Do-Nothing Teaching

The core of Do-Nothing Teaching, as Kevin explained it, is the idea that, sometimes, doing nothing is the best thing a teacher can do to encourage students to learn. As I understand it, in this context “nothing” doesn’t mean showing up to teach with no lesson plan. It is not double-talk for “lazy teaching.” Instead, it means something more like continually reflecting on your teaching practice in order to remove anything from your classroom practice that is hindering student learning. You can read more about the foundations of DNT here and read Kevin’s recent thoughts at his blog.


DNT resonates with me on a couple of levels. Teaching is often thought about in additive terms, which means that our conceptions of both teaching and learning are shot through with the language of accumulation. Teachers give knowledge, feedback, grades, and students acquire skills, insight, and grades. Now, I happen to think that this process works pretty well, overall. Teachers do have a lot to give, and students do benefit from the accumulation of knowledge and skills they gain in college.


But it also seems to me that our goal as educators is not just to fill our students with information but to also equip them to use that information critically, productively, and intellectually. (A Chinese student I recently got to know described education in China as producing “stuffed ducks.” They are filled with information, he said, but spend relatively little thinking about that information.)
So, in addition to accumulation, I think we also need to devote time to reflective practice, and this is why DNT really appeals to me; DNT emphasizes reflective practice reflection for both teachers and students. I think this is something that most teachers do already, though they might not articulate it in these terms. Whether we ask students to consider the cultural implications of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in class discussion or to craft an unobvious thesis statement, we are creating situations in which what matters most for student learning is an empty space where students can reflect, experiment, and play with their own ideas.
Though the language of Do-Nothing Teaching is new to me, speaking with Kevin made me realize that I’ve experimented with this approach for years in my writing and literature classes. I’m going to describe a couple of these experiments in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’d ask you to check out Kevin’s work and think about experimenting with removing a normal part of your teaching for a day or two to see if it changes how (or how much) your students learn.


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2 responses to “Do-Nothing Teaching

  1. Adam, I started reading your blog and came upon this post and thought I’d chime in – I think you’re right about conceiving of learning in additive terms is common and can be negative. I like the direction you took this in the following post (about your class discussion w/ rules). Anyhow, nice post!


  2. Joshua Rosenberg

    Adam, nice post! I enjoyed reading your blog.

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