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The Student as Teacher


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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 06:56 AM

In 2003 research was carried out at the United States National Learning Lab in Maine to assess the most effective way that young people can learn. The researchers employed a variety of different teaching methods and then tested the students to find out how much they had learnt. From this the researchers were able to calculate what they called the Average Retention Rate. The results were as follows:

Teacher talking to a class (5%)
Student reading a book (10%)
Student watching an audio visual presentation (20%)
Student watching a teacher demonstration (30%)
Students taking part in a discussion group (50%)
Students involved in an activity that is related to what the teacher wants them to learn (75%)
Students teaching others (90%).

These research findings do not surprise me. I once carried out some research on a group whom I had taught over a period of six years (11 to 17). The information they had retained from their history lessons reflected the findings of US National Learning Lab, in that the most effective learning was related to the amount of active participation from the student.

However, it seems to me that the majority of teachers spend much of their time using teaching methods which, according to US National Learning Lab, are fairly ineffective. I suspect the main reasons for employing traditional instructional methods are as follows: (1) this was the way that the teachers were taught when they were pupils at school; (2) this was the way that teachers were trained to teach; (3) this is the accepted way of teaching amongst colleagues - i.e. peer group pressure; (4) teachers enjoy being performers; (5) the teacher feels more in control of the situation when traditional instructional methods are used.

Tradition is the great enemy of innovation. One of the advantages of using the Internet in the classroom is that it encourages teachers to think again about teaching methods. One of the fears that I have is that teachers producing materials online will attempt to duplicate the methods they use in the classroom.

The idea that students should play an active role in their learning is not a new idea. In the 1960s educationalists like Jerome Bruner argued that people learn best when they learn in an active rather than a passive manner. He used the example of how we learn language. It is claimed that this is the most difficult thing we have to do in our life, yet we learn it so young and so quickly – so easily in fact, that some experts in this field have argued that language is, to a certain extent, an inherited skill.

Bruner argues that the reason we learn language so quickly is due to the method we use. As we are introduced to words, we use them. We test them out. Words immediately became practical. We can quickly see why it helps us to know these words.

This method is very different from the way most subjects are taught at school. The student is usually a passive receptacle trying to take in information that they will need for some test or examination in the future. To complete this task effectively depends on students employing what sociologists have called deferred gratification. This is something that most young people are not very good at. They want their pleasures now, not in the distant future.

In his book, The Process of Education (1960), Bruner argues that it is possible to teach any topic or subject using the same methods that we use when learning language. This involves structuring the material so that the student can test out and use the information in a practical way.

Bruner’s ideas on learning helps to explain why the Learning Lab researchers found that the highest Retention Rate occurred when students were given the opportunity to teach other students. As teachers we have all had the experience of having to teach something we do not know too much about. How quickly we learn when we know that the next day we will be faced by students asking us questions about the material.

It is fairly straightforward to set up situations where students teach other students. For example, the class could be divided into two. Each group is given a different topic to teach. When the material has been prepared the children are paired up with someone from the other group.

Another strategy is to get the students to prepare teaching materials for another class to use. I saw this approach being used successfully by one of our members, Richard Jones-Nerzic, at the International School of Toulouse.

A student in a traditional teaching environment can be very passive or docile but when he or she has to take on the role of teacher and instructor, the student is empowered. The “student as teacher” can prove to be an extremely positive and liberating experience for both the student/teacher and the class that makes up the audience.

Anybody who has read the novel A Kestrel for a Knave (by Barry Hines) or seen the film Kes (directed by Ken Loach) will remember the scene where Billy Casper teaches the rest of the class about kestrels. Billy Casper undergoes a transformation in this scene because probably for the first time in his life he has been given the opportunity to share his knowledge and expertise.

How can we as teachers create similar situation to the “Billy Casper effect” in the classroom? I would like to finish off by looking at one practical example of how it could be done.

The example concerns the subject of the Home Front. During the war the British government was constantly monitoring the success of its various policies concerning the Home Front. The government was also aware of the possibility that it might be necessary to introduce legislation to deal with any emerging problems.

http://www.spartacus...k/2WWhomeAC.htm

The students have to imagine they are living in Britain in December 1941. The students are asked to write a report on one aspect of government policy (evacuation, rationing, refugees, etc.). The web page provides work on a total of 36 different topics, so it should be possible for each student to have a different topic.

