INTRODUCTION: Some students perform poorly because of self-defeating behaviors and attitudes of which they are unaware. I decided to have my students assume the role of teacher for a day so that they could see how students behave in a classroom from a teacher’s point of view. I hypothesized that observing their classmates’ behaviors and attitudes would give them insights into their own, providing a motive to adopt new, more supportive habits of success. In fact, this was exactly what happened.
In the ESL class in which I did this activity, I had 20 students and the class met for 2 hours and 30 minutes twice a week. I allotted 3 class meetings and 40 minutes of another to complete the process. This activity can be used in any course to help students gain self-awareness of positive classroom behaviors and/or attitudes. An additional benefit is that students learn how to present to a class. I also experienced an improved relationship with my students seemingly because of their new-found empathy for the instructor’s challenging role.
- To help students become aware of behaviors and attitudes that sabotage or support academic success
- To encourage students to replace their self-sabotaging habits with supportive habits
- To help students learn how to present to a group
- Class textbooks
- HANDOUT #1: Teaching Guidelines (appended below)
- HANDOUT #2: Homework Assignment (appended below)
1. Provide students with HANDOUT #1: Teaching Guideline. Explain that they will have the opportunity to be “the teacher” for 20 minutes during an upcoming class. For my students, presentations took place before the mid-term exam. Each student was assigned to review one grammatical point or writing organization rule and have the whole class participate in an activity they prepared.
2. Create a schedule of when and what topic each student will teach.
3. Before each student teaches, remind him/her to observe students’ attitudes and classroom behaviors while teaching. Ask each student-teacher to make notes about appropriate and inappropriate classroom behaviors.
4. After all students have had their turn as teacher, provide students with HANDOUT #2: Homework Assignment, which asks them to write about their experience of being the teacher for a day.
In the beginning of the semester when I told the students that they would be asked to be the teacher for 20 minutes, many students gave me a big “Oh, no!” response. They said that they did not want to stand in front of their classmates because they would be too nervous. I told them that I understood their fear because I had experienced that same fear when I first became a teacher and sometimes in the beginning of a new semester, I still get a little nervous because I do not know what kind of students I may have in the new classes. They looked very surprised when they heard that I would get nervous. I decided to help ease their anxiety by asking students to come to the front of the classroom to help me with some assignments or explain some grammatical points or writing rules every class meeting. By the time they had to be the “teachers,” they had all been in the front of the classroom either to help me explain a lesson or to assist me with an activity.
When it was their time to be the “teachers,” they seemed to be less nervous even though a few students still had trouble starting their lessons. I acted as a TA (teacher’s assistant) and asked the student-teacher what the lesson was about or if s/he needed me to get any supplies. The student usually started talking to me and eventually started talking to the whole class. I tried not to help the “teacher” too much, but I did step in to say something when s/he had trouble continuing the lesson. Compared to presenting information, students seemed to have an easier time conducting an activity they had prepared. They walked over to small groups or pairs and talked to individuals to make sure people were participating in the activity. It seemed to me they were less threatened when they were not in front of a large group of people and were able to see who needed their assistance.
Since I had told the whole class that these teaching sessions would be the only opportunity for them to review the materials before the midterm examination, the students paid attention while they were being taught by their classmates, and they actually asked more questions of those student teachers than they usually ask me when I am the teacher. They also pointed out the mistakes that the student teachers made, and the whole class would try to figure out ways to make corrections. I believe the reason that the students felt comfortable being taught by their classmates was that I had asked every student in the class to help me with an in-class assignment before this activity. I also had given the students numerous pair and group projects during which they helped one another. Therefore, they were already accustomed to learning from their classmates.
Some student teachers enjoyed the activity so much that they did not want to stop being the teacher after 20 minutes. I told them that they were welcome to assist me any time in the future. The other students seemed to be comfortable being taught by their classmates, asking many questions and giving a lot of feedback to the student teachers. In addition to helping students recognize classroom behaviors and attitudes, it was also an effective activity to review materials and promote student participation.
