The Less I Teach, the More You Learn

Lisa Moberg Uncategorized

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The longer I teach, the more I appreciate losing control in the classroom. Now when you read the phrase “losing control,” I’m sure you visualize children running around, screaming, as the teacher stands helplessly in one corner of the classroom. But I mean “losing control” in a completely different sense. I can define the meaning of losing control my latest teaching mantra: the less I teach, the more you learn.

Think about it….. how much did you retain from classroom lectures? From teachers who stood in the front, enjoying their own voice, as you furiously scribbled undecipherable notes and heard Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice in your head? Or did you remember the joy of finding out interesting information on your own, retaining it through a meaningful application? The longer I am an educator, the more I shut up. I provide the vision of the unit, goals for the week, and specific objectives of the daily lesson through structured webquests, guided research projects, and/or technologically-inspired activities. Students are happily engaged and soaking up knowledge as they eagerly dig up nuggets of information like long-lost gems. Student leaders emerge through this process as my role as leader is transformed to facilitator of a student-driven, inquiry-based environment. Student learning should be out of control as students realize that they are the ones who control their own personal education!

Have you ever stopped talking in the classroom……….. and just listened??? Just be still. Listen to the student conversations, and the most valuable insights will be retained about your students as learners. You will form a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your students as speakers and listeners. How do the students drive their conversations? Stop and listen to the authentic voice of their dialogue. It will be the most eye-opening experience for you as an equitable educator. How do they value each other as fellow learners, social peers, equals in a multicultural setting? You can gauge the temperature of the respectful nature in your classroom by losing control of the conversations.

Student to student interactions are also powerful when you stop taking a center role in the classroom and allow the children to take the driver’s seat of their own education. You can teach and preach about good character education, but you really don’t know what the students’ true character is like until you step back and let the spotlight shine on them. When making the classroom become more student-driven, there will be more friction to begin with. With any large or small group setting, the leaders and followers will surface, and this usually results with friction. But that’s a great life lesson to teach in the moment!! Students can’t authentically internalize the value of conflict resolution unless it’s applied in a real-life scenario. Also, these interactions can result in developing problem-solving skills, which are valuable to our 21st century learners. Losing control of student interactions embeds valuable life lessons.

To be honest, I never lost control in my classroom until about four years ago. Admittedly, I am a huge control freak. But as I was working to attain my National Board Certification, I realized the value of losing control as my students investigated the anatomy of the ear through a webquest and Smartboard presentation. When I reflected on the unit, it occurred to me that I never stood in front of the classroom, teaching them about the ear and hearing. They knew everything through their own quest of information. It was a powerful learning experience for all of us.

To my fellow control freaks who are concerned with this concept, here are my insights. You can control the unit and lessons as much as you want outside of the learning block. Actually, the more structure you provide with the tools of learning, the more equipped the students will be as self-educators. Beware- it will be loud. It will be so exhausting that afterwards you will probably need a nap. But it is so worth it!

Losing control provides the most valuable teaching moments of your career.


Lisa Moberg

El Mirage, AZ

Adventure is my middle name. Although I have never sought it out, it somehow finds me, especially in teaching!! These past 16 years of my teaching career have been an exciting voyage in education, stretched between two different states, three school districts, and six grade levels (Kindergarten - 5th grade). After teaching in Washington State for six years, I moved to Arizona and have taught at a Title 1 school in the West Valley for ten years.

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Comments 3

  1. monika

    Love this! Especially at the secondary level teachers will talk for 60 minutes and then wonder why “they don’t get it.” But planning for inquiry and discussion helps them tremendously!

  2. Sandy Merz

    I’ll admit I’m not a control freak – if anything I go to far the other direction. But Lisa, this piece is so right in so many ways. I try my hardest to do as little talking as possible – under 5 minutes is the target. And today, when the lesson started, I told the kids I needed a longer turn than normal and they were great!. Years ago I started just watching and listening to students . Sometimes I realize that after so many months, I don’t even know what a student looks like. Do you understand that? What I know is what I’ve decided they look like. And like you say, when you stand back and listen you hear how so many of them really are on task and trying to do well, even it doesn’t seem like. Thanks for this great post.!

  3. Mark Gardner

    So very true! We have to turn the work over to the kids, they are doing the learning, they should have the opportunity to do the work. I was just reading an article about assessment (giving feedback on student writing as opposed to editing everything) and one teacher used the phrase “when I ‘taught’ less, they learned more.” That really struck me, as did your experience.

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