Every student has to report back to the class about the topic he or she has investigated. (1) Each student has to provide a report on what has been happening in their assigned area since the outbreak of the war. (2) The student then has to make proposals about the changes they would like to see in government policy. (These proposals are then discussed and voted on by the rest of the class.)

#2 Neal Watkin

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 07:50 PM

"How can we as teachers create similar situation to the “Billy Casper effect” in the classroom? I would like to finish off by looking at one practical example of how it could be done"

Have always agreed with this principle and believe it to work exceeding well. The lesson that John outlines above is similar to a project I ran with a colleague and the outcomes were incredible. It was called 'Living through War' and involved students preparing sections of an exhibition to inform others about the various elements of the Home Front. Once it was completed, we invited other classes and a primary school group to come and view the exhibition and talk to the visitors. The exhibition was a success and students learned so much about the topic, mainly by independently researching and then instructing others.

In the end of year test students scored highly on the Living through War section and less well on the other two. It was not the most recently studied topic and so we put the results down to the techniques employed.

Also, my Year 7 group produced some excellent oral presentations so I got them to create packs for teachers and students to help them improve their presentation work. In groups of five they produced resources for the other History staff. They decided to make Powerpoints, posters, place mats, videos, prompt cards and screen savers. Each group spent time with a member of staff and explained what they had done and how their resources could be used. The enthusiasm from students was high and it unleashed lots of creativity.

#3 John Simkin

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Posted 12 October 2008 - 06:57 AM

"How can we as teachers create similar situation to the “Billy Casper effect” in the classroom? I would like to finish off by looking at one practical example of how it could be done"

Have always agreed with this principle and believe it to work exceeding well. The lesson that John outlines above is similar to a project I ran with a colleague and the outcomes were incredible. It was called 'Living through War' and involved students preparing sections of an exhibition to inform others about the various elements of the Home Front. Once it was completed, we invited other classes and a primary school group to come and view the exhibition and talk to the visitors. The exhibition was a success and students learned so much about the topic, mainly by independently researching and then instructing others.

In the end of year test students scored highly on the Living through War section and less well on the other two. It was not the most recently studied topic and so we put the results down to the techniques employed.

Also, my Year 7 group produced some excellent oral presentations so I got them to create packs for teachers and students to help them improve their presentation work. In groups of five they produced resources for the other History staff. They decided to make Powerpoints, posters, place mats, videos, prompt cards and screen savers. Each group spent time with a member of staff and explained what they had done and how their resources could be used. The enthusiasm from students was high and it unleashed lots of creativity.


It is surprising that this sort of thing is not built into everyday teaching. I once saw a very impressive lesson at the International School of Toulouse. Richard Jones-Nerzic had arranged for older students to produce teaching materials for younger students. The lesson I saw involved the younger students assessing the materials that had been produced. This created an interesting debate about learning styles.

#4 John Simkin

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 12:35 PM

In 2003 research was carried out at the United States National Learning Lab in Maine to assess the most effective way that young people can learn. The researchers employed a variety of different teaching methods and then tested the students to find out how much they had learnt. From this the researchers were able to calculate what they called the Average Retention Rate. The results were as follows:

Teacher talking to a class (5%)
Student reading a book (10%)
Student watching an audio visual presentation (20%)
Student watching a teacher demonstration (30%)
Students taking part in a discussion group (50%)
Students involved in an activity that is related to what the teacher wants them to learn (75%)
Students teaching others (90%).


According to today’s Guardian:

http://www.guardian....boring-teachers

Ofsted is to launch a crackdown on "boring" teaching in response to concerns that children's behaviour is deteriorating because they are not being stimulated enough in class.

Inspectors will be told to give more finely tuned advice to struggling schools on what is going wrong in their lessons and why pupils are not paying attention, the chief inspector of schools, Christine Gilbert, said.

She told the Guardian the changes in the inspections would amount to a "crackdown" on boring teaching. "I think that it should do that. When I was a [local authority] director of education I wanted to know if there was a link between boredom and achievement. We did a piece of work on it and there was strong evidence that a lot of it was boredom."


Cristine Gilbert goes on to say: "People divorce teaching from behaviour. I think they are really, really linked and I think students behave much better if the teaching is good, they are engaged in what they are doing and it's appropriate to them. Then they've not got lost five minutes into the lessons and therefore started mucking around. Behaviour in our schools is generally very good. But there's what I would describe as low-level disruption where children are bored and not motivated, so they start to use their abilities for other ends. That then can lead to other children being distracted in lessons and so on."

