Mar 11, 2015

Original Publication

March 2015
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Why Do Students Pick Teacher A or Teacher B? Who Would You Pick?

What if we asked our students about the type of work they would prefer to do while in class? It may reveal a lot about what choices they would make for assignments and activities and why they make these choices.

These days, when I meet with students across the country, I challenge them to choose between two very different assignment designs for the same subject, Romeo and Juliet. Both assignments use Powerpoint. Students in each classroom have access to a device. Each teacher has the same goals, an interpretation of the text.


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When asked, students offer fascinating reasons to explain their first choice. You may want to design a series of choices (Teacher A-Z) to present to your own students to understand what motivates them to work. You can imagine one of the most popular choices has to do with not being bored, although there are students who do want to be spoon fed.

The goal is to have students become the learning architects of at least some of their work, similar to that being promoted by #geniushour. It is possible we have grossly underestimated their ability to understand their own learning styles and how to take increased responsibility for becoming learning designers. As students have explained to me in the past, a change in the design of work can lead to an increase in student learning and focus. For example, simply allowing students to use Minecraft to design one of the historic California missions can lead to much more research, critical thinking, and presentation detail then designing the same church grounds with sugar cubes.

On to Teacher A and Teacher B

Teacher A presents a slide presentation on Romeo and Juliet that she designed before class, (perhaps even the year before). Each student has a laptop and is taking notes during class. Every now and then, Teacher A asks if anyone in class can answer a specific question about the character development or how to interpret a quote from the play. Raising your hand is optional. Homework is studying your notes for a quiz on Friday.

Teacher B researched slide presentations about Romeo and Juliet from the U.K. and around the world by using an advanced search (Filetype:ppt (edu) Romeo and Juliet (simply replace with the extensions of various countries). Teacher B selected six presentations she believes represent different cultural interpretations of Romeo and Juliet and with varied emphases on character development and themes. Students are organized in teams of 3-5 in class and challenged to review the slides of all six slide presentations from the six different countries. Each team is responsible for selecting ten slides from approximately 80 combined slides to create a remix team slide presentation. The teacher works with the students to develop a rubric which makes clear what the rationale is for choosing the slides, such as differences in cultural interpretations. Each team also has to write a defense of why they selected their slides and post their finished remix to the class blog. Homework is to review another team’s slide presentation and to offer comments that compare to your team’s choices. This class will also have a quiz on Friday.

What I do not mention to the students is I believe there is a significant difference between the learning of the two teachers. Teacher A is not learning very much about her students. Her mode of sharing her slide presentation does not offer her much opportunity to interact with students and understand how each student is interpreting the lesson. Teacher B has almost limitless opportunity to learn how her students learn. As she walks around the room she can observe her students remixing and she can listen to the logic of their debate about which slides to pick. She may even have someone audio record the conversations at the table for her further review. She can also see who is more involved in the work.

Teacher A leaves class to get another slide presentation ready for chapter 2. Teacher B leaves class looking forward to reading (and/or listening to) student comments about each teams’ work on the class blog. She will also look for patterns of interpretation across the remix Powerpoints and the written explanations each team submitted.

Now comes the intriguing part. When I ask students which teacher they prefer, I get both Teacher A and Teacher B. Here are the explanations of why they make their choice.

Students explain their preferences

The first time I ran this experiment, I asked approximately twenty middle and high school students what they thought. The first student who answered wanted Teacher B. She explained her attention span was only ten minutes long and she could not stay focused on a longer slide presentation by a teacher. She also thought she would learn more by looking at six presentations from around the world and she felt she would be interested in the different cultural interpretations. This student also shared her willingness to talk with classmates about creating their own remix slide presentation. She felt Teacher B’s remixing lesson would give her a better chance of staying focused for the whole class and it would be more engaging than taking notes. She also felt she would remember the material longer because she was actively discussing the material and creating something.

