Let the students teach!

Updated: Jul 22, 2019

Last week a year 9 student came up to me before class and asked if we could learn about our calculators. She asked this because the week before we did some work that required calculators but there was a lot of confusion. I figured it was a fine request so I dumped my plan for the day and we learned about our calculators.

Of course, the students all have different kinds of calculators so it made it difficult to have them follow along. Worse than that, some students didn't have calculators so used their cellphones. That made things very interesting when it came to trigonometric functions!

I didn't really know how to structure the lesson, so I had a chat with that student and she offered to take the class. I thought 'yeah, why not?' and took a seat with the rest of the class. Sure, it caused some confusion and some chaos before settling into having the new teacher but it was worth it. If it got to rowdy, I jumped out of my seat to sort out the trouble makers.

At the end of class another student asked if he could teach the class some time. I don't remember what I said but today he was under the impression that he could take the class. I took it as an opportunity.

I planned for the class to do an evaluating expressions dice-game activity. It was fairly straight-forward and this student was probably the most familiar in the class with evaluating algebraic expressions so I walked him through the process and let him go for it.

To my surprise, the whole class paid attention, sat in silence, and let the boy give his explanation - which was just as good as any student-teacher I have seen. He set up the ideas, he stopped himself when he realised the students might not have background knowledge (e.g., asking what the variable is, how to use BEDMAS etc.). He did extremely well.

Should I have let the students take the class?

Definitely. There might be some risk involved like there was on that first day, but I'm there to settle the students or keep the student-teacher on track if things go awry. That first day was a bit weird, unfamiliar, and a bit of a game to the students. But as soon as they realised it was serious and the consequences of their actions were no different than normal, they really took to the idea.

The other day the boy got the idea that I said he could take the class. That changed his mindset so he would engage in the learning because he knew he would be in a vulnerable position the next week.

Are there any benefits to the students?

I think so. Let's talk about the student-teacher first. There's an old saying "Those who can't do teach". This is ridiculous. It's actually the other way 'round. Teachers are people who know the subject deeply that they can teach it in multiple different ways to different cognitive levels. Since this is our first formal intro to algebra, for the student to be able to teach it, they need to understand it.

For the other students, they see that I trust one of them enough to take over my class. That's pretty huge! On top of that, they get to see each other in action and they showed great respect to these students while they were up there in a vulnerable position. Really great to see.

But what if they don't understand it?

That's ok too! My student got an evaluation incorrect because he did the addition before the multiplication. That brought up questions from the class which they went through together. Excellent teamwork! He also didn't understand how negative numbers work, but because he was in the teaching role he took it on himself to understand so he wouldn't get embarrassed. Is that a good reason to learn? Heck yeah! Not the best, but definitely a good reason.

Will I do it again?

Absolutely. These two students were just on-the-fly ideas. But now that we have a taste for it and I can see the class can be respectful of each other, I might open it up for each student to take a class some time during the year.

What changes would I make?

More structure. More planning. If the students know the schedule of when its their turn to teach, they will be more engaged leading up to it. Giving them some power and voice in lesson planning will give them more responsibility. Putting them in a vulnerable position in front of the class will (hopefully) teach them humility and that getting work wrong isn't such a bad thing!

What about your other classes?

I have one other class that I'm not sure would do so well. I definitely wouldn't get any volunteers. Their mindsets are so negative towards themselves despite my many months of attempting to fix that.

My other classes are seniors and they'd have a ball with it.

So, what do you think? Would you let your kids teach your classes? How would you do it?

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