I doubt that any teacher is unaware that there is a connection between boredom and bad behaviour. One of the problems is that Ofsted inspections encourage teachers to "play safe" by providing traditional style lessons. As the above research shows, this leads to boredom and ineffective teaching.

#5 Cigdem Göle

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 02:31 PM

I have to disagree with the comment in the above article.
First of all, what is the definition of a "boring lesson"?
It depends on the learners' point of view and their fields of interest.
I might find a Geography lesson boring however brilliantly it is presented
since I'm not interested in the subject. Or another classmate might find
History lessons boring whereas I participate in the lessons with enthusiasm.

I believe generalizations like "Traditional style lessons are bad/boring/ineffective" are false.
The style of the lesson is related to the learner's needs. There is no such thing as "the perfect lesson".
Those inspectors should stop dictating teaching styles. A style which applies very well to a group of
students may not work for another.

#6 John Simkin

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 08:50 AM

I have to disagree with the comment in the above article. First of all, what is the definition of a "boring lesson"? It depends on the learners' point of view and their fields of interest.


A good teacher can make any subject interesting.

I believe generalizations like "Traditional style lessons are bad/boring/ineffective" are false.


What I meant by a traditional lesson was the first four things listed in the research:

Teacher talking to a class (5%)
Student reading a book (10%)
Student watching an audio visual presentation (20%)
Student watching a teacher demonstration (30%)

All four methods rely on the student being in the passive mode. The research shows that it is when students are in an active mode that real learning takes place.

Students taking part in a discussion group (50%)
Students involved in an activity that is related to what the teacher wants them to learn (75%)
Students teaching others (90%).

#7 John Dolva

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 03:30 PM

As a student of some kind most of my life, from my first year at school when I and one other were the only who could read write and maths, (can't remember learning to read. I think, memory of a moment, I picked it up crawling around looking at letters out of books on the floor and 'the penny dropped', so my handwriting (self taught) looks like childs scrawl. I fell through the cracks until a teacher suggested I only write with capitals and from then on it got easier (thank you, wherever you are). So, at school, I was seated next to the 'worst' reader/writer and had to figure out ways of explaining as a child to another. I found simple ways that worked because as kids we had a way of thinking and speaking that an adult teacher was not privvy to.

Another important factor was that the gov (sweden under the social democrats) recognised 22-24 to be about the ideal size of a class* and students were backed by in-school docs and psychs to solve personal probs for kids sometimes transferring them to another class. Classes were genearally formed from the start with a wide mix in mind. So generally we felt some measure of value. The sense of inclusiveness led to greater overall enthusiasm and the 'better' students did not look down at 'poorer' ones.

Then on to Oz in the early seventies and the horrors of classes up to 36 where the teacher spent much time disciplining, The 'baddies' made it hard for the 'goodies' as they made them looked down on and so turned paper throwing into a popular sport, so the 'goodies' were under peer pressure to dumb down... The more successful TEACHERS (not those that just got through the day with an iron fist) were the ones that engaged students with variety from games to reading what students voted as interesting, and using that as illustrative elements which did not necessarily have much to do with the book per se. Unfortunately a system of three hierarchical classes per subject separated the 'smart' students from those considered 'stupid', whereas I know many were such because of frustration and personal issues.

At the core of the problem is money for ed and all the justifications for not spending it. However it can be argued that it's money well spent (invested) by any society.

Another issue is the complete mylienation of the nervous system (about at 4) and the 'incarnation' of the child into the body and then the move up into the head of the id (about 7). A child being allowed this process naturally through play becomes a bit of an educators sponge . A child denied it and forced into the mind too early may later in life suffer for it.

*It's a bit like a critical mass: add more, and other factors due to unavoidable neglect creeps in.
Sinilar to mice in a cage, there is a point at which one more mouse tips a balance and a kind of canniballistic anarchy ensues until balance is restored.

#8 Cigdem Göle

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 04:42 PM

A good teacher can make any subject interesting.



I agree with this to some extent. Good is a relative term. When I ask my students to
define the qualities of a good teacher, they often say, a good teacher is someone who
doesn't give any homework or who allows the students to listen to music in class with
headphones on.

I think it would be better to use the term "effective teacher" instead of "good".
The things that fall into the category of effective teacher are not easy to measure.
What makes this quality? Having a master's degree? Years of experience? Personality?
Knowledge of the subject?

However effective a teacher is, he/she cannot make a (relatively) boring subject interesting
all the time.