The next student clearly did not like Teacher B and picked Teacher A. When I asked her why, she summed it up, “I am lazy. I do not want to do all of that work required by Teacher B.” She also explained that her own teacher did provide slide presentations and she liked them because she just wanted to know what was going to be on the test. Since her teacher was the only one who knew what was to be on the test, she only wanted to listen to her teacher. She also explained she has to write things down to help her remember what was being taught and she liked taking her own notes. When I asked her to compare the two teachers’ approaches in terms of how long she might remember the material, she agreed she would probably forget most of the content after the quiz with Teacher A. But that did not matter to her. Her goal was to get the highest possible grade, not to remember the material the longest. She knew that Teacher A gave her the best chance. “All those other slide presentations from other countries would be too confusing and most of the material would not be on the test.”

Obviously there are a limitless number of creative options to designing assignments in the digital age, including following the hashtag #shakespeare to learn how people around the world apply quotes from a guy who has been dead for 400 years to everyday events. And, sometimes it makes sense to be Teacher A, other times Teacher B’s approach will work best, and at other times it will be the approach of Teachers C-Z. There is no right style all the time.

What concerns me is we often do not explicitly provide our teachers with the permission and skill-support to be Teacher B. Too many of our workshops do a great job of explaining the technical bits without hitting on the myriad design opportunities. As a follow-up on my article on the 6 questions to determine if you’re technology rich/information poor, Teacher B’s class has at least three: making thinking visible, new lines of enquiry, and student as contributor.

Ever since I began my work as a teacher with technology in the early 1980s, I have highly valued that students think of designing work with new tools in ways which I would never imagine. For example, I recently asked a combined group of about 150 teachers and fifteen students to redesign the classic lesson of learning the 50 state capitals.

The only group to design a video game with increasing layers of difficulty of understanding each state was a group of seven students who knew Scratch. All they had to do was to go to the Scratch website and to a search on “state capitals” to find many examples of video games. (Now we have Teacher C.) As one teacher later tweeted about watching her students think about how they could design a traditional assignment, she tweeted out, “#Notfair. The students selected a state capital video game that was too engaging to stop! I do not think that way!” (This is a fourth design feature of the Transformative 6—use of best examples in the world.) Many of our students are waiting for us to help design assignments that will support the way they learn.

As one of my friends, Phil Stubbs from Verso in Australia, recently shared in a tweet in support of my recent book, “Who Owns the Learning,” “Spoon-feeding will not bring back awe and wonder”. Even when students want the answer to be spoon-fed, as the girl who picked Teacher A did, we should try to make our students work harder for their discovery of “the awe and wonder”. Or, to paraphrase the Great Bard, “They have been at a great feast of learning, and stolen the scraps.”


  1. My classroom is probably split between students that prefer teacher A and teacher B. I believe this relates to student and teacher expectations. Let’s give our students teacher B and expect them to not be lazy and teach them to dig deeper into their learning. Hopefully with enough experiences with teacher B, students will grow to appreciate this type of learning and realize its potential and benefits and maybe start to enjoy owning their learning.

  2. Yes! I really enjoyed your post. Students need to be invited to take ownership of their learning. Teacher A is doing all the work and learning. Teacher B clearly trusts her students to take it on – the activity engages students in thinking operations: comparing, contrasting, making decisions, interpreting, creating, to name a few. I’ve always questioned the structure behind Genius Hours – shouldn’t children be engaged in this kind of work more than one hour a week? Thank you – looking forward to meeting you at our Surrey Administrators’ convention at the end of April.

  3. “Spoon-feeding will not bring back awe and wonder.” Truer words never spoken. A lifetime of Teacher As might lead a student to pick them. They are comfortable. Predictable. Easy to game. How many Teacher Bs do we need to change who students pick? These teachers seem to be concentrated in special/specific schools and in a few countries. How do we train and support more Teacher Bs, assuming they are the ones who will bring back awe, wonder, critical thought, innovation and creativity? Let’s co-author the response to that question, shall we?

  4. Interesting findings! It makes me think that I need to re-evaluate how I engage my students when teaching a concept. We have been devoting part of the week to their inquiries, sometimes with parameters and sometimes without, similar to the Genius Hour idea. I can see how the design of tasks can make a difference in how students not only engage with content, but retain the information as well.

