I really like the sound of 'Critical Skills Strategy’ being used at Dan’s school. "There are many advantages to this approach. First it provides students with an opportunity to select the learning approach that best suits them, the research is student controlled and given ample resources many learning styles can be catered for; It requires students to teach other students via presentations and creation of resource sheets / accompanying notes - which also make for outstanding displays that generate lots of interest; it allows discreet differentiation to be built into lessons for groups of any ability, challenging the most able to analyse complex issues whilst allowing for the less able to be working on more appropriate tasks - without it being obvious that people are dong 'different' work; content is covered briskly and in an environment that is positive, challenging and highly engaging; teachers are enabled to facilitate rather than spoon feed and most importantly as far as I am concerned it provides students with an environment in which they are willing to collaborate, experiment and develop their skills, having removed many barriers to learning that 'old fashioned' approaches tend to place upon them."
I think it is an excellent idea to get students to test out their ideas in a small group before presenting the information to the rest of the class. It could be argued that this should be built into any ‘student as teacher’ strategy.
I believe that this kind of group work is now a common strategy used by large companies when interviewing graduates. The son of a friend of mine recently had an interview with a multinational oil company. All the applicants were put into small groups and were given the task of producing a board game on the oil industry. When the task was completed individuals had to present one aspect of the game to the interview panel and all the other applicants. He said afterwards that his schooling had been of little help in preparing him for such a task. Dave Wallbanks"I also have to add a few points that I learnt from the whole experience that may be useful to others in planning something like this.
a) One group did next to nothing, their notes were poor because they were incapable of organising themselves as a group and in taking the initiative individually so that it became easier to chat about what they might do, rather than what was needed.
The newness of this meant pupils were overawed by the task lacked experience and just weren' t up to the job in their first go
c) Some pupils lacked the confidence to participate and let others do the work whilst staying in the background (this will disappear over time) and some groups where individuals took over altogether, even to the detriment of other students. (group dynamics needed to be more carefully considered)d) The embarrassment factor lead to some very quick and quiet presentations that I felt it necessary to recover afterwards."
The ‘student as teacher’ strategy, like any other activity you set a class, will produce a wide variety of different responses. The task of presenting back to the rest of the class clearly motivates some more than others. I have noticed that this is sometimes a problem with students who are successful when the teacher uses traditional methods. At the same time, this strategy appears to suit those students who normally have difficulty with their written work. This in itself is a good argument for using the “student as teacher” method.
Some students will attempt to use the situation to chat about other issues. Keeping students on task is obviously an important factor when using this teaching method. The structure of the lesson is a vitally important in helping the teacher do this.
Even when the students work for a time in a group it is important that they have individual tasks to do. This is why with the Home Front simulation each student has their own tasks to do. This has always been one of the rules that I have applied to all the simulations I have created. Nichola Boughey"As part of our Yr. 9 Modern World History Course we have a pupil led activity. It is based upon the new technology used during WWI and involves the classes dividing into groups of four and preparing a different presentation to deliver to the class about a number of different technologies.”
New technology has definitely made it easier to use this strategy. When I first started using this approach I found it difficult to organize the distribution of all the different sheets of paper that the students needed to have. On several occasions I came close to saying “this is the last time I do this”. However, it was always the enthusiastic response of the students to the lesson that convinced me to try again.
I remember in my first year of teaching a Y10 student asked me if the headmaster knew we were playing games in the classroom. He was a very conformist student and was genuinely worried that I would get into trouble for playing this simulation on the growth of railways. Further questions revealed that he thought because the class were having so much fun, I must be doing something that was going against school rules. John Clare“As Carol Faithorn pointed out, the problem with pupils is that they usually make poor teachers. It is not just that nobody else in the class learns anything while they are speaking. It is often bad for the ‘pupil-teachers’, too. Just as exams are an impure way to assess pupils (because they involve other skills than simply the understanding of the History content), so ‘delivering a lesson’ is just the very worst way you could ask some pupils to present their understanding.”
I would accept that the main reason for using this strategy is for the good of student doing the teaching. However, I completely reject the idea that “pupils always make poor teachers”.
Many years ago Harry Harlow carried out a series of experiments on monkeys. Some young monkeys were left with their parents while other monkeys were separated from them (very cruel I know). These monkeys were then brought up with monkeys slightly older than themselves. Harlow discovered that the second group of young monkeys developed new skills faster than the first group. He concluded that the second group of monkeys found it easier to communicate with slightly older monkeys than with their parents. I suspect this is also true of children as well.
As others have rightly pointed out, the tasks given to students need to be highly structured to be truly effective. They also need to encourage interaction between the student (teacher) and the rest of the class. For example, in the Home Front
simulation the student has to make proposals that are debated and voted on. This encourages both the student presenting the material to think deeply about the subject and the rest of the class to listen carefully to what is being said.
My experience of these kind of lessons is that they are a very good way of teaching certain types of knowledge. For example, they are a good way of helping students understand the variety of different opinions that existed at a certain time in history. For example, for many years I used a simulation on child labour. Each student is given different character (factory owners, doctors, MPs, journalists, factory workers, parents, child workers, etc.) Each student then carries out research to discover: (a) details of their character; (
their views on child labour. Each student writes a brief biography of their character and prepares a speech for a debate entitled: "Parliament should pass legislation making it illegal for children under the age of twelve to work in textile factories."
