Students as Teachers

Aristotle once said that “Teaching is the highest form of understanding”. As a teacher, I know for a fact that having a “high understanding” of something definitely does not mean I know everything; it does mean, however, that I understand a concept well enough that I can analyze it and break it down.

What if students were able to do this same thing? Think about what a student would need to do in order to truly teach a classmate how to simply, for example, make a grilled cheese sandwich:

  • Identify students’ prior knowledge,
  • Organize the lesson into logically sequenced steps,
  • Determine which concepts are too complex and need to be conquered in smaller chunks,
  • Anticipate students’ questions beforehand,
  • Arrange the classroom to best facilitate learning,
  • Consider all learning styles, and
  • Assess progress.

If we were to look at Bloom’s Taxonomy list of learning domains, we would find that students would need to engage not only the highest critical thinking skills (the creating and evaluating domains), but all of the learning domains listed.

After discussing Black Mountain College, a school based in student-led learning experiences, our class began to wonder about the teaching and learning process as well. They asked questions like “What value is there in students stepping into the role of the teacher, teachers stepping into the role of student and allowing students to truly take control of their learning?” Our class decided to just give it a try.

Part one:

The process begun with a question posed to each student: What can you teach another person to do? Some ideas were simple, such as threading a needle or choosing the best brand of colored pencils; other ideas were multi-step processes such as baking a cake, playing a cello, or writing a book; others still were slightly more abstract such as controlling your emotions or loving yourself.

Generating ideas showed students the wide array of skill sets found in our single classroom. They were able to come to the conclusion that each person in a learning community both has something to “bring” to the table as well as a responsibility to “take” something from the table.

While discussing, one brave student asked of his own, “Why does this matter?”

A great question. I gave the example of teaching someone how to cook an omelette: Is there anything truly important in knowing how to do this? Probably not. At least, there is nothing magical, necessarily, about making an omelette. Right? Maybe it’s not about the omelette, though. Maybe the act of cooking an omelette is more about knowing how to take responsibility for yourself and being aware of how to cook healthy food in a society ridden with people suffering from diabetes and heart disease, all stemming from obesity. It’s the larger lesson, we decided, that truly matters. 

Part two:

Teaching a lesson to their peers would be a valuable activity in itself, sure, but as true Pages students, we had to integrate art. What would a Black-Mountain-College-inspired lesson be without art? This is where Bryan Moss came into play.

Bryan, being the artistic-teaching genius he is, had the idea of showing students how to make mini comic books. In these comics, students could illustrate their step-by-step instructions for others to use as instructional maps. (If you are interested in knowing how to make these for your own class, you can just type “mini comic book” into Google and several instructional guides will pop up–I checked.) Mini comic books were the perfect artistic tool for this particular activity, but I am sure a plethora of other creative methods could be used in place of this.

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Part three:

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img_20161205_133216644_burst000_cover_topThe last part of this lesson was, obviously, to teach. You could do this as a whole-class activity, but we opted to instead break the class into three smaller groups, each having its own teacher. Each group was given approximately 10-15 minutes of instruction time. Afterwards, I pulled the “teachers” into a group for a brief recap, asking them to consider what went well and what needed to change. Then, we rotated, giving each teacher another opportunity to instruct their lessons with changes. Some students opted to use their mini-comic books as aides while others preferred hands-on instruction. Each “teacher” was assigned a reflection due the next day to assess what they took away from the activity.

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This lesson sequence is by no means finished, so if you decide to take this on in some capacity, or if you have in the past, please share!

Happy teaching!

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