Balancing the benefits of affording students the ability to take part in guiding class discussions with maintaining the direction and pace of the course can be a difficult issue for teachers. In my conversations, I have come across a wide spectrum of comfort zones. Some teachers are very eager to allow students almost complete control of class discussions (thus, a great deal of influence on content). Others are much more comfortable being almost solely in charge of directing the events of the day.
I have often said that teachers should work from a position of comfort and strength as they explore ways to address new ideas and address challenges. While the debate over how much influence students and teachers have in what goes on in class, I offer a simple suggestion:
“No matter what level of influence you are comfortable allowing your students, you are still responsible for setting the course in your class.”
As the teacher (and by default the leader of the class), you are responsible for “captaining your ship.” Think of the class as a cruise. The captain sets the course and makes sure the ship arrives at its destinations, but along the way the passengers have a variety of options available to them. One can engage in any number of activities on board, but the ship is still going to move to it next port of call.
In class, students should be engaged with multiple opportunities to actively participate in the course. The teacher, in turn, develops an environment conducive to engagement while overseeing that progress is being made towards the goals of the course.