Letting students teach sounds scary to some teachers—very scary. In fact, when many teachers think about the concept, they assume many different things. They'll say "many of my students don’t know the subject matter very well" or "they're too scared to ask questions, much less convey important information." Often they also worry that many students won’t respect their classmates and perhaps even laugh at them.
They're not entirely wrong in their thinking.
After all, letting students teach is scary but it’s also a great way for them to learn.
As we’ve mentioned in the past when discussing the best formative assessment strategies, letting students teach is a big one. That’s because when you are able to teach a concept to another person in a way that makes them fully understand it, you know you’ve got it cold. Thus,
the students-become-teachers strategy is not only a great way to assess learning, but also the perfect way to ensure the learning has actually happened.
As a teacher, you're someone who wants to help students improve their independent thinking skills. However, you might have noticed that many educators, parents, and students are wary of non-traditional approaches to teaching. This is usually because they're afraid students will do poorly on standardized tests if they aren’t taught the traditional way. Hopefully, you've learned that taking chances now and then isn't a bad thing.
Why Letting Students Teach Works
Now it’s time to take another chance, one that's really a smart risk since research indicates students learn better when they teach. In fact, a study published in the academic journal Memory & Cognition concluded that
students who taught other students performed better on tests than those who were told they would be tested.
So one wonders, why would that happen?
“Simply telling learners that they would later teach another student changes their mindset enough so that they engage in more effective approaches to learning than did their peers who simply expected a test,” reported Futurity,
a website that published Memory & Cognition's findings.
“The study suggests that instilling an expectation to teach may be a simple, inexpensive intervention with the potential to increase learning efficiency at home and in the classroom.”
... when you are able to teach a concept to another person in a way that makes them fully understand it, you know you’ve got it cold.
Think back to when you were training to become a teacher. Did you become a more independent thinker when you were listening to your teacher or when you thought about how to get students to think about a subject while you prepared your lesson plan as a student-teacher and while you taught? How about when you were a child. Did you become a better independent thinker and decision-maker when your parents told you what to do or when you got more responsibility?
Obviously letting students teach can be risky, but it’s also an expeditious way they can develop as thinkers and decision-makers. Here is a plan that might help you incorporate student teaching into your lesson plans.
Step 1: Map Classroom Time
Letting students teach the equivalent of nine classes during a school year is probably a worthwhile risk given the research. If you have 24 students, for example, they can each lead a 10-minute lesson per 40-minute class or six classes. Each student-taught lesson would be on the same day as your 30-minute lesson and be integrated into your curriculum. Prior to the individually-taught student teaching lessons, you can have six group-taught lessons with each group of four teaching for half a class each or three classes.
Step 2: Map Non-Classroom Time
You shouldn’t spend more non-classroom time working because this project replaces other activities. However, you should meet with each student and with the groups prior to their teaching time. A 30-minute meeting with each student might work. Each lesson is part of one of your lessons so you must choose the topics and how they correlate with your lessons. You should also schedule a time to meet with each student afterwards so you can effectively debrief together. Telling students what they did right before getting into constructive criticism is important.
Step 3: Detail Your Expectations
Informing the students on the first day of class about your plans to have them teach is important. (It gives them time to switch classes!) Seriously, you can begin by detailing the student-teaching project in writing as part of your first-day handouts. Then later in the school year, go over the project in the class shortly before it begins making sure that the students have reviewed your notes. It’s also important that they know to be respectful of peers while they’re teaching. In fact, let them know you will make this an integral part of your evaluation process.
Step 4: Start With Tutoring
If you're letting students teach, practice makes perfect. Students need to practice teaching before teaching a class. The best way is to have them tutor, and the tutoring should not be strong students tutoring weak students. When assigning homework early in the school year, pair off students to have Student A tutor Student B about a subject. The fact is tutoring works. Research shows that tutors
Step 5: Assign Teaching Groups
Roughly one-third through the school year, is preparing students for group teaching projects where, for example, four students teach the other 20 students. Each group should be assigned a different subject. It’s important, though, to ask students their thoughts on how to engage the 20 students on their own before meeting with their group. Students think more creatively on their own since some students can tend to dominate others. However, groups are good at choosing good ideas over bad ideas.
Step 6: Review Groups’ Plans
A week or so before a group is scheduled to teach, you should meet with that group’s members to give them feedback on their plans. Here you can provide tips on how to present the information, and ideas for how they can best engage the students they're teaching. Group members should be asking their “class” questions and should consider using other resources such as handouts, blackboards, maps, and videos. In short, this is about encouraging students to be creative.
Step 6: Review Groups’ Plans
Let each group’s students make mistakes while they are teaching rather than interfere with a lesson. After all, your department head doesn’t correct you in the middle of a lesson. However, you should be paying attention to what is working for the “teachers” and their students and utilize your observations to improve future group teaching lessons. Your evaluations should be more focused on specific tips for each student and group rather than on grades.
STEP 8: ASSIGN INDIVIDUAL LESSONS
About two-thirds of the way through the school year, you should begin preparing the students for their individual teaching experience. You have 24 topics, each of which will be integrated into your teaching plan. It’s important to give the students as much flexibility as possible. In other words, tell them your topics and let them choose the topics they are most comfortable with. It’s unlikely that each student will get his or her No. 1 choice, but do the best you can.
Step 9: Work on Lesson Plans
Let each student devise a lesson plan before he or she meets with you.
Encourage them to be creative about how to present their lessons
just as you did before they met with their groups. During your meetings, you should do what the groups did, and what you later did, before the group teaching lessons.
Step 10: Let Students Teach (And Assess)
Hopefully, the students are now 100 percent respectful toward each student-teacher because they understand the process and pressure. It’s crucial to let students teach uninterrupted with one exception, which is time. A clock should be visible to the student teachers and they should know that you are teaching right after them. It’s also imperative to keep the class under control so the student-teacher can finish the lesson plan. You might conclude that future student-taught lessons should be longer than 10 minutes, but take things one step at a time.
As far as assessing the learning goes, this is something students should also be highly involved in. In The Student’s Role in the Assessment Process, Richard Wells claims that self-assessment
“gives students ownership of their own learning and provides them with a means for evaluating their growth and setting goals for the future.”
This is a considerably powerful statement in favour of letting students self-assess during and after their teaching is done. The good news is it doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking, either. Here are some perfect quick assessment ideas you can begin exploring with them right now.
In the end, letting students teach has many advantages. We focused on how students learn better and become more creative and independent thinkers by teaching. Here’s another advantage—they might have more respect for you and your teaching skills because of their experience. If you’re lucky, they also might have excellent ideas that will make you a better teacher. Let students teach with your trust and confidence, as the incredible facilitator of learning that you are.
Ed note: This is an updated version of the original article.