Students Learn More When THEY Do the Work

A major barrier to innovation in the classroom is teacher exhaustion. I regularly work with teachers who like the idea of trying new teaching strategies, blended learning models, and technology tools, but they don’t have the time or energy to experiment.

When I work with teachers, my goal is to get them to shift their mindsets. Instead of asking themselves, “How can I?” I want them to pause and rephrase the question, “How can students?” This shift in teacher mindset seems simple, yet it goes against most teachers’ instincts. We place a lot of pressure on ourselves to do it all. Unfortunately, that mentality robs students of opportunities to learn.

Below is an example of what it looks like to shift the work from the teacher to the student with the goal of placing students at the center of learning. The image below depicts a traditional workflow.

It’s no mystery why this approach is so draining and frustrating. The teacher is doing all of the work. After hours of grading and providing thoughtful feedback, there is little incentive for students to revise or improve that piece of writing.

In a classroom where the student does the work, that same assignment could have a dramatically different outcome.

I would argue that the student is going to learn exponentially more with the student-led approach. This second approach shifts the work from the teacher to the student. The student uses the Grammarly report to identify mechanical errors and edit their work. They have to think critically about their specific skills using the exemplar provided by the teacher and the rubric. Finally, they have to reflect on their learning and set goals for themselves in their ongoing assessment document or learning log.

If teachers design lessons that require students do the lion’s share of the work in the classroom, the benefits are two-fold: 1) teachers won’t be so exhausted and 2) students will learn more.

I hope that if teachers are not exhausted, they’ll be more willing to try new teaching strategies, blended learning models, and technology tools. This, in turn, will make their classrooms more exciting and engaging for students. It’s a win-win, but it requires a shift in our mindset!

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18 Responses to Students Learn More When THEY Do the Work

  1. Molleen says:

    One hundred percent yes! Thank you for these consistent doses of usable inspiration.

    • Absolutely, Molleen! They usually blossom out of my interactions with teachers in training who request specific explanations and examples. I’m happy to hear they help other educators!


  2. Kerri Lorigan says:

    I love this perspective, however, it seems that the more significant shift would be with students. They’ve been trained to wait for adult validation. Any advice on coaching kids to success through step four? Could you share the leaning logs?

  3. Awesome post. It’s a great spot to find new information. Thank you for your positive post.

  4. Lynda Van Winkle says:

    What do you recommend for Google Docs, since Grammarly isn’t compatible with Google Docs? My students use Chromebooks.

  5. Jennifer says:

    What would you recommend for elementary students such a 3rd graders that can not type and do not have the means such as computers? I would love to cut down my grading and give the students more of a stakehold in their learning, esp when it comes to writing.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      I think the idea behind this shift can absolutely work for 3rd-grade students. Without access to Grammarly, I would run a skill station to provide the mechanical feedback to students. Since students pace at different rates through this type of activity, I would probably have a nice flow through this station OR you could eliminate the grammatical edits.


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  7. This seems so simple and yet so huge. My school has a lot of veteran teachers that may not embrace this type of thinking but there are several “less-veteran” (and by “less-veteran” I mean “less stuck in their ways”) teachers that are just brave enough to try new things.

    I’m going to present it to everybody and do my best to inspire everybody to begin the shift to a more student-centered classroom.

  8. Amanda Dolph says:

    In a class that I am taking we are currently talking about how to create assessments using technology. I loved everything that you said because it fits in with what we are learning. The problem I find is that I teach upper level chemistry and I haven’t found many blogs or sites that discuss how to integrate technology into an upper level science class. Do you know of any that can give tips on that, or do you have any ideas on where to start?

    • Hi Amanda,
      I’m in a program where I co-teach English, history and science. In science, we use a lot of flipped videos and virtual simulations. Students write their own lab reports instead of following a lab report we have given them, which really forces the lab groups to drill down into the details and think through the procedure and what they are actually testing. We also have them use their devices in the lab to document EVERYTHING they do–photos, time-lapse, video, audio notes, images. Then when they write their lab reports, they are multimedia with text next to their media documentation. They do their write ups in their digital notebooks to make that process of combining text and media more manageable. Here is my blog on digital notebooks:

      Hope all that helps!

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