Hey, Teachers! Take the Training Wheels Off

By Kara Bentley

To develop into independent thinkers, students need to become autonomous in the classroom. While this doesn’t mean they always need to work independently, it does mean that they need to own their learning; deepen their understanding of instruction, and use provided resources to apply their knowledge to real-world applications.

In support, teachers must recognize the need to back away and let their students succeed (or struggle) because when students engage in productive struggle, they learn.

Take the Training Wheels Off

Picture a bike with training wheels. In an old economy classroom, the teacher serves as training wheels. When teachers are afraid of letting students fail, they forget that by continuously supporting them (training wheels), they are the reason students don’t become masters of their own learning. They are the reason students can’t independently demonstrate an understanding of learning.

But, when teachers walk away (and take the training wheels off), they’re giving students the opportunity to independently think, wobble, sway, and ultimately reach learning targets that were once thought unreachable.

Think back to your own experiences with training wheels—think of how you might have felt watching children try, try, and try again to ride bikes on their own. How many times did they fall? How many times did someone wipe their tears when they grew frustrated? How many times might you have thought,

“This is just too hard… maybe I should just put those wheels back on!”

But you didn’t. And suddenly, there they were—careening down the street, laughing, pumping their legs, succeeding, and soaring on their own. All because a teacher helped build them up.

  • They’ve grasped laws of gravity and the finite way to balance
  • They’ve seen how they can do it on their own
  • They have the resources needed to be successful

And as they ride on their own, they’re able to forget the months of struggle, the times they wanted to give up, and the times they thought it was just too hard.

Applying This Logic to Your Work

As a teacher, you need to let your students go. You need to take those training wheels off and let your students soar because you know they’re prepared to be masters of their own learning—especially with baskets full of resources on the front of their bikes. Their questions—both asked and answered—are streaming from the handlebars. They have a bell they can ring if they get stuck and need a little help.

With the training wheels off, each learner is engaged in productive learning that depends on his or her own thinking, interactions with the knowledge, and perfect practice of skills. And with this new level of student autonomy, there’s no telling what will happen next. Perhaps they’ll teach themselves to let go of the handlebars?

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Kara Bentley is a Staff Developer with Learning Sciences International. Her educational career encompasses classroom experience in both primary- and intermediate-level education. While working at a School District, she served as a Lead Facilitator to help PLC groups learn to effectively write and use learning scales in the classroom and has worked extensively with pre-service teachers as an instructor to prepare them for real world classroom experiences.

Kara is dedicated to empowering teachers to reach beyond their current vision of instruction and to deepen their understanding of effective instructional strategies that reap positive results for their students. Kara believes that students should not be “told” that they are important; rather, they should be “shown” that they are important.

Follow Kara on Twitter: @KaraBentley17