This post is a republished blog comment I made on Dan73s's Weblog on the topic of a teacher's role in the classroom. Should we be Authorities? Coaches? Guides? Something else?
How does one find that balance between Teacher-As-Authority and Teacher-As-Guide? Some of best lessons occur when students actively take a role in what they are learning. I've found that the key is providing enough scaffolding and detail in my assignments so they know the parameters. Establishing what the playing field looks like is key. You explain the rules, then let them play and explore.
It's perhaps after the "game" when I revert to the TAA to share my perceptions of what occurred and how they might have "played" better. (While they're playing the game I might act more like a referee, ensuring they follow the rules.)
In my classes I've really tried to empower students by granting them access to the materials that help make me the authority. For example, when it's time to define new vocabulary words, literary terms, or roots, the students are often the ones who read the definitions or look them up in the dictionary. I even have students create quizzes and generate the questions that will fuel class discussions.
There's a constant struggle at finding a balance between empowering students (which takes time) and running the show myself. The more I can successfully delegate, the more ownership students have in what we're doing. I do, of course, still demonstrate my authority and knowledge when their understandings go astray or prove too shallow. I'll step in when there's confusion on how to interpret or decipher something. At times I'll overrule or disagree, but students are generally accepting when I do.
I've made it clear to students that I'm captain of the ship, but that the success of our voyage depends on how well they do their part. Some of the best trips occur when I give students the wheel and they take our vessel to places I might not have envisioned. And when we do stray off course, enough of the students are willing to row when I re-assume command at the helm.
The quicker students grasp concepts and ideas, the faster we can sail through the curriculum. When problems occur, we can throw out the anchor and better explore the water before resuming our voyage. By keeping a captain's log of our adventure, I'm able to see how we've reached our respective ports-of-call, and how the voyage might be smoother the second time around.