Flipping who teaches
Posted April 10, 2015on:
This is the sixth part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.
Yesterday I explained that having students create or co-create content is a critical dimension in flipping because this is an active process of learning.
Another active learning process is teaching and I include it as my third dimension of flipping.
Why is it important for students to teach one another?
Teachers know how difficult it is to teach. Let us consider a basic example: One person trying to explain a concept to another person.
Using Bloom’s framework as a reference point, the person trying to explain a concept must be able to recall and comprehend that concept first. That person must combine that understanding with a degree of application to explain it to someone else. The explainer has to juggle these while getting visual, auditory, tactile, or other feedback from the listener. Processing this feedback will require analysis as well as an evaluation of noise vs signal. After deciding what is important to say and show, the explainer will need to synthesize something that makes sense to the listener.
In short, anyone who has to explain a concept to someone else has to constantly recall, process, and reprocess.
Teachers become content experts not primarily because they read up on that content or complete worksheets. They teach that content over and over again and get better at it. They develop deep knowledge of that content and some even fall in love with it, all because they teach it.
If you want students to understand something better, then get them to teach it.
Learning is messier than teaching. Some teachers forget that structured teaching does not always lead to learning. Formulaic teaching by a teacher can sometimes take out the discovery, joy, and necessary struggle of learning because the teacher over-simplifies and does the thinking for his/her students.
Leveraging on messiness of learning means applying Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. In a nutshell, cognitive dissonance is mental unease or discomfort due to new information. For example, if you strongly believe that only teachers can be trusted to create content and teach it, what I am proposing about flipping will cause some cognitive dissonance.
When applied to flipping, using cognitive dissonance means strategically allowing learners to struggle with what they think they already know (or do not know) and letting them teach each other what they could know or should know.
For example, a group of learners might wrongly assume that all Muslims are terrorists. A teacher could tell them otherwise, but this is no guarantee that the learners will believe the teacher.
Instead, a teacher could get the learners to analyze and share with one another their findings from various sources of information, e.g., books, articles, interviews, videos, websites. While this does not guarantee a change in mindset, the students learn to think by thinking.
Didactic delivery is faster, but that does not mean that it is effective. If you want students to appreciate something better, get them to teach it.
I wager that many teachers have experienced this scenario. They try explaining something ten times to Student A and s/he does not get it every time. Student B comes along and explains the same concept once and Student A has a eureka moment.
Students develop a language and understanding of their own that teachers sometimes cannot or do not tap into. As I summarized earlier, learners:
- can find ways to make the content more relevant and exciting
- are more creative with relating concepts or ideas
- are closer to the “a-ha” moments and reach their peers in a more visceral way
If you want students to learn, get them to teach it.
Getting students to learn by teaching is not a new discovery. Dale first theorized something like this in 1946 and revised it in 1969. He posited that it was more effective to learn by doing concretely than by any other method.
A side note: Dale’s cone was more about the effectiveness of different media forms and experiences. Others after him repurposed it and added numbers to the levels to indicate effectiveness for learning. These numbers have little or no research merit.
If you are still not convinced about the effectiveness of learning-by-teaching, read my quick review of two studies that showed how students who expected to teach or had to teach performed better than those who did not.
There are other reasons why teachers should encourage their students to teach content, e.g., the audience effect (Google it or read my summary near the end of this reflection).
I have described four reasons for flipping who teaches: When students teach content, they have to learn it more deeply, they learn to think more critically, they teach in ways we cannot, and research says they learn better. If these are not good enough reasons to flip learning, I do not know what is.