I also believe students' receiving the basic needs at home (parental support and care) has a lot
to do with their achievement in school.

I wouldn't list the last three methods of teaching as non-traditional. During my student years,
I took part in all of them and have always thought I was educated in a traditional style.

#9 John Dolva

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 05:27 PM

Actually that brings to mind another funny experience. In my second year first semester civil engineering at uni in Oz (we did get the cup ater all <:oP ), we were introduced to the computer. Prevously at school in my last year the maths teacher received and started to show us the first computer in the school available to students. Course I knew basic and having a bro who's since done other odd thingts done electronic engineering (apart from painting and making things from engines to lathes to babbage engines to log cabins with him (plenty of 230 v kicks there...ouch) and a dad as electrician educated in berlin during the war (norwegian quisling (believe me, he paid for it all his life in one way or another)). (mum was from a landlord class, in part of what is in russia (and in dispute), her dad a head editor of many papers in Finland during the war, dispossessed but successfully moves family out of the war zone, further into finland (funnily enough my dad was at this time stationed in northern finland in the german forces though he didn't meet my mum till much later in sweden) where she studied medicine and high school maths.. During the war she'd been a finnish nurse (Her brother dies in the trenches, her sister went nuts) after the war her dad told her things he could not at peril say during the war when finland was occupied by the germans at the behest of the finns in the winter war. (possibly my dad was processed by those under walkers command). Anyway, meanwhile, back at the ranch, I became somewhat enamoured by computers and hacked the mainframe so the measly 3 hours were changed. The inevitable day came and before I noticed pals repeated signs and leant over the crt and shut down...
he'd been standing behind me for some time.
oops..
the hand descends on my shoulder as other students quietly slink out of the room. Come with me. gulp.
In a minute I'm being given a tour of the dec 10 refrigerated room. Explanations introducing me to th latset, asking and having q's answered and given an extra five hours if i stay out of the mainframe. Very educational. He was good.

#10 John Simkin

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 12:50 PM

Another important factor was that the gov (sweden under the social democrats) recognised 22-24 to be about the ideal size of a class* and students were backed by in-school docs and psychs to solve personal probs for kids sometimes transferring them to another class. Classes were genearally formed from the start with a wide mix in mind. So generally we felt some measure of value. The sense of inclusiveness led to greater overall enthusiasm and the 'better' students did not look down at 'poorer' ones.

Then on to Oz in the early seventies and the horrors of classes up to 36 where the teacher spent much time disciplining, The 'baddies' made it hard for the 'goodies' as they made them looked down on and so turned paper throwing into a popular sport, so the 'goodies' were under peer pressure to dumb down.


I definitely preferred teaching mixed ability classes of around 20 students. If you used the methods that I used, the brighter students were able to help those who had not reached the higher standard. Discussions work better with around 20 students. It is impossible to be an effective teacher with classes of 30+.

The more successful TEACHERS (not those that just got through the day with an iron fist) were the ones that engaged students with variety from games to reading what students voted as interesting, and using that as illustrative elements which did not necessarily have much to do with the book per se.


A successful teacher has to be in tune with his students. This involves knowing what they find interesting. The real skill is in adapting what they “need to know” to “what they want to know”.

#11 John Simkin

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Posted 10 January 2009 - 11:30 AM

A good teacher can make any subject interesting.



I agree with this to some extent. Good is a relative term. When I ask my students to define the qualities of a good teacher, they often say, a good teacher is someone who doesn't give any homework or who allows the students to listen to music in class with headphones on.


I agree that "good" is a vague term. I also accept, that however good a teacher you are, there will be times when the class will find the lesson boring.

You do have to be careful about asking students about what is a good teacher. Some will no doubt say, a teacher who does not give homework.

When I was doing my research degree in education I gave the students a large number of questionnaires on their perceptions of the schooling process. I also carried out in-depth interviews with a smaller number of students. I discovered that students think very deeply about this subject. In virtually all cases, they want the best acadameic and social education that they can have. They also want to have a good time and like teachers who can make lessons fun. Of course, they also want good exam grades, and really value the teacher who can pass on the information they require in an interesting way.

They also want teachers who they can have a dialogue with. They constantly complained of teachers who refused to adapt their teaching style to the needs of the students. This was especially a problem with teachers who were considered to be strict. These teachers were usually valued by the head teacher for their "discipline" but acknowledged that they often delivered very poor examination results. This was because they failed to adapt to their students' needs.

