge from their own processing and interaction.

It’s scary but it is the new paradigm that we are facing in education. Diana Laufenberg in her short, valuable TEDx talk – hits on this among other things. That with information surplus, kids no longer have to come to school to get information or be “informed” or “lectured to”. They come to school to be part of a learning culture where they engage with the content/curriculum – they don’t just consume it.

We have to give students a reason to come to school. And not just to be around their friends. We have to give them the chance to explore what THEY want and in their own fashion. Student created content – the mantra I’ve been expounding through my textbook is something appropriate for our day and age. It allows students to try, to try again. It emphasizes “doing” rather than “repeating”. It de-emphasizes the teacher as the “general” and makes them more of a “producer” that behind the scenes gets everything in place.

Take a watch, Diana offers valuable examples of the Sugata Mitra methodology of  “I’m going away now”. A method that won’t just be experiential in the future but rather what teaching is all about….

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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9 Responses

  1. Martin Sketchley says:

    That’s an interesting blog post. During my teaching practice at university, there were just two students; me and my friend. My peer has been teaching for a while but has the habit of getting involved with the students: repeating instructions, going group to group, pushing students to complete tasks, etc. I usually want to stand up and tell him, “Give them space!” but during teaching practice this is not really allowed. When I have my teaching practice, I usually sit down in the corner providing students the time and space to do the provided role-play or do some form of listening. I do believe giving students space and the autonomy to learn at their own pace. The only difficulty with this method is some students expect to be spoon fed or their language to be scaffolded by the teacher. As with every teaching method, there is a time and place for it. Perhaps giving space for students is best used during tasks (role-plays, listening, etc). It would be great to hear what others think.

  2. Rosa says:

    That’s precisely one of my many flaws as a teacher. I feel I don’t give my students enough freedom to develop their abilities through their imagination and free will. The good thing is that I’m aware of it, quite aware.
    I am a civil servant, a faithful servant of the public educational system, more faithful to the concept of “public” than to the idea of “system”, all in all I have a curriculum, a whole set of government established objectives, aims, attainments, evaluation criteria, etc which leave very small room for imagination and improvisation.
    Anyway you can’t make sweeping asssumptions or generalizations, for the room, the space and the fredoom depend on the students’ age and level of competence in English too.
    In any case, I do strongly believe that whatever the amount of freedom we give students(especially kids and teenagers)the classroom, the group, the activity and anything going on must be under the teacher’s control.

    I guess that, as in literature, everything is context-dependent.

    My deepest sympathy and condolences to the Japanese people.

  3. Mohammad Reza says:

    I do agree with this idea. I do believe that teachers should just show the way to their students and should let them to pass it (or walk through it) by themselves.

  4. ddeubel says:


    You hit on a good point about teacher’s practicums. There is an unwritten rule and focus on a teacher’s actions. It’s all about teaching, teaching and those hoops and goings ons. It really doesn’t foster good teaching practices and especially like my own case – those assessing me were fellow, older teachers, great teachers but still obsessed with control.

    You also brought back a memory of my own. I remember in grade 6 having a long term substitute teacher. He would sit most of the lesson at his desk and if we had a question we’d just wander up. I never felt so good about school or my own learning. But this was so rare!

    But in the years to come, this will all have to change. IMHO.

  5. ddeubel says:


    Me too – I’m aware and that’s the biggest step. Like in my running days, the hardest part of any workout was always getting the shoes on!

    Point taken about generalizations and it isn’t a “save all”. Good caution and just depends on the student’s needs. But I do wish we looked at the student’s needs in a more “fine” fashion. Most often, we have everything preconceived and it will have to happen like that. There is little conception and appreciation of enacted curriculum though the professors and their books do profess it.

    I think I know what you mean with the term “teacher’s control”. I do see the teacher in control and it isn’t an anything goes process. Students are there to learn and may I say “teach” others – there has to be that level of commitment. But that is another subject/post – students who don’t want to be there, being there.

    Great thoughts and I’m with Martin, hope others will add their two cents worth.


  6. ddeubel says:


    Yes, that the idea and it is a start if we all keep this near our hearts. Hopefully then, our actions will change to make this a reality.

  7. Mohammad Reza says:

    I hope so David. Honestly, I don’t have good memories of my own learning. When I remember the days I was a student at school or university, I don’t feel so good. I hope with the help of these improvements in our educational system, we make great times for students as they always remember the days of their learning as the best days…

  8. Roger says:

    Great post and food for thinking. I am constantly telling myself to shut up in class (in my head), and end up leaving little time for student independent – shared practice. I think risk has much to do with it, can I leave them be? Will they learn? Will if fit the curriculum? And yes, some students expect to be spoon fed as this is all they know. I suppose in a multicultural classroom with differing educational backgrounds this can make it more challenging.

  9. ddeubel says:


    You make a major point that I really missed. That with all the differing needs/backgrounds in most classrooms – it is almost impossible for a teacher to address them in the normal teacher directed, stand and deliver a lesson fashion.

    It’s risky, the other approach. Almost think it is about having faith in our students, it is a jump of faith.

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