Guest post: Let kids lead the way to learning

Let kids lead the way

Should adults take a step back, and just let children learn? According to some educators, by trying to actively teach a child, you’re actually hindering learning.
Read more about “kid-Led Learning” – by guest writer Michal Leshem

My name is Michal Leshem. I am an educator with an extensive background in science and cyber technology (you can read more about me here). For the past few months, I’ve worked as a guide in Acton Academy Verona, a school that is part of a large network of the “Acton Academy” – schools that defines themselves as a system of “one-room schoolhouses for the 21st century” (you can read more about Acton and it unique features here).

I would like to share with you today some thoughts I had about “kid-Led Learning”.

Who should lead the path of learning? I feel that most of the time, the adult should be behind the kids, sometimes alongside them and rarely in front of them.

Let’s imagine a picture: a group of kids are going to a day trip with two adults. When an adult follows the kid, she lets him lead. The kid decides where to go. The children chart the course, decide when to make a turn, when to rest and what to play. The adult is there to make sure that no one gets too close to the edge of the cliff, or plays with dangerous things, but the kid almost does not feel the adult’s presence. In the picture above, the kid and the group of kids around her, are the ones present; they are the dominant ones. Sometimes, in certain situations, the kid asks one of the adults to move to the front of the picture and walk beside him. When an adult walks beside the kid, they walk together. They talk about subjects that interest them both; they express their opinions and are equal in the discussion. This can happen, for example, when the kid wants to hear about how the adult likes to spend her free time or asks her to teach her a game she used to play when she was younger.

When an adult leads, everything changes

The kid initiates the interaction or conversation and the adult happily cooperates. The adult does not take control over the path and does not lead it. She joins in at the kid’s request. Rarely is there a situation that requires the adult to move to the front. This really only happens in the context of safety or when the kid’s argument gets out of hand and becomes violent. In these cases, the adult emerges from the back of the picture and makes sure that the kids are safe. However, such occasions are rare.

When an adult walks before the kid, the entire picture changes. A kid cannot lead where an adult comes first. The adult is naturally bigger and more experienced, and he decides where to go, where to turn and when to rest. It is not always suitable for the kids, but “they will adjust” and “there is no choice, we must follow the schedule”. In this picture, the adult is dominant. He is the main character. She is the guide, he is the teacher, she knows and decides.

Now let’s go back to the path of learning. I feel the relationships between adults and kids at the context of learning, should be very similar.  

In Acton, we have an environment that enable the kids to lead their learning.

Here are two small examples:

  1. The students in Acton create a contract at the beginning of the year, with the rules they believe are important in order to create the best learning environment for them. The adults in the studio are not involved in this process. During the year the students (and not the guides!) hold each other accountable for the contract.
  2. The guides in Acton do not answer the students’ questions with a direct answer. Instead, they try to help them figure out how to find the answers by themselves. The idea is to empower the students to seek and find their own ways to resolve their queries. This is actually something that I try to do at home with my own kids and I recommend very much.  

It’s time to let the kids lead

I think it’s time for a change. It’s time to let the kids lead, trust them to know the way. What would be the role of that adult? I believe that his role is super significant; he is the one who actually allows this entire picture to exist. I see two main roles for the adult: the first is to ensure a rich learning environment, in which the kids can learn by themselves. An environment full of new possibilities and tools, with which the kid can build skills and knowledge. The second role is to make sure that the safety of the kids is preserved: To stop violent behavior in a timely fashion, to identify a situation where a kid got completely lost and offer choices to get him back on track, to ensure that the environment, to which the kids are exposed, is adequate and safe for them. That adult should have faith in the kids’ ability to chart the course and should have the ability to decide when and how to intervene. In my opinion, this opposes the role of the classic teacher, but the more time I spend at Acton, the more I feel that this is the right direction.

You can read more from Michal Leshem at her blog:

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