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Teaching Students To Teach (& What School Reformers Are Missing)

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One of my favorite experiences in class each year are the two periods each week in the second semester of my IB Theory of Knowledge class when small student groups prepare and then teach a lesson to another group. We just did it for the first time this year, and it was a lot of fun and very informative.

People quote Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Experience” a lot (you know, the one that says “We learn….90% of what we teach”) and, even though the research behind it has been just about completely discredited, William Glasser quotes it lot because he says it reflects his own experience. I agree with Glasser.

I first have students read the chapter in my Helping Students Motivate Themselves book that’s titled “What Are The Best Things YOu Can Do To Maximize The Chances Of A Lesson Being Successful?” We then discuss the multiple elements of a successful lesson that I highlight there.

Then, each week, we take one of what the IB Theory of Knowledge curriculum call “The Ways Of Knowing” (emotion, language, reason, perception — the ways we “acquire” knowledge) and the “Areas Of Knowledge” (math, arts, natural science, human sciences, history, ethics — how we “categorize” the knowledge we acquire), and small groups have to complete a form and outline on how they are going to teach a short related lesson (10-15 minutes long) to another small group including at least six of the elements of a successful lesson. They have to choose one of nearly thousand Theory of Knowledge links I have saved on Delicious.

They do the preparation one day, and then the next day two groups match-up and teach each other their lesson. After one lesson is taught, each group completes an evaluation — the “teachers” evaluate themselves and their “students” evaluate them as well. Then, the groups reverse their roles.

As I mentioned earlier, it works very well (and I’m planning on making some modifications and trying it with my other classes this year, too), and in many ways it helps students gain the knowledge that so many “school reformers” don’t realize they’re missing, as Larry Cuban has described:

I draw from Mary Kennedy’s Inside Teaching to elaborate that “yet.”

“Yet children are not privy to the whole of teaching. They are unaware of the decisions teachers make, the plans they make, and the work they do outside class. Moreover, they are emotionally dependent upon teachers, so their interpretation is not likely to be based on a close analysis of events. Yet from those naive experiences, many durable values are formed about the nature of school subjects, how teachers and students should behave in classrooms, and what constitutes ‘good’ teaching…..

….Sure, reformers beliefs are often stated in sophisticated language seemingly far removed from their less articulate ideas formed when sitting 10 feet away from their teachers but should those glossy phrases be stripped away, the provenance of reform ideas can be found in the daily experiences of sitting in classroom many years ago. And those ideas, as Mary Kennedy reminds us, are distorted because children are emotionally involved with their teachers and know little about the planning, the improvisational decision-making during lessons, and work outside of school that teachers do.

I asked students to reflect on their experience and what they felt they learned about teaching.  Here are some representative comments:

“I learned that we actually need to talk about something interesting to get student attention, and also you have to interact with them — not just say what you want to say… You have to not be boring.”

“It’s really hard to keep students to not be bored for only fifteen minutes. It’s really easy for students to get bored and distracted.”

“Teaching was tough.  I had to keep getting obnoxious students’ attention with interesting facts but they irritate me.”

“I think I learned a lot about teaching.  It seems sort of easy, but it’s harder than it looks to prepare every lesson.  You have to try to explain your thoughts and put them into words and try to get others to understand what you’re trying to teach.”

I suspect — and hope — that many of my students will have a healthy respect for the work of teachers in the future…

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

5 Comments

  1. yes, this is a powerful strategy. I really like jigsaw for just this reason. Love how they are “irritated by other students” in 15 minutes! Too funny!

  2. This technique is empowering….I have never thought about making it a formalized process with critiques and reflection.

  3. Thanks for the blog, If I’m not wrong, the picture on your site is at Reinga Point NZ? Have you been?

  4. Thank you for sharing your methods and your students’ reactions.

    I think too many educators fail to understand how narrow students’ perspective on schooling is. Then they are surprised and offended when the public, with only a students’ view of teaching, fails to have a nuanced appreciation of teaching. It’s better to do something to change the perception than to moan, right?

    A school district in Massachusetts has taken an approach similar to yours. It created a program in which students can examine teaching as a career. It combines theory with shadowing experiences, and practice in such things as creating lesson plans.

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