Teaching Students to Teach Each Other?
February 23, 2012 7:34 PM   Subscribe

Are there any experimental teaching methods that focus on students teaching each other?

Although I've forgotten the bulk of what was covered in my Engineering, Hydrology, Geology, and Biology lectures, I have vivid memories of student presentations done in lab. Is this common?

If it is, has anyone ever tried to, say, teach a subject to half of a class, and later have them teach it to the other half? A school based on this principle would have interesting schedules, and students would learn about teaching in addition to the subject material, right?
posted by unmake to Education (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Very common. Just recently I read this.
posted by modernnomad at 7:37 PM on February 23, 2012

It's actually similar to a very old method, known as Bell–Lancaster or Monitorial, where slightly older or smarter students would pick up the material first and then teach it to the rest.
posted by Jehan at 8:14 PM on February 23, 2012

An extreme example is part of what goes on at Sudbury Valley School and its ilk, which don't really separate students out by age and tend to involve students very frequently teaching and learning from and with each other.
posted by 168 at 8:15 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're kind of talking about the learner-centered approach, or the child-centered approach (to a lesser extent). This is when the teacher acts as a facilitator of learning, rather than just an authoritative figure, and as such sets up projects and individual/group work that encourage students to meet the objectives of the lesson more or less at their own pace, through discovery.

The benefits are that students aren't expected to learn everything at the same time, and are in a better position to help or to learn from their peers as well as the teacher, which can build confidence and be less stressful. Some drawbacks are that this takes a lot of training and preparation, and the teacher must know his/her students pretty well. It's also not very well supported in school systems that focus a great deal on inputs and outcomes (i.e., lessons in, grades/test results out), rather than on the process of teaching and learning.

*Sorry, it's very late here and I don't have the capacity to link to studies, but if you google learner-centered pedagogy or approach, you should find some more info.
posted by sundaydriver at 8:21 PM on February 23, 2012

The learner-centred approach, as sundaydriver suggests, is one good place to start and has been in use at least since I was attending somewhat experimental schools in my teens (in the 80s).

Also, just the other day I stumbled on this article about physics professors getting their students to teach each other. I think you might find it quite interesting.
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 8:32 PM on February 23, 2012

has anyone ever tried to, say, teach a subject to half of a class, and later have them teach it to the other half?

Well, in our (college) classes, we do mostly discovery-based and group learning, so yes. It turns out that some students get it quickly (or knew it already) and end up communicating that to their groups. I see it every day. However, I wouldn't say that I only focus on teaching one half of the class, but it is definitely the case that the learning is progressive, from one group to the various others in a classroom.

It would be interesting if the intent was that only half of the class is exposed to the material and was tasked with, as you say, teaching it to the rest. What might the soon-to-be-learners be doing during the first half? Would they be learning material to later teach to others? That would make an interesting schedule for students.

Since you mentioned college-level classes: I wondered a while ago about doing something like what you're presenting, though the main points/topics would be available to every student, but they wouldn't all be doing the same things (or even get to do the same things) during the term. Several projects are available, structured so that any given 4-5 of them would expose a student completing them to the required material for the course. Students form teams (or have teams formed for them) and work through any 4-5 projects they find interesting, using the instructor as a guide as needed. The projects could be scaled, of course, so that if you completed a few, the next one you choose would be adjusted to use previous material or skills. Then at the end, the result of completed projects (papers, posters, videos, whatever) are on display for the class. The "final" project could be for teams to present/summarize material from projects they didn't do during the term. They would get that information from the students that did the work, so communication would be paramount.

