The "Hole In The Wall" Project
There is a quote from Thomas Carruthers that I had for years attached to my e-mail signature. He said, “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” Just as teachers need to guide and shape learning for our students, we also need to embrace a shift in our locus of control to our students. It is in this shift that we will empower students to take ownership of their learning and to take control of their individual academic journey. I find this shift essential in intermediate grades especially, as empowered students are more successful upon entering Middle School and beyond. There exists also a debate in education as to the balance between an educator-driven experience, versus the students taking ownership over their learning.
I recently found particularly interesting the work of Sugata Mitra and his Hole in the Wall Project over the past nine years. In short, Hole in the Wall project began with a Learning Station consisting of a computer system setup with no instruction manual or teacher involvement. Mitra and his team found that the residents, especially the children, were able to teach themselves and one another how to use not only the computer hardware, but the basic software included as well. Mitra’s team expanded this concept throughout India, with Learning Stations set up in impoverished neighborhoods as a minimally invasive academic tool. If you are interested in learning more about Sugata Mitra, I recommend these videos from TED on “How Kids Teach Themselves” and from PBS’s show Frontline: World.
How can we apply the findings of Hole in the Wall to our own classrooms and schools? Should we as teachers drop off learning materials, computer systems, and leave our students to handle the learning on their own? Of course not. However, there is a time and place for a teacher to know when we stop advancing learning, and are instead inhibiting academic growth. Sometimes it is appropriate and preferred to pose a question, provide materials, and take a step back to see what happens. You may be surprised at the ability of your students to self-organize and seize their learning.