Have you ever experienced being on autopilot? I can’t tell you much about driving home from work yesterday. I never turned on the radio, and I didn’t even realize it was silent until I was about to pull into my driveway. It is not that I wasn’t driving safe. I remember pulling over for an ambulance, but no, I was on autopilot. I grew up in this town, and I have driven on this road countless times. I was in total autopilot mode. I was so accustomed to the road I knew; it’s ins and outs.
Autopilot can be a good or a bad thing in the classroom. When our management and procedures are such a part of the community that our students turn on autopilot when they are asked to turn in a paper, put away material, or grab a hall pass before they leave the room. We need to have those procedures to the point of autopilot.
However, what do we do when autopilot kicks in when we pull out the textbook? When we start our language lesson? When we start a lecture?
What practices and strategies do we have in our classrooms to engage our students on a deeper level? As I reflect back on lessons with my fifth graders, the times they were most engaged is when they had the opportunity to create, discuss, and lead their own learning. Most curriculum is not designed that way. Most schools are not structured in that fashion.
I used to teach my students geometric properties. Instead of just telling them what the properties were. I revealed properties and shapes simultaneously and invited students to generate patterns and rules they saw. They discovered the attributes of the geometric shapes on their own. It was no a longer a "sit and get" lesson, but a lesson that demanded active participation and attention.
I would invite my students to choose between two or three articles to read on a topic we were studying. As they read, I asked my students to generate questions. Not just yes or no questions, but deep questions that spurred conversation and connected to different texts or concepts. We would then use those questions to lead a Socratic Seminar.
When we ask students to create, discuss, and lead their learning we pull them out of their autopilot school mode.
Are your students on autopilot?
That is a question that should make any educator just think, reflect, and act.
Faculty of Innovation, NNU Doceō Center