When I work with teachers, I often tell them that my goal is to be the “least helpful teacher possible.” I believe I first had this goal after watching Dan Meyer’s TED Talk. While the idea of being the “least helpful” usually elicits a few laughs, I never mean it to be funny. To better explain my goal, I use the metaphor of a bench presser and a spotter.
I tell teachers that students are the bench pressers and we are their spotters. A spotter’s job is to give the bench presser the least amount of help necessary so that he or she can lift the weight. If the spotter gives too much help and does most of the lifting, then the spotter gets stronger, not the bench presser. If the spotter gives too little help, the weights fall on the bench presser and the bench presser dies.
So, the spotter’s job is to give the bench presser the least amount of help so that the bench presser can lift the weight. No more help and no less help.
Taking this back to the classroom context, this is no easy task. Teachers often have 30+ students who are all lifting different amounts of weights and are at different levels of exertion. Spotting them all simultaneously takes lots of preparation. Personally, I love to use a combination of a pre-mortem and the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions.
What do you think of this analogy? What are some of your favorite “spotter” techniques? Please let me know if the comments.