In the debate that follows the students discover just how complex this issue was in the early part of the nineteenth century. The students discover that some factory owners, such as John Fielden and John Wood, were actually leaders of the pressure group trying to bring an end to child labour. At the same time, social reforming journalists like Edward Baines were totally opposed to any attempt by Parliament to regulate the use of labour. This was also true of reforming newspapers like the Manchester Guardian. Even doctors did not agree that it would damage a child's health to be standing for twelve hours a day in a factory where windows were kept closed and the air was thick with the dust from the cotton. What the children discover from their in-depth studies is why the individuals felt the way that they did. In the debate that follows, this is revealed to the rest of the class. I have found that the student as teacher approach is the best way of teaching this difficult subject. Andy WalkerThe division of the curriculum into subject areas, the nationally imposed NC with the pre set "levels of attainment, measurement and reporting all imply the social control of knowledge and the social control of the child's personal development. Philosophically this contrasts sharply with John's child centred approach. I would argue John's approach with its emphasis on choice, investigation, and open ended outcomes would actually subvert the aims of the NC - thus more strength to his elbow.
While I agree that this approach does have political implications, I have no desire to subvert the national curriculum. If teachers are to be persuaded to adopt more progressive methods of teaching they need to be convinced that these methods have the power to deliver the national curriculum. This is also true that these methods must also try to support the current examination system. However, much I might disapprove of the system we have, I am completely committed to working within that system. There might come a time in the future when government prescribe to such an extent that this will not be possible. However, I think we are still a long way from that situation. Juan Carlos
It is interesting that this debate is also going on in other countries. I have had emails to say it is a big issue at the moment in France. I note there have also been postings from Hungary and Canada.
Juan Carlos points out that teaching strategies are often linked to the political situation in the country concerned. Progressive teaching strategies emerged in both the United States and Britain during the 1960s. There was a quick backlash in America and it did not make a long term impact on its educational system. The Thatcher government began its campaign against progressive teaching in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, this did make a big difference to people’s attitudes. This was supported by the introduction of Ofsted, National Curriculum and SATs. As I have argued earlier (see response to Andy Walker), teachers still have scope to experiment. However, there is no doubt that many teachers were more apprehensive about doing anything too different after these changes were made. Also important was the government’s attacks on those delivering PGCE courses. I remember one speech by Kenneth Joseph where he said that these courses were under the control of Marxists. He was particularly concerned about those courses provided by the Open University.
Our present government is also very interested in the teaching methods that we use in the classroom. So far they have concentrated their attacks on English teachers but maybe it is only a matter of time before they consider what is going on in the history classroom. For example, I hope Charles Clarke has not read Andy Walker’s comments about me trying to subvert the National Curriculum (it’s not true, honest).Sam AllisonThe method is fun but has its dangers. For example, when debating child labour, in the 19th.C. factories here in Canada, the classes I teach invariably vote FOR child labour on the grounds that the little elves liked skipping around moving machinery (that's evidence from one of the brilliant British websites, I think by the British Museum or British Library).
My experience of using my Child Labour
simulation is different from Sam’s. I find they are very good at keeping in role and reflect the views of the character they are playing. However, they do have strong views on the roles they want to play. They tend to want to be wealthy factory owners rather than child labourers. They quickly identify with their characters and feel a sense of pride at being wealthy. It is as if they are somehow responsible for the character’s financial success.
I remember on one occasion using the Star Power simulation with a Y12 sociology group. (It is a simulation that teaches the participants about the class system and involves students starting with different colour stickers with different points values). At the next parents’ evening the mother of one of the girls came to see me. She said her daughter was really happy with her sociology lessons and felt for the first time in her school life she was actually doing well in a subject. This surprised me as the girl was doing extremely badly in sociology and had little chance of passing her ‘A’ level examinations. I asked the mother if she could give me any examples of the success she was having in sociology. “Yes”, she said, “the other day she came home and told me she came ftimes convinced they love a subject when in fact they love the teaching of the subject. How many times have you heard students say they want to drop a subject at GCSE/A level because it is not like it was last year?
There is a story thathas some relevance to this discussion. In the 1920s a journalist wrote an article suggesting that Henry Ford was not very intelligent. Ford sued the man for libel. Ford was called to the witness box and the journalist’s lawyer asked him a series of general knowledge questions. Ford had trouble getting the right answers to these questions. Ford eventually interrupted the lawyer and told him he misunderstood the nature of intelligence. He explained that in his office he had several buttons on his desk. When he had a question he needed answering, he pressed one of these buttons and a man or woman would come into the office and would give him the answer he needed. Ford added, an intelligent man is not the person with a lot of information inside his head, he is the man who knows where to find the answers. Ford rightly won the case.
If one of my student ends up with an A grade at GCSE but does not end up with a love of the subject, then I consider myself a failure. The most important thing we do as teachers is to help produce lifelong learners. I think the “student as teacher” strategy helps to do that.