Why don’t you just tell us?

Today my students in General Chemistry were working on a particular difficult POGIL activity. They were struggling with both the math involved and the concept of what they were trying to do. I was standing watching them work and had to keep resisting the urge to intervene. By monitoring their conversations I could tell they were working through the problem, but I could also tell they were getting very frustrated.

For those of us who teach we generally have an inclination to be nurturing. It’s difficult to see our students struggling and seemingly making little progress. As I stood there watching them and listening to their conversations I had to remind myself of the importance of letting students go through the process of learning. Learning is never easy. We like to think it is but most of the time students have to really work hard to learn something new. That hard work usually takes place hidden from the teacher’s view, outside of the classroom, late at night while a student struggles over a homework problem or makes a connection when they find someone in their class to ask for help. In a POGIL classroom that struggle happens right in front of our eyes. We have to learn to be facilitators of learning, to create the environment for learning to take place instead of being the source of all knowledge.

I stopped myself at the beginning of class from intervening. I waited until about 10 minutes were left when I knew everyone actually needed my help and supplied a few pieces of useful information and insight. There were several “Oh, now I get it!” and I know that some of my students were wondering why I hadn’t just told them this information up front. But I know that 40 minutes earlier that information would have been useless. It was only through the struggle of trying to figure it out that students were ready to genuinely learn in the last 10 minutes of class. The struggle is important for learning, and as a POGIL instructor it helps once in a while to be reminded of it.

by Stephen Prilliman