A series of short posts about specific elements of teaching practice that I think are effective and make life interesting. Some are based on my own lessons and others are borrowed from lessons I’ve observed.
This is a tried and tested method that scores well in the Hattie effect-size rankings. It’s a process with a great deal of potential. From my experience, it works best when students are asked to go beyond explaining something they’ve understood themselves; they are actually asked to teach it so that other students also understand. As we all know, when preparing to teach a set of concepts, it requires deeper understanding than a straight-forward explanation might; at the very least it demands a greater level of clarity in the way the explanation is communicated.
For example, my son’s class in Year 4 had a lovely exercise to help them learn the language of giving instructions. They each had to teach their classmates a skill and write out a full script of everything they needed to say. My son taught them all how to play the ‘Smoke on the water’ guitar riff during the class group-guitar lesson. In working out the sequence of notes and how to explain each chord, he reinforced his own knowledge. The class enjoyed several weeks where they were taught some interesting things by their peers.
I’ve seen this method applied to lots of different subjects and in my own lessons, I find this very useful. If I am teaching something that requires a more extended exposition, to help ensure students have understood it, I then ask them to prepare to teach it back in the next week or so. It wouldn’t work for them all to do it so I either select someone specific in advance or ask them all to prepare knowing that I’ll pick someone out to teach it back. Currently, my Year 13s are getting ready to teach back this bit of physics magic – one of my favourite derivations:
It requires quite a lot of conceptual thought with lots of steps in the right order to lead to the final solution. By getting ready to explain this in depth to the whole class, the students will need to make sure they understand it in significant detail; it won’t be enough just to learn it by heart without understanding it.
‘Teaching it back’ is a cornerstone of the co-construction process I use with my Year 9s. I spend a bit of time with the leading team making sure they understand the concepts before they teach the class. Here Asad is explaining how a lux meter works and how students can use it to explore the phenomena of absorption and transmission.
In this example, Trevor is explaining the ideas behind the pressure can demonstration:
In this example, Kieret is setting out some questions relating to basic circuit theory leading on to a practical where students tested their own circuits, measuring currents at various positions.
One of the most important aspects of this process is that students make mistakes; each mistake highlights an area where their conceptual understanding isn’t as deep as you might have imagined from some more routine classwork. In giving their explanation in teacher-mode, they reveal more about what they do and do not understand. This is your cue to intervene to clarify or challenge as necessary. Teaching it back, is one of the best ways to flush out misconceptions – in my experience.
Occasionally, a student does the job so well, you feel you couldn’t have done it better yourself. Here was one: