As a result of my teaching timetable last year, I started to involve my students more at the front of the class. I had multiple back-to-back lessons with different classes. One hour of a subject can be difficult enough for students; two hours was extremely challenging. To make those consecutive lessons more bearable, every so often, my students spent the first hour doing research in a computer room and putting together a lesson. Students led the next hour’s lesson about the topic they were just researching.
Bringing them to the front of the class increased their confidence and demonstrated strengths
I was reluctant at first to do this for a number of reasons. I was teaching only bottom set classes; research on the computer was not their strength. A lot of them had communication needs; I wasn’t sure how they would fare talking in front of the class. They often struggled with new concepts; I was worried that they wouldn’t be able to learn enough from their research to understand the topic.
All of my fears were quickly allayed. My students were swift to take up the challenge, eager to take charge of the classroom. The idea of being the teacher encouraged them to stay (more or less) focussed during the first hour of research and preparation. Once in the classroom, students enjoyed having their peers lead them. The students who took over the lessons made sure to engage their classmates with thoughtful questions and feedback.
There was, of course, some preparation on my part. My students were accustomed to certain routines in class and so they knew what a lesson in our class consisted of (starter, definitions, examples, plenaries, etc.). I talked them through my expectations with regard to the lessons they would produce and their behaviour. I set up a folder on Google Drive for students to save their lessons to. During the research hour, I gave them a lot of support, directing them to useful websites, talking through their examples with them to ensure understanding. I also provided the class work for the second hour, so the students could focus on the lesson content.
I filmed a couple of the student-led lessons and shared the results with my colleagues. At the end of the video, one colleague commented that he’d never heard that particular student speak louder than a whisper. As the teacher, though, that student spoke clearly, asked her peers questions and took the lead. Another student who regularly made offhand, irrelevant remarks during lessons was brilliant as a teacher, asking his peers thoughtful questions to get them involved. Yet another student who was frequently disengaged and found maths challenging absolutely shone as a teacher. Bringing them to the front of the class increased their confidence and demonstrated strengths that I was previously unaware they had.
Put your fears and hesitation to rest; give this a try. You can adapt it to suit your and your students’ needs. Here are five things to ask yourself as you prepare your students to be teachers:
1) Who will teach?
All of my students do research and work to prepare a lesson in PowerPoint. In the last ten minutes of the first hour, they save whatever they’ve completed to Google Drive. I go through each of their lessons and decide who will teach. Sometimes it’s one student, sometimes I have different students take different parts of the lessons based on what they did well in their presentations. Will you have all of your students prepare a lesson or will you select one or two students? Will you choose a most able student or someone else?
2) When will your students prepare their lesson(s)?
I always planned my student-led lessons to happen on days when students had back-to-back maths so that they could prepare during the first lesson. Will you give students time in class to prepare, or will you expect them to prepare outside of class time?
3) How do your students know what a good lesson looks like?
My students know my routine; they know what to expect. To further support this, I provided them with a PowerPoint template that mimics the structure of most of my lessons. I also told them explicitly to not worry about background, font or colour. They needed to focus on populating the slides, which included headers like “Starter”, “Lesson Objective” and “Example 1”. Do you have a routine in your lessons that students will know to follow?
4) How will you check student lessons beforehand?
This depends, of course, on when students prepare their lessons. If it’s in class, you can check their lessons as they put them together. If it’s at home, they could print it out and show you, or use Google Drive. Do you want to see it a day in advance? Are you happy to see it at the very start of the lesson that they’re leading?
5) What do you need to prepare?
Students had access to a PowerPoint template. I made a Google Drive folder. Finally, I had differentiated class work prepared, though I challenged some students to find class work that they could provide to their peers.
How will you adapt this strategy for your students?