When the Cat’s Away, the Mice Will Play: Learning When and How Much to Pull Back in the Teacher’s Role

Learning the right level of teacher-student interaction at any point in a lesson is an art. Much like parents learning to let go, we understand how much our students need us only through experience, and, yes, through trial and error. However, by keeping a few considerations in mind, we have a better chance of taking appropriate actions. The goal is to determine

  • when to engage and/ or interact with students;
  • when to limit our activity to observing and being “on call”;
  • when to pull back and remove not only our voice but also our presence from the learning process.

1.  Good discussion doesn’t require our participation as much as our guidance. We must be careful not to dominate student talking time with our own input or hinder free expression by strongly articulating our own viewpoints. More than anything, students need our prompts and feedback on language production. If discussion is set up well, they’ll find practice with one another rather than us.

2. Creative expression doesn’t need an audience until performance time. If students are working together to prepare for some form of class presentation, our constant hovering can make them overly self-conscious or doubtful about following their own instincts. If the presentation involves some kind of performance, such as role play or a dramatic reading, consider the use of breakout rooms to afford students some privacy for their rehearsal. Let them know how to signal you if help is needed.

3. Not all homework needs to be checked item by item. With instructional materials taking digital forms, learners gain more independence and teachers are less burdened with administrative work. Take for example MyNorthStarLab, the online component of the NorthStar series. Students can receive automatic feedback on exercises they complete either during scheduled lab time or at home. Learners don’t have to wait for the teacher to tell them if an answer is right or wrong. Similar features are available on sites like ESLVideo.com and USALearns.org. Students get immediate feedback, and teachers can still be kept informed of students’ progress.

4. All learners need some guidance and support. With all the emphasis there is on making students independent learners and developing their learning strategies, we can’t forget that we’re talking about a process that spans a stretch of time, not a state that one immediately enters. Making them independent of us won’t be achieved by abandoning them too soon. They’ll learn to learn on their own if we explain activities and assignments clearly, if we provide models and prompts, if we steer them towards reliable resources, if we help them set realistic expectations, and if we offer supportive and constructive feedback.

These are just a few considerations. Perhaps you can help by adding more to the list.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mr.Saeed says:

    Not all homework needs to be checked item by item. I sagree with you in this point

  2. This is fantastic advice, especially for new teachers – I think one of the best ideas (which you touched upon) is to be well-prepared for classes and have back-up activities to crack out if things don’t end up going to plan – that way lessons are less likely to descend into the teacher waffling on at the front of class!

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      So true! Not much can be worse than a teacher who is obviously undecided about what to do next. It’s like having a tour guide who doesn’t know which sights to show or when and how to show them.

      1. jeff says:

        these pointers are great, more precise and very simple to remember. thanks jennifer =)

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