All of the students stated in their homework writing assignments that they had learned something important about themselves. One student said that she had never wanted to participate in group or pair work because she had always thought that her electronic English dictionary could give her all the help she needed. However, after seeing how some students seemed to have learned from one another during the activity that she conducted, she became willing to participate in group or pair work. Another student came to me and said that he had no idea how obnoxious he had been because he had always complained about how boring or meaningless were some of the activities I had given in class and he had often interrupted me during lectures.
Almost all of the students stated in their writing assignments that they could see some attitudes or behaviors that contributed to their bad grades. Those attitudes or behaviors included sleeping or being almost half asleep in class, interrupting the teacher, not participating in pair or group work, talking to classmates during a lecture, and making negative comments such as: “Do we have to do it?” or “That’s too much homework!” They realized that some attitudes or behaviors could be disruptive in a class. A student also said that it was embarrassing to see a classmate behaving badly when he was the “teacher” because he had displayed the same immature behavior in class at one time.
After this activity, more than half of the class said that they liked being a teacher because they felt they could explain the lessons the way their classmates would understand. They also said that by preparing the lessons themselves and having the opportunity to “teach” the lessons, they had a better understanding of the materials studied. After this activity, I noticed a big difference in students’ attitudes and their classroom behaviors. They rarely complained about class or homework assignments, and they seemed to enjoy participating in class activities much more. Further, they stopped interrupting me or sleeping in class anymore. They also asked me more questions during my lessons, which shows me that they learned the importance of communicating with the teacher to get the most out of a class.
This activity truly was an eye-opening experience for many students. They saw themselves from a teacher’s point of view for the first time and were able to recognize some of the self-sabotaging behaviors they exhibited. It was also great that many students realized that they have the power to choose to replace harmful habits with some of the positive attitudes and behaviors so that they can be successful students.
I learned that many students are afraid of standing in front of their classmates, let alone conducting a lesson or an activity. Although I tried to ease their fear by asking them to help me with my lessons before they had to do theirs, the next time I conduct this activity, I may give students the option of pairing up with a partner to co-teach. I think it would be more effective for some people to work with a partner in the front of the classroom, conducting the lesson together so they do not feel alone or intimidated. I also learned that many students like to be given responsibility for important tasks. After this activity, many students told me that they felt more useful and productive when they were the “teacher.” They asked to assist me in my future classroom activities so they could actively participate.
An important lesson I learned about being an instructor is that I am not there to “teach” students as much as to guide them so they can learn to be responsible for their own learning process and outcomes. I also realized that I like to create activities for my classes because I see myself when I look at my students. After all, I used to be an ESL student myself, and I did not always have a positive attitude towards my studies or constructive habits in the classroom. I believe that sharing my own experience with my students made the gap between my students and me smaller. As a result, they feel more comfortable to come to me for assistance or advice.
HANDOUT #1: Teaching Guidelines
1. Prepare a 20 minute lesson to teach your classmates. I will provide topics.
2. Use your own words to explain the lesson rather than reading from the book.
3. You would be wise to rehearse being the teacher with some of your classmates or friends before the day that you are the “teacher.”
4. On the day that you are the “teacher,” please wear nice but comfortable clothes and remember to bring whatever you will need for your 20-minute lesson.
5. Have eye contact with your students while you teach.
6. Ask students questions to check on their understanding of the materials.
7. Walk around the classroom to make sure everyone participates in the activity you have prepared.
8. Observe students’ attitudes and behaviors while you are teaching.
HANDOUT #2: Homework Assignment
Write an essay about your experience of being the teacher. Here are some questions which might help you with this assignment.
1. Recall the attitudes or classroom behaviors that you observed while teaching. Which ones do you think will contribute to student success? Which to student failure?
2. Do you possess the same or similar attitudes and/or behaviors which you observed? Please explain.
3. If there are some attitudes or behaviors which prevent you from being a successful student, what do you plan to do to change those habits?
4. What did you learn about yourself, your classmates, and/or your teacher from this experience?
Feel free to share any special moments and/or to include any important lessons you learned.
–Angela Chang McGaharn, Faculty, ESL (English as a Second Language), Pasadena City College, CA