I received a signed copy of this book from my mother early in my teaching career and read it over a summer. I still remember the impact the following passage had on my career:
But have you ever noticed what happens at 3 o'clock when the students leave? "Yea, yea, yea!" Why are they so full of energy? Because they have been sitting in school all day doing nothing while the teacher is doing all the work.
The person who does the work is the only one doing any learning! (page 205)
One way I related to this passage was my habit of taking students' pencils when they encountered a problem. There, I admitted it. I was a serial pencil grabber. A student would raise his or her hand and say, "I don't get it." Like a trained dog, I would grab the pencil, do the work, and ask if they got it now. After the obligatory nod by the student, I would walk away feeling like I was the best teacher in the world. Actually, I was psuedoteaching but I was unaware of it until I began to reflect on who was doing the work.
I vowed that I would never grab another pencil. When circling the classroom, I would have my hands in my pockets or clasped behind my back in order to resist the urge to do the students' work for them. I got better at guiding them through problems using questions.
Last year, I shared this story with a pair of teacher assistants after observing them grab students' pencils. They made a good point that these students were completely lost and required a demonstration not merely guidance. (The gradual release of responsibility strikes again.) We discussed how this might look.
The demonstration would start with the teacher saying, "Watch what I do, listen to what I say, and keep a record of it so we can talk about it later." Next, the teacher would model solving the problem, using his or her own pencil, being sure to think aloud while working through the process. Once the problem was solved, the teacher would ask the learner for a recount of the process. This could serve as an assessment - did the learner attend to the important details of the process? If the learner was ready, the teacher would ask the learner to apply the process to another problem as the teacher now served as a guide. If all went well, the teacher would move on taking the work done during the demonstration. After all, it was the teacher's not the learner's work.
I appreciated that these teacher assistants were able to question my "wisdom" (and authority) regarding this issue. It reminds me that I have a lot to learn from my learners - as long as I am willing to let them do the work.