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Sunday / July 21

Teaching Students to Drive Their Learning By Teaching Others

Anonymous tutor helping little students with task in classroom

Amy Berry (2022) argues that when students are engaged, they drive their own learning.  To do so, students must know their current level of performance and where they are going next in their learning journey.  They also need to be taught a range of learning strategies and have opportunities to use those tools.  Further, they need tools to monitor their own learning and adjust with the support of their teachers and peers.  Along the way, they learn to seek out feedback and recognize that mistakes are part of the learning process.  Each of these factors requires shifts in the ways in which teachers design learning experiences for students (Fisher et al., 2023).

But there is one more aspect of teaching students to drive their own learning that we’d like to focus on in this blog: teaching others.  When students drive their own learning, which is highly motivating as Berry noted, they want to share what they have learned.  The question is, how can we create opportunities for students to solidify their learning by teaching others?

We do know that having an opportunity to teach other students solidifies their own understanding of the topic.  Essentially, they get to learn it again as they explain it to someone else.  There are several structures that allow students to teach each other including:

  • Class wide Peer Tutoring (CWPT): At specific times each week, the class is divided into groups of two to five students. The goal is to practice or review skills and content, rather than introducing new learning. Each student in the group has an opportunity to be both the tutee and tutor.
  • Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS): Pairs of students work together, taking turns tutoring and being tutored. Teachers train students to use the following learning strategies for reading: passage reading with partners, paragraph “shrinking” (describing the main idea), and prediction relay (predicting what is likely to happen next in the passage).
  • Reciprocal Peer Tutoring (RPT): In this format of peer tutoring, students are randomly paired to support the learning of each other.  It’s essentially a collaborative learning task that involves students with similar academic backgrounds working together. Each partnership is responsible for synthesizing content, preparing tasks, asking questions complete with answers and explanation.

But our favorite format comes from medical school: teach-back.  Researchers found that when doctors asked patients to “teach back” the advice and instructions they had been given, patients followed through with the directions. Likewise, providing students opportunities to teach back what they have learned is good for retention and it’s a great opportunity for determining what has stuck and if there are any remaining misconceptions.  And this is not limited to in-class interactions.  Students can teach their siblings, parents, or extended family members.  They can teach back to the class or directly to the teacher.   The key is to ensure that the same students are not always doing the teach-back.  Everyone needs an opportunity to be needed and to provide help to others.  Some examples of teach-back include:

  • A biology student created a lesson about homeostasis and included quiz questions on a game-based platform throughout the presentation.
  • US history students developed lessons for 5th graders at a neighboring elementary school. The high schoolers were able to review content from their elementary and middle school years in preparation for their upcoming lessons and the 5th graders got to spend time interacting with older role models.
  • Fourth graders were paired for repeated reading. While the more advanced students read aloud, the other followed with the same text. During the second reading, they engaged in choral reading. During the third reading, the striving student read aloud.
  • First grade students used personal dry erase boards to teach a math lesson to a partner. They had to explain how they solved their word problem by creating a visual model to share with their peer.

Regardless of the format, all students deserve opportunities to drive their own learning.  When they know where they are going, how to monitor their progress, seek feedback, and select tools for learning, students are much more likely to take an active role.  And this is heightened when they know that they will have an opportunity, a responsibility, for sharing what they have learned with others.

Berry, A. (2022).  From disrupting to driving.  Corwin.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., Ortega, S., & Hattie, J. (2023).  Teaching students to drive their learning: A playbook on engagement and self-regulation.  Corwin.

Written by

Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College. He is the recipient of an IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, NCTE’s Farmer Award for Excellence in Writing, as well as a Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education. He is also the author of PLC+, The PLC+ Playbook, This is Balanced Literacy, The Teacher Clarity Playbook, Grades K-12, Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom for Grades K-5 and 6-12, Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12The Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbook , Teaching Reading, and several other Corwin books.  Nancy Frey, Ph.D., is Professor of Literacy in the Department of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University. The recipient of the 2008 Early Career Achievement Award from the National Reading Conference, she is also a teacher-leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College and a credentialed special educator, reading specialist, and administrator in California. She has been a prominent Corwin author, publishing numerous books including PLC+The PLC+ PlaybookThis is Balanced LiteracyThe Teacher Clarity Playbook, Grades K-12Engagement by DesignThe Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbook, Teaching Reading and many more.  To view Doug and Nancy’s books and services, please visit Fisher and Frey Professional Learning. 

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