By Teachers, For Teachers
I remember when I was in 7th grade, I was taking pre-algebra. Math wasn’t my favorite subject, but I did what I needed to get by. But then one day, that cute girl I had my eye on needed help with math. Did I know enough to tutor her? No way! But I offered to tutor her anyway. Every week we got together so I could coach her on her math. As time passed, something interesting happened: It was my math grade that ended up improving the most.
Why did my math grade improve so much while the girl’s grade made only a minor rally? Wasn’t she the one who was receiving the help?
When I brought this up to my teacher, he told me something I would never forget: “You’re doing better because you’re doing the explaining.” I realized that since I was using the teaching strategies, I was the one who was forced to learn the material well enough to explain it to someone else. While I loved having an excuse to spend time with this girl I had my eye on, the ultimate benefit was that I had a reason to study the math content in a new and worthwhile way.
This principle transfers to our own teaching strategies. When students are the ones doing the teaching and explaining, they are much more likely to achieve.
Educators might be hesitant to hand over the chalk and let the students do the teaching strategies. Teachers might raise some common objections:
There is some validity to these objections, and if we aren’t strategic with how we allow students to teach, it is likely the experience can be frustrating and a waste of time. But once we acknowledge these objections, we also need to acknowledge that there are really good reasons – beyond my personal anecdote – that should cause us to heavily consider letting students take charge.
Here are a few of the advantages that student-led teaching could yield:
If our overall goal is better, more enriching learning for students, then presenting them with the opportunity to teach the class will be a profitable approach for everyone. In addition to students learning the content better, they also gain experience with presentation, leadership, independence, creativity!
OK, so you want to get started having your students sit in the driver’s seat. How should you do it? There’s no magic formula here, but there are some general guidelines you might consider as you plan your approach for supporting your students teaching the class.
One of the questions you may be asking yourself is, “How will all students learn everything the other students are teaching them?” This isn’t a bad question, but it is a bit misguided. The point of having students teach one another is not so that students can learn from each other. We certainly hope this happens, but that’s a secondary objective.
The primary objective in having students teach the class is that they learn the content through their own process of teaching. Group 1 is the group most likely to master the Group 1 content. Group 2 is the group most likely to master the Group 2 content. The goal is for students to use this process to master their own group’s content. You can build other elements – like note taking, assessment, jigsaws, and so on – into the lessons, but make sure you recognize these as the secondary objectives in your process.
I want to give you a few brief examples of how I’ve engaged with having students teach the class, to give you a clearer insight into different ways this might work for you.
Poetry: In pairs, the whole class took turns guiding the rest of the class through Shakespeare sonnets. I did my own model first, asking students to read through the sonnet with me out loud, asking students to look for particular features in each quatrain, separating the class to work together to summarize/paraphrase their quatrains, and working together as a class to decipher a final meaning. Then I allowed pairs time to study their own sonnet together with my lesson template in mind. Pairs then took turns for the next several class periods following my leading and likewise leading their classmates through the poems.
Independent Books: Students had independently read a book in a small group, and instead of just asking students to present a book report, I asked students to teach a lesson to the class based on the message of their novel. They were required to lead the class through a sample activity that demonstrated the novel’s theme, present at least one passage for reading and studying together, and leading a discussion. One group had read “Lord of the Flies,” and the sample activity they created (which involved students rabidly searching for a $20 bill in the classroom) was one that I stole and used myself for years to come! The students didn’t end up memorizing the themes of each of the novels presented, but the opportunity to teach certainly reinforced students’ understanding of their own novel they had read.
One final example comes from Discovery Education, offering a walkthrough of how a teacher might help her students teach their own science lessons from a textbook.
It’s clear that one key way to help students master and reinforce learning is to have them teach the content to someone else. If they can explain it clearly to others, if they can answer others’ questions, if they can come up with lessons, activities, and discussions associated with the content, then they are that much more likely to forge lasting retention. While you can’t provide a cute guy or girl for each of your students to tutor, you can facilitate the right structure where your students can have the chance to teach others.
How do you facilitate students teaching the class? Tell us about your teaching strategies, thoughts, and experiences in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano taught English for twelve years in a Chicago suburban high school, where he is now an Assistant Principal. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.