Friday, September 05, 2014

you learn when you teach

My buddy Charles sends me a link to an article with the grammatically dubious* title "Students Learn More If They'll Need to Teach Others" that supports my contention that more student-centeredness is better: get the students teaching to get them to master a subject. Charles's brief email says:

Of course, it will probably come as no surprise to you, but I thought of you and your pedagogical model when I read the article and thought I would send it along.

The article says, in part:

People learn better and recall more when they think they will soon need to teach the material to someone else.

“When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively, and they had better memory for especially important information,” says John Nestojko, a researcher in psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.


“The immediate implication is that the mindset of the student before and during learning can have a significant impact on learning, and that positively altering a student’s mindset can be effectively achieved through rather simple instructions,” says Nestojko, who is lead author of the study.

Study participants who expected to teach produced more complete and better-organized free recall of the passage and, in general, correctly answered more questions about the passage than did participants expecting a test, particularly questions covering main points.

“When teachers prepare to teach, they tend to seek out key points and organize information into a coherent structure,” Nestojko says. “Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach.”

The study suggests that instilling an expectation to teach may be a simple, inexpensive intervention with the potential to increase learning efficiency at home and in the classroom.

Abso-fucking-lutely. So, fellow instructors: quit lecturing, step back, and let the students have the floor. Don't make your class into "The Teacher Show." It's not all about you. In a place like Korea, where student passivity is part of a larger hierarchical culture that views students as empty receptacles waiting to receive wisdom and knowledge from their elders, this teaching paradigm is revolutionary, even though it's really no big shakes in American higher learning. This is especially true in a language class, as the onus is implicitly on the students to produce. How can they produce if they're always quietly goggling videos and goddamn PowerPoint slides? Some teachers can't let this teacher-centered paradigm go, however; they're too entrenched in a misguided way of thinking. Unfortunately, many students are this way, too: they resist being made responsible for their own learning, basically because they're lazy, and because the human mind follows Newton's laws of motion, especially the law about inertia. I'm not saying that videos and PowerPoint should be banned from the classroom, but their role should be, at best, minimal. Absolutely minimal.

Pace Charles's kind words, the student-centered approach isn't really my paradigm, per se, as I'm sure Charles himself would readily affirm (in fact, Charles has written, on Liminality, about his own experiences in student-centered teaching, so this is as much his paradigm as it is mine). It's just an approach that I hope more teachers will adopt.

You learn when you teach.

*A quick review of "if"-conditional grammar can be found at my other blog. The title should ideally read, "Students Will Learn More If They Need to Teach Others."

OTHER LINKS: My round-robin method explained.


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