In this blog I have looked at the opportunities that arises when children teach others, “others” to not only include peers but adults and parents. When it comes to learning as Albert Einstein pointed out “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” ? Albert Einstein. When we teach others, the knowledge and skill set gained in the cascading of information not only reinforces but develops understanding.

Let’s remember how much is attributed to the level of involvement in the learning process as Benjamin Franklin quoted, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”? Benjamin Franklin And in doing so.. “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” ? Phil Collins

In the Western,  Medieval  world, as soon as a child could survive without the continual support of their mother, they were considered apprenticed adults. They were dressed as adults and the concept of “childhood” was VERY different to ours, today.

The “education system” was very different, too!  Prior to the 16th and 17th century, students were not taught in age related groups. Indeed, Education in the Medieval world was, generally, the domain of males. Classes of students were never age differentiated. It was common to see a place of learning contain students ranging from 10 to 20 years of age! Mixed age group learning presents many managerial challenges to a tutor but, as a tutor could not POSSIBLY deliver the same lecture to all students, learning was more “individualised”. Older students would have leant a hand in teaching those that were younger or needed more support to learn difficult concepts. Although Students worked at their studies individually, they would also have discussed with peers, shared thoughts, taught each other and learnt in a more “communal” fashion.

In this online publication “Children As Teachers- Theory and Research On Tutoring” Edited by Vernon L.  Allen, you can read about the gradual changes in “Education” that have contributed to the system, at present. It really is quite an eye opener! It leads one to think, “What if learning was more collaborative?”- “What if individuals were given freedom to follow their own path of study?”- “What if teaching wasn’t governed by the need to present students, simultaneously for the same exam on the same subjects?”….”What if teachers are NOT the only point of reference in a classroom, when a child needs help?”-“ What if children had the freedom to teach each other?”…

The report, Peer Teaching: To Teach Is To Learn Twice. [Higher Education Report No. 4, 1988. (Whitman, Neal A.; Fife, Jonathan D., Ed)] especially examines the role that “teaching” has in the process of “learning”.

In their report, Whitman and Fife make the following comment:

“The observation, that the peer teacher or tutor benefits from the act of “teaching”, is not new. The Moravian teacher, John Comenius, wrote in 1632, “The saying, “He who teaches others, teaches himself,” is very true, not only because constant repetition impresses a fact indelibly on the mind, but because the process of teaching, in itself, gives a deeper insight into the subject taught”. (Gartner, Kohler, and Riessman 1971, pp. 14-15).”

Jerome S. Bruner (1915- ) is one of the best known and influential psychologists of the twentieth century. He was one of the key figures in the so called ‘cognitive revolution’. Bruner  has long been an advocate of “peer mentoring/ teaching” but not ONLY because of its positive effect upon the learning of BOTH the “Instructor” and “The Pupil”. He detected a more far reaching effect that benefited modern society, as a whole.

The Wider Societal Benefits of Peer Teaching

As previously mentioned, medieval society considered anyone weaned as a “miniature adult”. As time has passed, the length of childhood has progressively lengthened until, today, it appears entirely possible that some people, in their early twenties, are still considered “inexperienced and immature” due to the length of time they have spent in education. For some youngsters the standard education system, which was recently lengthened to cover ages 3 (preschool) until 18 (in full time training), is all but unbearable. They become disaffected and leave the highly competitive and dictatorial system at the earliest stage possible, loaded with negative images of themselves as “failures”, and of a society that has rejected them, as they were not able to leap through the standard educational hoops of examinations and assessment.

Jerome Bruner wrote in his article, “The Uses Of Immaturity” (1972), about some of his ideas for combating the emotional/ psychological issues that arise as a result of our society’s long preservation of a child’s “immaturity”.  He suggests “peer teaching” as one means for dealing with the psychological problems associated with prolonged schooling in a technological society. He thought that giving of MORE responsibility to students for the education of their fellow students would alleviate some of the major negativities arising as a result of disaffected pupils. He continues that we should abandon the more “competitive” nature of schooling in favour of a more “communal” approach. He asserts that: “I strongly urge that we use the system of student assisted learning from the start, in our schools.”

He felt that by giving responsibility for helping others, especially younger children, the intermediate generation would find more sense of purpose and “useful participation” that they find lacking in their day to day life.

“Teaching to LEARN?” – A WIN WIN APPROACH!

Indeed a research project that Jerome Bruner had followed, by  Gartner, Kohler and Reissman, in 1971 suggested that building in opportunities for children to teach other children meant that BOTH parties benefit in terms of better academic performance and improved personal/socialisation skills. It is evident that, correctly administered, peer learning is a WIN –WIN formula. Teachers and child care experts are well practised at “engineering” small groups and pairs that will work well together, to the benefit of each member, and it seems that plenty of evidence points to the huge benefits, educationally, psychologically, spiritually and sociologically are the result of such classroom practice.

So what has this to do with ukulele teaching?

Teaching is an art and involves many complex decisions and procedures on the part of the “Teacher” but at the core of any teaching there should be passionate enthusiasm for the subject being investigated and explored, and the love of learning. As a classroom teacher for over 21 years I speak from the liberating experience of KNOWING that I would NEVER know enough, that I was destined to LEARN from the children that I worked alongside and from the situations that we used to find ourselves in. “Learning” and “teaching” quickly appeared, to me, to be a shared, interrelated, communal activity based upon trust in each other, encouragement, curiosity, failure, daring and determination. In class I “taught” but I also LEARNT, the children taught each other, they taught ME and lessons were more of a “learn-fest”.  I noticed that, in ANY lesson, when a child TAUGHT/ explained/expounded their ideas and tips and knowledge, their learning DEEPENED and almost became TATTOOED in their minds.

It is this “shared” community approach and flexibility that I like to foster in ukulele lessons. I may be considered “the teacher” by the children but I am keen for them to understand that they are teachers, too. They can teach each others, teach their parents, teach their siblings and their wider family and friends. As they gain expertise and skill relatively quickly they soon become surprisingly knowledgeable about the practicalities and finer details of ukulele playing and singing. It is a great confidence boost and beneficial in many other ways for a child to be in a position of expertise, an expertise that they can pass on and share. The day that I believe that I am the sole repository of ukulele wisdom and knowledge will be the day that I cease to love the adventure and discovery of learning. After all, if a teacher “knows it all” what is there that is of any interest or novelty to learn? If someone else has known it all before, why BOTHER trying to make discoveries and develop something new? All learning will seem second hand and “pre-chewed”. If you REALLY want fire up a child’s enthusiasm for learning let them discover something NEW, something you DIDN’T know….. and then let them teach YOU!

Being an effective teacher is not about being an EXPERT because: “The expert knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Being an effective teacher is NOT about knowing all that there is to be known because: “It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.”
– Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

Being and effective teacher is NOT about airing your authority because: “The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.”
– Marcus Tullius Cicero

…Being an effective teacher IS allowing a person, someone who is not an expert, or a know-all or an authority, to teach us something new because this will crystallise their understanding and push their learning to new levels of clarity and joy! Whether ukulele, maths, literacy or P.E “Teaching to Learn” is a valuable tool for any pupil.