Get Out Of The Way

I’m learning to get out of the way… and it’s humbling. I recently had one of those moments that occurs in teaching, every now and then, when my mouth is moving and my brain is disconnected. I was teaching a film class and about to launch into an explanation of ‘the rule of thirds’. My mouth began and my brain interrupted, ‘Why are you explaining this when they can find out for themselves?’. So I stopped and said,

‘I want you to find out about the rule of thirds; what it is, who uses it, where they use it, how they use it and why they use it. You can work as an individual, or in groups. I don’t mind. I just want you to present what you find in an unexpected way. See you tomorrow.’

There was silence, blank faces and eventually, “What?”

I repeated myself.

“What do you mean by unexpected?”

By this stage I was leaving the room. It was 4.30pm

The next morning I arrived at school at around 7.00am… and this is what I found on the external wall. 6 students had either stayed at school late or had arrived very early.

This was unexpected!

Inside the building, furniture was rearranged and climbing the stairs to the balcony I was able to experience the cleverness of another group of students. This is what I saw.

This was also unexpected.

Later a young man who is a particularly gifted guitar player and 3 of his friends sang me a song they had composed about ‘the rule of thirds’.

This was completely unexpected.

I know if I had used the phrase “Your homework is…”, none of this learning would have happened and certainly no-one would have spent a significant amount of time on it. What could have been a dry 5 minute info delivery at the end of a lesson turned out to be something much richer that involved creativity, ingenuity, collaboration and fun. What if I had not got out of the way?

There is no summative task I have written to measure and compare student understanding of this concept. There is no rubric to identify their critical thinking skills and capacity to synthesise information. These students have gone on to produce narrative and documentary films which are beautifully composed and cleverly constructed. They have worked in teams to present their ideas in innovative ways… they have created works beyond what I had hoped and this has been a thrill.

My lesson? Get out of the way and expect the unexpected.