Whenever teachers discuss differentiation, so often the conversation focuses on enabling the least able to access the curriculum. After all, so rarely do the most able students cause us a problem; we can give them any old task and they’ll happily complete it, no questions asked. However, ensuring that we are stretching the most able is vital if we are to ensure that these students do not switch off from their learning and are learning to the best of their ability.
It is often suggested in CPD sessions that we use the most able to teach others. Especially, when they’ve finished early, it’s suggested that we tell them to ‘go and help someone else’. Unless these are unbelievably conscientious and driven teenagers, they – more often than not – go and have a chat with a friend. I, therefore, decided that I wanted to investigate a more structured approach to using the most able to teach others.
During the study of Jekyll and Hyde, my Head of Department sent out an excellent lesson which asked students to evaluate how successful Stevenson is in creating sympathy for Jekyll in the novel. With this idea, I organised my year 10 top set into groups. Each group was allocated a section of text. In their groups, they were asked to determine whether this section of text generated sympathy for Jekyll, to find quotations from the text to support this idea and to determine what it was that Stevenson had done to create sympathy.
From here, a student teacher (I had allocated this role to a member of each group) would visit the other groups, teaching the others what they had determined in their own group. Each student teacher would move around the room after five to ten minutes of talking to a group.
I determined the ‘student teachers’ by establishing either a) who the most able member of the group was b) who was the most confident in talking to others or c) who would benefit from teaching other students about their ideas. Of course, teaching others is a skill which is important to all students as the verbalisation of their ideas helps them to hone and concrete these ideas even further. The movement around the room and the short time frames given for the changes between the groups also helped to maintain focus.
At the end of the lesson, I asked students to complete a ‘learning log’: a plenary which asked them to discuss with their partner the type of skills they’d used and why they felt that it had been beneficial to use them during their learning. I believe that by encouraging students to think about how they’ve learnt and not just whether they’ve hit an assessment objective for an exam, we create more resilient and independent learners. At the end of the lesson, I asked students for feedback to include in this blog.
Their responses were as follows:
• What skills have you been asked to use this lesson?
Listening skills, written communication skills, note taking, teaching
• How did it make you feel?
It forced me to justify myself
• Why do you think they were useful skills?
Display own knowledge
Forced to concentrate.
• Did they help you to learn in a different way?
Talking gave you more confidence
• Did you prefer learning from your peers as opposed to the teacher?
Would have liked to go at front
Teacher knows more – can we trust what they say?
Easier to learn with friends when we feel we can’t put our hand up in front of the whole class
Whilst some students did express some discomfort at being forced to talk to others about their ideas, they did recognise that this was an important ‘life’ skill and that you do often have to cooperate with people you may not want to. As for feeling that they couldn’t necessarily trust their peers, I hope that in time and with ‘training’ in the classroom, students will become more accustomed to feeling responsible for teaching others and this will ensure that all students experience a high quality learning experience in this situation.