David Didau is very good at putting his finger on neuroses which hamper teachers. One of the peculiar ideas which he nails in The Secret of Literacy is the strange notion that teachers should never just let pupils get on with it. Many are anxious about this, particularly if they are being observed. But if we are aiming for pupils to have the knowledge and confidence to tackle work on their own, we have to let them actually do this, without always feeling like we should be circulating around the classroom, pointing out their mistakes before they’ve had the chance to spot them themselves. As Didau comments, ‘We want them to have the confidence and ability to complete tasks by themselves without us there to nag and prompt them’ (p59).
If we have put the effort into teaching material thoroughly, and spent time on guided practice, then there should come a moment where we tell them to fly solo, and they just get on and write silently. This is when they truly demonstrate independence, and they’ll never do it if we can’t bring ourselves to take the risk of letting them do things for themselves. They might make some mistakes of course, but that’s no bad thing. Mistakes are an essential part of learning.
While they write silently, we can work silently ourselves. By writing with pupils, we are modelling the process of focused concentration. We could even do the test that they are doing, so we’ll have a good exemplar to show them afterwards when we are giving feedback. This is another thing which Didau recommends which I have been doing for a while. I must admit I enjoy doing the tests which I set for pupils, and it gives me an insight into tackling the tasks which I could not get in any other way. Why should teachers deny themselves the pleasure of doing the work they set? And if it isn’t a pleasure for them, why on earth are they teaching that subject?