It all started by accident really. Just before recess. On Friday. Out of a need to recognize and give a voice to those students who were consistently acting as role models for the others in the class. I pulled the students aside, told them how much I appreciated them and asked them to think about how they would like to be recognized.
The following week I noticed many surreptitious recess meetings and eventually the group of three came back to me and said “Can we be teachers for a day?” To which I replied “Ahhhh-sure, maaaaybe? Let me think about it.” And think we did … with Ms. Yuka my co-teacher we decided to trial having the students teach one lesson. About an hour. To this day it remains the most memorable hour of my teaching career (and the best part is that I didn’t even do any teaching!)
What follows is a photographic play-by-play along with some reflections, and next steps that I would like to try.
One of the agreements was that the lesson had to follow our traditional reading and writing workshop mini-lesson format with the components of “I Do” ie. explicit teaching/modeling “We do” ie. the guided practice and “You Do” the independent practice. As teachers we wanted the lesson the students were teaching to be linked to what we were doing in the classroom and so we agreed to frame the lesson around teaching acrostic poems given that we were on our poetry unit. Like all good lessons the more planning the better it all turns out. The students spent about three of their own recess periods working on the chart (their choice not mine), thinking of what they were going to say, and going over the engagements. The teachers helped with the tech (getting the Google slides ready, copying papers, etc.) Disclaimer the picture above is the planning session of another set of students who also ended up teaching a lesson to the class a few weeks later. And I told them, sometimes teachers get observed by their principal to give them feedback and help them to be better. So … we asked Ms. Julie if she could formally observe and she agreed. Which I think was also a stroke of genius on my part as it was my first observation lesson without actually being observed 😉
Before the lesson could proceed the teachers needed to hand over their ISKL blue lanyards, apparently a high mark of distinction. With that hurdle out of the way and the students feeling officially “teacherish” the lesson began. One student turns on a timer to make sure the mini-lesson stays under ten minutes, the next one explains acrostic poems, there is even a “turn-and-talk” component. As I was sitting in the back of the room sipping on coffee I noticed all my quirks and teaching strategies being parroted back to me. #priceless. And just like their obsessive compulsive teacher explicit teaching was done in under 10 minutes – by the watch.
As two of the students were teaching another started putting exemplars of acrostic poems around the room. The proposed lesson plan was that students should see some examples of acrostic poems before they tried by themselves. I agreed. Off the carpet – lots of chatter – noticing, dialoging, moving. Then the first glitch … I use chimes to focus attention but the “teacher” students were too short to reach it. Some quick thinking and with the help of a meter stick the problem was solved and the students reconvened on the carpet.
And just like that students were off to practice on their own. The “teachers” had a small group going for those who needed some help, another that copied my roving clipboard strategy to “take notes” and “collect data.” Another “teacher” was busy conferring and asking clarifying questions. I think it’s at this point that I started tearing up a bit.
Share Time & Reflection
Independent work time over it was time to share. The “teachers” decided to use “Hands Up Pair Up” to circulate around the room to share their work. Turns out this cooperative learning strategy is a fave. Finally just like all official observation lessons it was time for the “teachers” to step into Ms. Julie’s office and debrief. Ms. Julie rocked it, with proper notes on her computer, telling them what she noticed them doing, asking them probing questions – it was the real deal.
Lesson Learned & Next Steps
First of all a big thank you for Ms. Yuka who took on lots of the pre-planning with the students and guided them as only she knows how. Thank you also to Ms. Julie for taking it all so seriously and validating the students every step of the way as they courageously stepped outside of their comfort zones and usual roles.
So I guess my first lesson learned is that you need admin and co-teachers who are supportive of trying new things. In retrospect it worked out more wonderfully than I could ever have imagined, but there was no guarantee of that being the case – and everyone was willing to go along with it and give it a go. That’s important. After all if you never try …
Next lesson learned is that if the students are comfortable with the architecture of a lesson (and the teachers quirks and ways of doing things) then the actual time spent planning the lesson content/engagements is minimal. Most of the work is done by the students. Having said that it probably takes a few months to establish the rapport so this would not be something I would try right away at the start of the year.
Also, keep it real. Have students teach something that is worthwhile knowing and that you would be teaching anyhow. The idea isn’t to have students be teachers for the sake of flipping the classroom because then it’s just an activity. The goal is for the students to replace the teacher in delivering curriculum. This is where the teacher know’s best and can suggest lessons that are more appropriate for having students take the lead. Right know I am thinking a lot of language standards lend themselves naturally to flipping the classroom because the actual content is fairly simple and easy to explain and just required repeated practice – think teaching commas in a list, capitalizing names of places, how to punctuate dialog, etc. And yes perhaps some of this content will need to be pre-taught to the student teachers but if they are willing to take the time to learn it ahead of time then great.
What’s in it for the students? Peer validation, positive affirmation, leadership opportunities, planning skills, oral language practice, and the list goes on and on.
What’s in it for the teacher? Coffee break in the back of the room. No, in all seriousness it allowed me to reflect on my quirks and the language, tools, strategies I use – as these are the ones that the students gravitate to as they are planning the lessons themselves. And perhaps more importantly it allows a glimpse into the classroom dynamics. Are the students comfortable taking this on in front of their peers? Their teacher?
Finally it reminded me that my students are capable of so much more than I give them credit for – but they need to be given an avenue through which they can showcase their individual strengths – whatever those might be.
I know I’ll do it again. And I think you should give it a try soon too!