During my undergraduate years, I could recall that I always had an edge over most of my classmates. It was not because I studied harder (I hadn’t much time to study anyway since I was a working student), but because I had friends who, thinking that I knew better, expected me to explain further, what we had all been taught in class by the lecturer. Then again, as the chairperson of the Academic Committee of my department, I had to also organise extra classes for my classmates to help them understand the so-called tough courses.
All these, I would later come to realise, required a shift in paradigm. Without knowing it, I had already shirked off the cloak of student and put on the apparel of teacher. Like Steven Covey, the author of The Seven Habit s of Highly Effective People, I could say a shift in paradigm made all the difference: “I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently [and, to add to Covey’s, I learned differently]”. A paradigm shift led me to approach those courses with better zest and verve, which, in turn, bred a positive response to both the teachings of the lecturers and to my personal study.
For many teachers, the tendency is to assume that students know zilch and, as a result, are to be spoon-fed with knowledge. From experience, however, I can tell that helping students by shifting their paradigm from students to teachers is more effective. Peer-to-peer teaching, quizzes, spontaneous class tasks, and practice sessions offer students more benefits, many of them being mutual. Learning from fellow students, researchers have shown, produces powerful effects. It fosters a deep understanding of course work and a positive attitude towards the subjects, in addition to deepening the knowledge of the student doing the teaching.
Jessica Lander, a high school teacher and 2015 Harvard Graduate School of Education alum, after giving several instances of how this approach benefited her students, concludes: The opportunity to teach your peers sends a powerful message. It says to students. “You have knowledge worth sharing, you have a teacher’s trust, and you have an opportunity to support your friend’s learning and growth.” Students teaching students is an authentic way to build confidence, leadership, and empathy . But the impact is no less for the students being taught. They see in their peers role models with similar experiences and concerns, who can affirm them and also push them to reach higher.
As an instructor of English at Light Heights International Educational Services, the importance of this approach to learning still holds sway. I endeavour to help both undergraduate and graduate students learn faster as they prepare for international exams (IELTS, TOEFL, SAT, and GRE) by creating opportunities that encourage a students-as-teachers paradigm shift. I give them topics to prepare so they can speak to their peers and require them (especially graduate students) to share their perspectives on issues I discuss with them in class.
By weaving student-teaching directly into my teaching curriculum and building inclass opportunities—such as brief question and answer sessions, discussion integrated into the lecture, impromptu writing assignments, hands-on activities and experiential learning events—I believe I am creating greater opportunities for them to learn from each other.
Actively. And this is by no means just a rule of thumb; numerous researchers have attested to the efficacy of this modus operandi . “All genuine learning”, Mortimer Adler wrote, “is active, not passive. It is a process of discovery in which the student is the main agent, not the teacher.” Apter, perhaps, is how Aurthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson put it:
“Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to teachers, memorising pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves”
Active learning requires students to participate in class, as opposed to sitting and listening quietly, and the students-as-teachers approach—which is a sure-fire way to guarantee active learning—is more important now than ever to helping students retain useful information, given that the road to their minds (their eyes and ears, for example) are fast becoming pathways sieged by myriads of distractions from the internet and social media.
Our joy at Light Heights is seeing these students grow intellectually while also helping them build high emotional intelligence by being confident and expressive.