  5. Teacher B wow what an interesting way to challenge students to think through from multiple perspectives. Not the only way I would teach but if I was still in the classroom(Librarian) then I would want to keep this as part of the tool bag. Some things due to the unfortunate testing system we have throughout most of the country will still require the ppt of what is expected on the test. It seems such a burden to limit creativity of students and teachers by such a testing system. However teachers will see the testing system as their accountability tool and not be able to take the risk of a Teacher B activity even though I believe their is research to show students will not only be able to improve as a self learner but they will do better on the tests as well. I have had the opportunity to explore this type of learner as an instructional coach and as a librarian. It works however as mentioned by Alan some times students as pragmatist will not like it because it requires them to think more and makes it harder for them to see what they would be tested on at the end of a unit or lesson.

  6. Alan,
    Once again a timely article and insight into how students think. I have had the pleasure of attending four of your workshops or presentations on the West Coast and each time my knowledge increases. Thank you for your insight into learning and what it takes to make students take charge of their own Learning.

  7. The student prefers A because she will have a higher grade on a test. Teachers often become Teacher A so that their students will earn those higher scores because value as a teacher is often determined by student grades and test scores. While as both a student and as a teacher, I would prefer Teacher B, the skills taught are not as tangible or easily assessed.

  8. Interesting. I’m curious as to how the students from each class performed on the assessment.

  9. Yes I too enjoyed reading the different approaches of teachers in teaching.the present generation is well aware of everything ….in technology and day to day happenings around the world . So they never prefer chalk and talk method . They are more intellectual and knowledgeable and updated ….ofcourse than teachers. I am in teaching field for more than 29 years I can note the difference and a bilogy techer I used to give them the assign, ents in groups that too in the next level apart from what is given in text but connected with the lesson.for example when they study about water they were asked to collect samples of water from diff.areas to find the salt content and they were allowed to talk and debate on tds in water how it affects our health and how to rectify it.they had an interview with health officials and record it.similarly the topic on soil was dealt in different way they collected the soil from different areas and explored the reason for variation in colour and texture water retention capacity and humus present in it etc..and indirectly they about the story of soil formation and the the importance of soil consrevation and ways to conserve it.this is for classes 6, 7, the motivation and exposure is in teachers hand to take them to the next level 8f self learnong

  10. Students continue to show that they will rise to great expectations or fall on mediocrity according to their learning environment. Your example helps illuminate the need for a global view in our local classrooms as our students today will be competing globally tomorrow!

  11. Currently I am a cross between A and B. While I know that A can be seen as boring, but if you have a true passion for the subject you are trying to get across, the students will pick up on that. And yes I do want all students to be successful but I want to discuss my passion about history, I want to show a ppt of where I have been and the significance. So while I do agree Teacher B is doing great work and it is helping the students learn, please no one just throw away A. Passion goes a long way in the classroom.

  12. I believe it that teacher can develop their skill

  13. With out passion even the most spectacular technology will lose its impact. the key is, and always will be, to use the tools when and where they have the most impact. Developing proper skills and assisting students in the correct means of research will be effective only if students are engaged. Like anything else, overuse will lead to lack of engagement.

  14. I see the advantages/disadvantages of both approaches. I am more like Teacher A with my Accounting students where many of the assignments/problems have one correct answer. We do splash in some real world projects that allow students the freedom to create or solve problems for companies and will come up with different results. For my other classes, I am more towards the Teacher B spectrum as many of the lessons are specific to each students and his/her potential career/earnings goals.

  15. I think teacher B has a better chance of getting students to create purposeful work and devise best in world examples.

  16. I think I am a cross between A and B as well, but student preferences have a lot to do with the personality and enthusiam of the teacher and the ability to connect with the students.

  17. I would say in the lower levels of the language I am more of the A teacher, and more of teacher B in the honors level classes.

  18. Teaching styles and lesson plans can vary greatly. Students will benefit from both.

  19. It does not shock me to read the numerous reposes of the students. I think a mix of approaches throughout each week of school is the best approach.


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Led by Alan November and based in Marblehead, MA, November Learning equips teachers and administrators to motivate students to own their learning and make global connections by using effective technology and implementing rigorous assignments. Through our annual Building Learning Communities® conference, professional development services and extended resources, our team of experts empowers educators to enact powerful changes across the curriculum, drawing on students’ abilities to think critically, communicate globally, express creativity and collaborate across several types of media.


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