Everyone who works in or studies education is familiar with the word pedagogy. It comprises the strategies and methods teachers use to teach. Included in pedagogical practices are a wide range of activities that are grounded in behaviorist, cognitive, and connectionists psychologies. The methods are connected by several assumptions, however. Specifically, pedagogy assumes the teacher is responsible for deciding what is to be learned, how it is to be learned, what resources will be used, and how new learning will be demonstrated and evaluated. In general, pedagogy is controlled by the teacher.

Heutagogy is a much different approach to teaching. It is more accurate to use heutagogy to describe an approach to learning. When a teacher organizes heutagogy, students determine what they will learn, how they will learn it, and how it will be demonstrated. It is grounded in students’ own curiosity and different students may be engaged in much different learning.

Questions arise:

  • What about “the standards?” Standards-based education is exactly what it says, it is standardized so that it is the same for everyone. When using heutagogy, teachers intend to give students experience controlling their own learning, so the standards are marginalized.
  • What is the role for the teacher? Mentor. Coach. Advisor.

Does it really work?

Ski-town Middle School is located about 10 miles from a ski resort. On 10 Tuesday afternoons in the winter, students leave school and go to the mountain for free ski lessons and passes (or to the local ice rink or gym). The middle school faculty decided to dedicate the 10 Tuesday mornings to students’ own projects. They decided what they would learn, and they were assigned to a teacher to whom they reported progress and sought assistance.

The first Tuesday morning was dedicated to explaining the project, the last Tuesday morning (along with the few other days) was dedicated to students demonstrating their learning. When we got to the end of the project, we saw every student make some type of performance. For example:

One student made a traditional oral report on whitetail deer and hunter safety. The materials he developed were used by the local fish and game club to teach their safety courses.

One student spent his Tuesday mornings learning how to weld with his neighbor. He brought some sculptures he made into school. The assistant superintendent saw them and assumed they belonged to the regional folk art center.

One student made a model of a room and selected fabrics, colors, to decorate it. Her neighbor saw it and asked her to design a room in here house and gave her a $2000 budget.

Several students organized a musical performance with a bass guitar solo (the student did not play perviously), a mandolin solo, and didgeridoo (which the student made).

Heutagogy is not appropriate for every lesson. There is much in the curriculum that students best learn when their activity is directed by a skilled teacher. Every classroom, however, no matter the age of the student or the subject being taught should provide an opportunity for heutagogy.