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Teaching Strategies: The Hands-Off Approach

Janelle Cox

What’s the best way to use teaching strategies that help your students to gain and master skills? In traditional classrooms, the best way to learn has been through teacher-led activities where the students are mainly passive learners. However, as more research on this topic comes to light, many of today’s educators are employing “Hands-off” teaching strategies. This is where the teacher takes a back seat and students become more active in their own learning. The benefits of a student-centered, student-led classroom are that students can take ownership of their work, as well as build student autonomy. Students learn to think for themselves and take more responsibility for their own learning. As today’s children strive to develop their 21st-century skills like critical thinking and problem solving, they are also being pushed to develop self-motivation. Here is a closer look at hands-off teaching strategies, as well as how you can implement them into your classroom.

Teaching Strategies that Put Students in Charge

What exactly is a hands-off approach to learning, you may ask? Simply put, it’s when students are in charge of their own learning. Teachers take a step back from what they may consider to be their role, and act as a guide or facilitator to students. They urge their students to work independently and take more responsibility regarding their own learning.

Student-centered learning is becoming more and more popular because educators are beginning to see the positive impact that being in charge of your learning is having on their students. It’s not just about students passing their classes to move up to the next level, it’s about students having the capability to master their classes because they’ve positioned themselves to succeed.

Implementing the Hands-Off Approach

Here are a few teaching strategies that teachers have found to be effective when implementing the hands-off approach to learning in their classroom.

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Encouraging Inquiry

An easy way to employ the hands-off approach in your classroom is to encourage inquiry. Instead of rushing over to give students the answer when they’re struggling, allow them to sit in the moment and think for themselves. Give them question prompts and encourage them to look up things on their own. This will help students use their critical thinking skills as well as promote responsibility for their own learning.

Challenging Students

Challenge students. There are a variety of different ways that you can do this. For example, you can challenge students to become experts in a topic that interests them. Once they become an expert in that topic, then challenge them to teach their classmates what they’ve learned. Another way to use the hands-off approach with your students is to challenge them to correct their classmates’ papers. Ask them to see how many errors they can find, then have them fix the errors on their own papers once they get them back from their peers. The more students work for themselves on their own, the more they will be able to learn from themselves as well as from their mistakes.

Intervening When Necessary

The hands-off approach means that the teacher should only intervene when it’s absolutely necessary. Once students learn to work independently and can find answers on their own, the only job the teacher has is to intervene when absolutely necessary. For example, a student may be stuck on question and doesn’t understand how to answer it. Your job would be to guide them to figure out how they can find the answer on their own. Students should be able to solve their own problems now because that’s what you have taught them. If for any reason students still need assistance, then you can guide them and remind them how they can do it themselves.

Being Supportive

Your job as the guide and facilitator for the classroom is to be supportive to your students. Your students need to know that you’re there for them, and that you support their learning. Build a rapport and promote learning by always giving positive feedback. If you ever need to be critical, then use the feedback sandwich, this is where you layer a positive with negative then another positive.

Encouraging Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Another teaching strategy of the hands-off approach is to encourage students to think outside of the box. Challenge them to brainstorm what they know before you introduce a new topic. You can use a graphic organizer called the KWL chart. K- Know, W – want to know, L – learned. Students fill in these three sections of the chart as part of their brainstorming technique. When students learn to think outside of the box, they’re learning that their ideas matter, no matter how silly or crazy they may sound.

The hands-off teaching approach can serve students well in the classroom. Is it the best approach for learning? That you’ll have to decide for yourself. Until then, you should know that it builds a classroom atmosphere where students are active learners, and allows students the freedom to think critically and learn dynamically.

What do you think of hands-off teaching strategies? Do you use this them in your classroom? Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below, we’d love to hear what you have to say.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.