A hands-off approach can be an effective teaching strategy.

Two young boys read a book together.As a teacher, you’re expected to take responsibility for your students’ learning, helping them gain new knowledge and reach academic goals. But taking the traditional approach of standing at the front of the classroom and telling students what they need to know isn’t always the best teaching strategy. Sometimes, it can be better to take a hands-off approach. If you’re a kindergarten teacher or elementary school teacher—or even if you want to become a teacher—here’s what you should know about hands-off teaching.

The Definition of Hands-Off Teaching

Hands-off teaching doesn’t mean you disengage from your students. Instead, it refers to a teaching strategy where you encourage students to become more active in their own learning. Often, students expect their teacher to distill the important information and provide the answer to every question. Through hands-off teaching, you ask your students to distill information for themselves and answer their own questions. Rather than simply telling students what they need to know, you guide them through the learning process.

The Advantage to Hands-Off Teaching

In the landmark book How Students Learn, researchers describe the key element to learning: metacognition.* Metacognition, simply put, is the ability to think about thinking. This is a significant advantage in learning because thinking about the way we think helps us learn how we learn, which in turn helps us develop the critical-thinking skills necessary to process and understand information. Instead of taking in facts and regurgitating them, metacognition allows us to consider a much wider breadth of information, find the important connections, and grasp what they mean on a deeper level. Because hands-off teaching asks students to work through questions and find answers on their own, it’s an excellent method for promoting metacognition and helping students truly learn.

How to Use Hands-Off Teaching

Of course, hands-off teaching is not appropriate 100% of the time. Even at the elementary school level, you will need to spend a certain amount of time actively delivering information and answering student questions. But during a normal day, you should have plenty of time to include hands-off teaching, too. Some ways you can incorporate hands-off teaching include:

  • Encouraging Inquiry: You don’t have to immediately answer every question. Occasionally ask your students if they can find the answer for themselves.
  • Creating Challenges: Pushing students outside of the usual classroom routine can get them thinking in new ways. For example, you can have one student per day pose a difficult question that the other students must answer. Similarly, instead of marking wrong answers on a test, you can tell your students how many wrong answers they gave and challenge them to find and correct their mistakes.
  • Assigning Projects: Projects are a great way to get students to take a more holistic approach to learning, particularly if those projects require them to teach the rest of the class what they learned. The best projects ask students to pose a difficult question, do the research, and form a defensible conclusion.
  • Being Supportive: Hands-off teaching only works if students feel comfortable taking ownership of their learning. And while some students are natural self-starters, many won’t feel comfortable unless they can trust you’ll be there to help them work through any roadblocks they might encounter.

How You Can Become a Certified Teacher

If you want to become the kind of teacher who can use various teaching methods to promote learning, you’ll want to first earn your teacher certification. Teacher cert is a requirement to teach in most school districts, as it demonstrates that you have the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in the classroom. But before you go through the certification process, you’ll need to earn a teaching degree.

One of the best degrees for teachers aspiring to work in elementary education is a BS in Elementary Education. This education degree can help you gain and develop teaching skills and can prepare you for teacher licensure. If you’re uncertain whether you have the time to earn a bachelor of science degree, take a look at online education. When you earn your BS in Elementary Education online, you can complete your coursework right from home. Plus, an online teaching degree lets you choose when in the day to attend class, providing a level of flexibility that can make it possible to work full time while you earn your degree.

Being a good teacher means knowing how to employ strategies like hands-off teaching. Through an online bachelor’s program in education, you can put yourself on the road to becoming just such a teacher.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


*M.S. Donovan, et. al., How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom, The National Academies Press, on the internet at www.nap.edu/read/10126/chapter/2.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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