Sweat mixed with chalk dust as I squatted on the floor pasting the twentieth and final part of the paper World War II timeline together.
“It took three hours, but it’s finally done!” I sang, painstakingly taping the gangly creation across the wall.
The next morning I stood proudly by my timeline as students strode in and picked up their copies of the Holocaust memoir, Night. “Class,” I declared, “Note the fancy new timeline I made for us. It will help us get context for the book as we read.” Students nodded dully.
Something didn’t feel right. But what?
The mystery was solved when my New Teacher Developer, Susan, (who’d been scribbling notes the whole class) pulled me aside at the bell.
“Why did you waste your time making that timeline?” she gasped.
Words failed me. “Huh?”
“Next time,” explained Susan, “have the kids make the learning tool, not you. They’ll actually care about it then, and they’ll retain the information better.”
The thought hadn’t even occurred to me. By doing less for students, I could actually do more for them? But of course! People learn by doing, and are more invested in what they personally create!
In the years since Susan shared her advice, I’ve comprehended its wisdom. From passing out papers to presenting complex ideas, students are happier and learn more when they’re empowered to create and lead themselves.
What does this have to do with DonorsChoose.org? This lesson, “Never do for students what they can do themselves” should shape the projects you aim to fund.
Four years ago I drove myself crazy raising money to buy video cameras for my classroom. Then last year I slapped myself on the forehead, realizing: we already have more than enough cameras… in students’ pockets in the form of smartphones! Upon comprehending this, our seventh grade team decided to allow “BYOT” (Bring Your Own Technology) for students to record their interdisciplinary movie project. How did it go to allow students to do the technology-getting work instead of us? Deliciously. We were so impressed by the results that we will make BYOT projects part of our curriculum.
This year as you plan your teaching and DonorsChoose.org projects, remember: Never do for students what they can do themselves.
About the Author: Lillie Marshall is a Boston Public Schools teacher and the founder of Teaching Traveling Global Education Site, Around the World “L” Travel Blog, and the Education Bloggers Group. Connect with her on Twitter at @WorldLillie.