Would that fit into what you're talking about? I still wonder if this is a thing being done at the college level, or if it just happens in Montessori classrooms.
posted by klausman at 8:44 PM on February 23, 2012

Or, pretty much exactly what sundaydriver said...but for college, too.\
posted by klausman at 8:45 PM on February 23, 2012

Okay, I'm exploring these leads.
The Introduction to SVS video is awesomely bad.
posted by unmake at 8:45 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might check out the Moore Method for teaching mathematics, also. It's not quite the same, but the idea, apparently, is that you provide students with basic definitions and not much else.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:50 PM on February 23, 2012

This article is also relevant.
posted by mellifluous at 8:55 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if you're asking this out of general curiosity if you're hoping to do this, so I'm not sure if this random bit of anecdata is useful at all, but: I am currently in a graduate-level, practical skills-based class that the professors were attempting to run in more or less this way, and the entire class pretty much revolted. Everyone I spoke to about the mid-semester evaluations we completed had written something along the lines of "I am paying $X000 per class to be taught by you, the experts, not by my fellow students." or "I don't understand all the material and I worry that when I'm teaching it I'm messing stuff up" or similar. It is possible that the profs were just doing it wrong, but people were overwhelmingly unhappy.
posted by naoko at 8:58 PM on February 23, 2012

Please forgive the piggybacking, but I'm curious whether systems which rely on students to teach each other do a disservice to the faster learners. All of the group teaching exercises I remember from high school boiled down to a bored group of kids who liked learning being forced to teach a bored group of kids who didn't care.
posted by SakuraK at 9:15 PM on February 23, 2012

In K-12 circles and perhaps further, this is known as Jigsawing. I actually took a few college courses in which this was ALL we did. The professor literally sat in a corner doing something else, while the student's taught the class. This method was inefficient because every two students were responsible for fully understanding and teaching an entire chapter to the class, and there is no way you can expect undergraduate students to be responsible enough to fully take the time to understand a chapter in depth, much less, think of a way to teach it in an interesting manner.

After about the 6th student taught lecture of a group simply reading from the book in monotone without simplifying or explaining the literature, I stopped coming to class. I'd spent all my time actually getting to know the material and present it in an interesting way, while nobody else seemed to care, and if they were just going to read the material in class, I could just as well do that from home. (This is probably why I went on to become a teacher, since I find the presentation of information in engaging ways very interesting.)

I encountered a different form of jigsawing again in my teaching program, and it was FAR more effective. Each student was given a chapter from 1-5 of which they had to become an expert on, and print off an engaging outline of the chapter. The members of each chapter group then got together and came to a consensus of the main ideas of the chapter and what would be important to teach to the others. Then they broke off, and everybody formed groups that had one of each chapter in them (i.e. 1 through 5). The "experts" of each chapter then had about 5 minutes to discuss and "teach" their chapter to the rest of the group (who each had a copy of their outline), including answering questions from each person about the chapter, then the next person went.

I was surprised at how effective that actually was.
posted by Peregrin5 at 9:57 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is almost entirely how my graduate courses work. I don't think it is experimental at all. It is quite common. It's perhaps less common when educating children, but it is hardly a new idea.
posted by asnider at 10:09 PM on February 23, 2012

Here's a classic article: From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side.

A keyword that this is known by in physics education is peer instruction.

Perigrin5 also gives great examples of effective an ineffective use of the jigsaw method.

As many have pointed out, depending on the skill, planning and involvement of the instructor, it can be very effective, or frustrating and useless—just like any other teaching method. :)

You usually don't see the scenario outlined in the OP, with the instructor creating a bunch of expert students who then teach the other students (that's just a modified "sage on the stage" technique) but rather the instructor designing an activity that guides students, working together and assisting one another, to uncover the key principles. The instructor still needs to be very engaged and ready to answer questions, ask the right guiding questions, and monitor whether someone is getting very far off track. It's significantly harder to write a good student-centered lesson, than to write what is considered to be a "good" lecture, but physics education research seems to be demonstrating that student-centered learning is vastly more effective.

There was an excellent radio show on physics education reform produced recently that you might find interesting.

Feel free to memail me if you'd like some more sources.
posted by BrashTech at 9:22 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Inquiry-Based Learning is another name for this type of pedagogy. Anecdotally, I know that this method is used with some frequency in the math department at the University of Chicago, and know several people who taught or TA'ed courses there using this method, which were largely quite successful and popular with the students. It definitely requires a certain kind of motivated and engaged student, but does seem to be an especially effective way of teaching those students.
posted by dizziest at 7:08 PM on February 26, 2012

Richard Baker at the ANU has students teach in 'supertutorials'. This is a large part of assessment and part of the course is learning how to teach other students.
posted by quercus23 at 2:52 AM on February 28, 2012

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