To Teach is to Learn: Students as Teachers

The Pasta Principle

I was on the phone with my Mom the other day and she was in the middle of a “trial run”, making homemade pasta. While we had experimented with this particular recipe a few years back, she was getting ready to share the process with a friend the next day and “…didn’t want to go in cold.” My phone buzzed an hour later with a picture of the drying linguine, hanging from the rack.

East Williamsburg Academy Scholars

These 9th grade students weren’t making pasta, or cooking anything for that matter, but their experience was similar. At the start of the year, Ms. Candidato assessed that a total of 4 out of 17 eligible students in her class would pass the Math regents. Not only did she face a language barrier with many of her students, but there were also vast differences in their needs as learners, making it near impossible to teach the whole class effectively. Something had to change. That’s when Ms. Candidato started to brainstorm with Educate instructional technology coach, Chris Clesca.

Ms. Candidato can better meet students’ needs by working with them in small groups, rather than teaching in a whole-class setting.

They first worked to identify students that exhibited leadership qualities — those who would be able to support the learning of their peers. They would begin each class period with a short pre-assessment for all students, gaining insight into their overall understanding or (more specifically) from the previous day’s lesson. As students completed the pre-assessment, Ms. Candidato would meet with the “…student leaders to build skills that they would then turnkey over to other students” (Cescla). After the pre-assessment, students were grouped based on their level of understanding, language needs, and personality styles.

The Recipe for Success

The success of this instructional shift was evident. The new structure allowed Ms. Candidato to better meet the needs of all students. She could now work in small groups with the students who needed the support, while also pushing others to sharpen their knowledge by teaching the material. The student leaders were acting as an extension of her, supporting their peers through small group instruction. Better yet? Students remained engaged throughout the double-period block and actually enjoyed collaborating with one another, to learn. By the time January rolled around, 11 students passed the regents (early!), compared to the estimated 4 at the start of the year; 12 more are planning to take the exam in June.

Students support their peers by reviewing/reteaching concepts in a small group setting.

Teaching is Learning

I’ve requested another pasta-making session with my Mom, already knowing that our next batch will that much better. Why? Because, to teach is to learn. The students in Ms. Candidato’s classroom were naturally motivated to learn the skill/concept more fully when given the opportunity to teach their peers. The act of teaching allowed them to sharpen their skills and discover common misconceptions, adjusting instruction (and their own beliefs) along the way. Seeing the powerful impact of this instructional shift, Ms. Cadidato continues to work with Chris Clesca to create more opportunities for “student teachers” in the classroom.