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Turn passive learners into leaders by letting students teach!

By Rachelle Dene Poth
July 19, 2017
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As a teacher of Spanish, I am always looking for innovative ways to encourage student choice and make my students feel valued. I provide experiences that help them use technology to improve their foreign language skills and produce a more authentic and meaningful representation of what they know and can do with the material. I am invested in teaching them Spanish, but I am also invested in providing diverse learning opportunities that empower students inside and outside the classroom.

When students get to choose the types of activities they do, they become more empowered in their learning. One of the ways I accomplish this is by giving students opportunities to work with each other and take on new roles, such as that of a teacher.
Not only does the approach empower students, it allows me as a teacher to provide more one-on-one feedback. I can move around the classroom, learn more about the students and their needs, facilitate conversations and build relationships, which is key to student growth.

I took a risk last year and offered students an opportunity to teach using the same digital tools that I use in the classroom. I thought this would be beneficial for many reasons, but mostly because it would be an authentic way to have students create and build their leadership skills.

Let the students lead

Here are some of the ways I let students lead the class.

Creating interactive videos. Students used PlayPosit or EDPuzzle to create an interactive video lesson covering the vocabulary or grammar topics we were working on in class. They found a relevant video and added their own 6-7 questions and assigned it to me. I completed the “lessons” and then students presented the lesson to their peers. The students enjoyed taking over the computer and leading the lesson, asking questions and giving feedback.

Developing lessons. Using Formative, Nearpod or Buncee, students in my Spanish II and Spanish III courses chose the types of activities and questions they wanted their “students” to complete as part of a beginning-of-the-year review. It was a very authentic and meaningful way to enable each student to be a creator and develop leadership skills in the classroom. And it enabled me to facilitate more as well as become the “student.”

Making games and quizzes. At the start of the year and during midterms and finals, students often ask for more games to use for review. I thought it would be better practice for them to create their own games using Kahoot! and Quizizz. They selected some verbs and vocabulary that they found to be more difficult, and created a question set of at least 15 words for use in the classroom. Students then led the game and provided feedback to their peers.

By stepping aside and letting students take charge, I discovered which content they chose to practice, and I could share these authentic resources with other students who might need extra practice as well.

The students enjoyed leading the lessons in the classroom and providing feedback to their peers by responded directly to the class, explaining a concept further or giving some examples.

I also asked the students if they had questions for their “teacher,” and I found this to be a great way to have students learn to self-assess as well as provide feedback to each other. The questions they got often pushed the students – as well as myself – to think about other examples or applications of a grammatical concept or a comparison with a similar pattern in the English language.

Beyond reinforcing content in a more authentic and relevant way, the students continued to build their peer relationships and contribute positively to our classroom culture.

Teacher for a day

This approach worked so well that I decided to take it a step further. I designed a “teacher for a day” activity and had the students create a lesson based on a grammar topic or vocabulary, and used it for our review at the beginning of the school year.
At first when students created lessons, I would open the lesson on my computer and launch it myself, as I normally had. But this year, I stepped away and instead, took a seat in the back of the room.

The “teacher for a day” led the lesson, gave the explanations, answered questions and called on the other students for answers. The students enjoyed being the teacher, provided support to each other, collaborated and offered good feedback to each of their classmates. It was very rewarding to see them transform from learners to leaders and develop those collaborative skills and confidence.

Students like to take control

After trying new methods and tools, I always ask students for feedback either via a quick conversation or using a survey or blog prompt. Their responses indicated they really liked having the chance to take the lead in the classroom, share their knowledge with their peers and develop more confidence in speaking and interacting with each other.

The students who were often quiet in the classroom became more vocal and asked for more opportunities to do these activities.

When we give students more chances to lead in the classroom – to set their own learning goals and become the creators – we empower them in their learning. By using technology not just to teach but to empower students, we do more than enhance their knowledge and skills. We allow them to share their knowledge and skill with their peers and build leadership skills.  

The ISTE Standards for Students, particularly the Empowered Learner standard, expect students to “use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.” Turning control over to them, allow them to practice the skills need to do just that.

Moving from learners to leaders

With technology, learning is no longer confined to the physical classroom space nor does the classroom teacher have to be the only person providing instruction. By giving more control to the students, we empower them in their learning and create lifelong learners. 

Rachelle Dene Poth (@Rdene915teaches Spanish and emerging technologies at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She is also the communications chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, president-elect and innovations and resources co-chair for the Teacher Education Network and historian for the Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications in Technology (PAECT), an ISTE affiliate. She was named PAECT 2017 Outstanding Teacher of the Year and was selected by the National School Boards Association as one of "20 to watch" in education. 

Start with the empowered learner course to bring the ISTE Standards to life through online PD.