#12 Andy Walker

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Posted 10 January 2009 - 12:05 PM

I was told yesterday by some Year 13 students that I wasn't like a "Teacher" more like a person who also teaches. I am hoping it was a compliment and at least I am planning to interpret it as such.
It is important in teaching to establish a geniune empathy and care for the good citizens you are privileged to teach. If you can marry this to establishing a respect for your subject knowledge amongst your learners then you are are to a winner almost regardless of what methods you choose to adopt.

I agree with John that active learning and student centred learning is the most effective for most pupils and especially able ones. However if you can convince them a) that you care and b ) that you know what you are talking about most methods will actually work.
Similarly if you don't have the respect and friendship of your classes nothing is likely to work regardless how theoretically and educationally sound those methods may be.

#13 John Dolva

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 09:21 AM

I was told yesterday by some Year 13 students that I wasn't like a "Teacher" more like a person who also teaches. I am hoping it was a compliment and at least I am planning to interpret it as such.
It is important in teaching to establish a geniune empathy and care for the good citizens you are privileged to teach. If you can marry this to establishing a respect for your subject knowledge amongst your learners then you are are to a winner almost regardless of what methods you choose to adopt.

I agree with John that active learning and student centred learning is the most effective for most pupils and especially able ones. However if you can convince them a) that you care and b ) that you know what you are talking about most methods will actually work.
Similarly if you don't have the respect and friendship of your classes nothing is likely to work regardless how theoretically and educationally sound those methods may be.


Then one may consider how to discipline.

Any physical or verbal abuse of students should be illegal. So some teachers are in a quandry. How to control the class??? The smaller diverse class helps (as do inschool dentistry (free), a yummy nutritious diverse hot lunch (free) et.c. (Brainfood)). Ultimately it is encumbent on the teacher to reach the rappeau and be truly respected, (not feared). Add to that the custom of a teacher remaining the classes teacher through all the years and then going back to guide another lot of newcomers. I suppose a love of teaching and learning plus a love for what each student can become in a world they will inherit. Simple strictures for some. Others face having to change. Some will fail, but support for that change, again by being valued by the provision of support. A primary lesson should be the study of the UN rights for children. Teachers do change, and the world is better for it. In a way, as surrogate family member, the Teachers role is potentially revolutionary. Lots of fine lines to tread in many countries.

#14 John Simkin

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 04:31 PM

I was told yesterday by some Year 13 students that I wasn't like a "Teacher" more like a person who also teaches. I am hoping it was a compliment and at least I am planning to interpret it as such.

It is important in teaching to establish a geniune empathy and care for the good citizens you are privileged to teach. If you can marry this to establishing a respect for your subject knowledge amongst your learners then you are are to a winner almost regardless of what methods you choose to adopt.

I agree with John that active learning and student centred learning is the most effective for most pupils and especially able ones. However if you can convince them a) that you care and b ) that you know what you are talking about most methods will actually work.

Similarly if you don't have the respect and friendship of your classes nothing is likely to work regardless how theoretically and educationally sound those methods may be.


I agree entirely with these comments. A few months after I started teaching I was called into the office of the deputy head to be told that there had been complaints from older teachers about the fact that I had been seen in the corridors speaking in a friendly way with well-known "troublemakers". I was told I should "never forget whose side I was on". I am afraid that for many teachers the process of teaching is like a battle with the students as the enemy.

I had an email from a former pupil who I taught in my first year of teaching (one of the pleasures of having your own website). She said that what struck her as a 12 year old was that I was not like other teachers. One of the points she mentioned was that I always listened as if I was really interested in what they had to say. I am afraid most teachers do not have very good listening skills. As Andy says: "It is important in teaching to establish a geniune empathy" with the students. I think empathy is the most undeveloped of all the things we need to function as an adult. It is empathy that makes us fully human.

#15 Andy Walker

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 07:09 PM

I think empathy is the most undeveloped of all the things we need to function as an adult. It is empathy that makes us fully human.


Arguably also this is something which is very hard to achieve in a)the social context of a state school where the "battle" mentality John refers to corresponds to the clash of middle class and working class values in broader society and b ) before the individual teacher his/herself has embarked on a process of individuation, and is thus happy and confident in his/her own skin and thus able and equipped to help and understand the others around them.
If the teacher understands the former she or he can become of much greater practical help to the working class child. When the latter occurs the desire to punish and control children is revealed for what it is and disappears. It is replaced by the desire to help.




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