The following continues my week-long exposure of different forms of Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at www.soundout.org
Engaging students as teachers may be the high road to improving learning for every student. When students teach students at least three assumptions are at work: 1) Students are valuable creators and transmitters of knowledge; 2) Students learn effectively from other students, and; 3) Students have something valuable to contribute to the education of others. That is why engaging students as teachers is an example of Meaningful Student Involvement.
Several out-of-school youth-serving programs have engaged young people as teachers for more than 100 years. Organizations including 4-H, the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts have long relied on the merits of youth-led classes to teach young women and men of all ages significant life lessons and invaluable skills.
This approach has been valued for generations, witnessed by the many indigenous communities who have entrusted young people with teaching their peers for thousands of years. American colonists’ first schools employed very young teachers, who in turn gave the responsibility of teaching to their younger charges simply for lack of having other adults to assist them. Famed pioneer teacher Laura Ingalls Wilder was 15 when she began teaching. While young people teaching generally ceased in schools with the advent of advanced teacher education in the early 1900s, pockets of activity continued. The 1960s “free school” movement recognized the value of students teaching students, and many instituted the practice as everyday experiences for young people. Throughout the past 30 years the concept of students as teachers has gained momentum as more professional educators are beginning to see its effects.
Meaningful Student Involvement recognizes the importance of acknowledging the knowledge of students, and charges them with the responsibility of educating their peers, younger students or adults. Students teaching students is not meant to undermine the influence or ability of adult educators: instead, it uplifts the role of educators by making their knowledge and abilities accessible to more students. A growing body of practice and research from the education arena reinforces the seemingly radical belief that students can teach students effectively, given appropriate support from their adult teachers. There are many examples that show students serving as teaching assistants, partnering with teachers or peers to deliver curriculum, teaching peers or students on their own, or teaching adults in a variety of settings.
While a growing number of educators recognize the validity of students’ thoughts about schools, few see students actually being players in addressing those concerns. Engaging students in teaching fills a three-fold gap in student learning: it develops empathy between students and teachers, making students more understanding of teachers’ jobs while making teachers more aware of students learning needs; it makes learning more tangible and relevant for students, particularly for students without the ability to access other “real-world” learning opportunities; and finally, it empowers students to approach the problems they identify in their classrooms through critical analysis and applicable solutions. Engaging students as teachers is more than simply teaching new tricks to an old dog; it challenges the old dog to teach others, and to allow the younger pups to teach themselves.
This entry was adapted from Stories of Meaningful Student Involvement (2005) Adam Fletcher. All rights reserved.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!
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I'm a writer, trainer, speaker, and consultant. My work focuses on helping schools, nonprofits, and government agencies become more effective at engaging people.

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