As one trimester was coming to a close and a new one about to begin it dawned on me that one way to engage my students with the material in health class was to have them teach a lesson the way they would like to be taught. In other words, “He or she who does the work learns the most,” (Belt, 2008). I took advantage of this old adage and turned the classroom into a more exciting and engaging environment. Now, let me preface this epiphany with the fact that I have amazing students who are very high achieving, yet need to step out of their comfort zone to improve both their academic skills, and their oral presentation skills. According to SHAPE America, incorporating best practices into the health classroom includes being able to “employ instructional practices that engage students in learning and develop their health-related skills,” (SHAPE, 2015). Students were very active in the development of their learning, establishing self-directed learning, and making the learning process more interesting and inspirational. I will address the following in this discussion based on the overarching process of students-teaching-students; including the basic organizational structure, students creating a lesson plan, students teaching the lesson, student self-reflection, and teacher reflection. Ultimately, the goal was to “design cooperative learning activities in order for students to have a collaborative experience to interact productively with their peers,” (Scales, 2010).
Reviewing the Topics
Students were asked to pick a group of 3-4 classmates with which to collaborate. In this situation, I decided to allow students to form their own group because I wanted to provide the highest level of comfort as possible. Clearly, as the teacher, you can choose groups randomly or create groups based on the topic that students are interested in. Within the mental and emotional health unit, we covered topics such as overall health, self-esteem, empathy, overcoming hardships, stress, and depression. In order to create a certain level of fairness, student groups had to draw one of the above-listed out of a hat and teach it based on what they have already learned as well as new information they teach themselves. Once they received the primary topic, they had to narrow their focus in order to provide their classmates with more specific details. As students created their lesson, they were required to use basic vocabulary terms and apply the material to their own lives while intertwining it with the class content. As stated by Piaget, “To make sense of the world around them, young adolescents, as learners, build upon their individual experiences and prior knowledge,” (1960). This activity engaged all my students and allowed them to take an active part in their own learning. It increased their retention of the content and made the education process more fun.
Provide Class Time for Lesson Planning
Throughout the planning process, I sat with each group to review their topic and aid them in their decision making in regard to the specific information they wanted to teach. One of the most rewarding aspects of this project was meeting with each group individually to discuss their vision and how they wanted to pursue their lesson. First, we created a lesson plan that included; a learning objective, which incorporated a “students will understand…” statement, a specific lesson that would be taught, an in class activity, a Quizlet or Kahoot, and a closing activity or exit slip. Second, we picked roles for each group member, such as facilitator, task manager, timekeeper, and data checker. Not only did each group member need to select a role within the group, but each student needed to be in charge of one specific section while teaching the lesson. Additionally, each student needed to be prepared to discuss their section with the class as their group presented their lesson. Third, each group member needed to participate in planning the group’s presentation which would ensure participation and contribution. Overall, each group had to relate the topic to their own life and apply it to situations they might experience. After the initial conversations occurred with student groups about their lessons, I then included them in the analysis of the grading rubric. Students who are involved in the process of creating a rubric have a better understanding of the standards, gradations, and expectations of the assignment. Students also feel as if they have a "voice" within the classroom. Therefore, I introduced each group to the rubric I had created. In the beginning, we examined the expectations and discussed the importance of each entry on the rubric. From there we edited the rubric to create more clear expectations for the assignment. Students who engaged in this process had a deeper understanding of the rubric and were more likely to know what they needed to learn and teach during the lesson. While reflecting, one student stated, “I got the chance to help change the rubric, so I feel that I helped make the project better.” This student in particular analyzed the verbiage, which really helped me, as the teacher, decipher better gradation within the rubric. Finally, students were given a specific time slot over several different class periods. On the day, each group presented their lesson, students had to turn in all of the pertinent information they used and created, such as; a brainstorming sheet, a lesson plan, any specific information related to the lesson, a game or activity to check for understanding, and the closing activity and/or an exit slip. Ultimately, presentations needed to be made by all members of the group, and each individual student was evaluated for the work he or she presented as well as the entire group.
Students Teaching the Lesson
Of course some students might be nervous when presenting in front of a group of their peers, but Stevick (1976) demonstrated that students master material best and deeper memories result when they invest more personal effort into learning. When students began their lessons, they had to first introduce their learning objective. This is what they would like the class to focus on and learn by the end of the presentation. There were a variety of lessons, which included a Powerpoint to educate the class, Quizlet or Kahoot to check for understanding, role playing skits and short video clips with discussion questions to enhance learning, and closing questions to understand what each student took away from the lesson. Ideally the classroom teacher should sit quietly as an observer, but some students may require on-the-spot support or advice. As the teacher, any in class questions on the material should be addressed to the group teaching the lesson. Naturally, having each student teacher succeed in communicating his or her lesson to the class is paramount. When all students are given authentic learning opportunities to both learn and demonstrate their knowledge the process is powerful and great things can happen. For example, one group who presented information on stereotyping modeled how they wanted their activity to be completed. Additionally, their lesson summary was spot on, as one student stated, “As much as we laugh, stereotyping can have serious effects on people. Our roles allowed us to make some connections to the real world and opened our eyes to how many people are truly affected by undue judgement.” As part of the summarization and reflection process, as a whole class we discussed the positive things each group possessed and the different things they could work on for next time. This part of the reflection process was also rewarding in order to consider other options and modifications for future groups. As the first few groups completed their lesson, it provoked others to enhance their own lessons, by suggesting, “we really need to work on our exit slips.” “These learning experiences can help young adolescents realize that their challenges are not unique. In addition, teachers can incorporate opportunities for student choice and self-assessment,” (Kellough & Kellough, 2008). Overall, each group was prepared, organized and stayed within their learning objective.
Completing the Student Self-Reflection
One of the final processes of the project is self-assessment and reflection. This portion of the project helps students identify personal strengths and weaknesses for future learning. Students also assess one another in the group and grade each other based on their contribution to the presentation. It is empowering for students to reflect on themselves and their work in order to improve for their next teaching adventure. One student stated, “I experienced the difficulty of being a teacher. I learned that if the students don't hear the teacher's explanation, the teacher can't continue with her lesson.” According to Rolheiser and Ross, “Students who are taught self-evaluation skills are more likely to persist on difficult tasks, be more confident about their ability, and take greater responsibility for their work,” (2001).
This process was well worth the additional work in the classroom and I plan on employing it in my eighth grade classes in the future. Students-teaching-students easily applies to all types of learners. I would recommend a few things to keep in mind as other teachers experiment with this process. One: help students understand the difference between presenting and learning how to teach a lesson. Two: provide enough time for students to learn the topic they have been assigned to completely educate themselves and their peers. Three: provide adequate resources for the students to peruse as they are putting their lessons together. Four: I would recommend that as students are listening to the lessons they make notes on the material presented so they can thoughtfully reflect and ask questions. Lastly, try to ensure that your students are challenged by their lesson and can really learn from their own information. “To foster intellectual development, these youth need to interact directly with their world-through discourse and hands-on experience with their peers,” (Stevenson, 2002).
Putting It All Together
Students were very active in the development of their learning, establishing self-directed learning, and making the learning process more interesting and inspirational. The overarching process of students-teaching-students was very rewarding. Ultimately, the final goal was to “design cooperative learning activities in order for students to have a collaborative experience to interact productively with their peers,” (Scales, 2010).
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