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Five Ways To Make All Students Into Lead Learners (Teachers)

It has been established long ago that the highest form of learning is teaching. When one is put in the position to teach others, one learns the content and concepts at the highest applied level in order to successfully communicate it to others.

     This reality has led many educators long ago to turn as much of the instruction in their classroom over to students through student presentations, projects and more.
     That being said, too many students still never have this opportunity to become Lead Learners - where they learn at the highest level by having the responsibility of teaching others. Here are five ways all educators can expand the opportunity for all students to learn at the highest level by all becoming teachers:

STUDENTS AS PROFESSIONAL PRESENTERS
     Again, students have been giving presentations in many cases for years in certain courses. I suppose even the early years of Show & Tell were intended to have every student present, or tell a story. Well, we need to challenge all of our students to become master story tellers and presenters. All students need to have multiple opportunities to become an expert in various research-based deeper learning activities where they get to present their findings, conclusions, applications and more all in a professional environment using professional applications and technology. Additionally, we need to teach the explicit skills required to deliver a professional presentation. Too often, we assign presentations only focus on the content instead of the delivery as well. Of if we focus on the delivery, we don’t actually teach the requisite skills. We all know Death By Powerpoint. Well, let’s teach students to avoid this. There are dozens of resources, but having students be exposed to things like Nancy Duarte and Slide:ology would be smart (http://www.duarte.com/book/slideology/). In addition to getting all students to be master presenters and storytellers in order to achieve the highest levels of learning, these presentation skills will be used repeatedly in job interviews and professional environments for a lifetime.

STUDENT ROLES
     Again, we have had students in various school roles for years. We have had Teacher Assistants, Cafeteria Volunteers, Attendance Monitors, Class Monitors, Drum Majors, ASB Officers and many others. But it’s time to ratchet this up a bit - or even a lot.
     For example, what if one’s class or program had a Media Coordinator responsible for coordinating the video work? Or a Social Media Coordinator handling the class Facebook, Instagram and Twitter Accounts? How about a Project Coordinator responsible for calendars, roles, timelines and deliverables? One could keep going with a Design Coordinator, Social Coordinator, Web Coordinator, YouTube Channel Coordinator, Community Coordinator and many others. How about Peer Coaches? If it’s good enough for adults, why not students? It’s not about titles for title sake (although students do respond to positions). It’s about students taking greater responsibility for the strategic roles in the classrooms. It’s about allowing students to bring their expertise and experience forward for the greater good, while also enhancing their skills, resumes and portfolios.
     Another former school of mine created the Student Project Coordinator as a means to expand the role of students. Students who were advanced in a given curricular area, or showed tremendous enthusiasm and skill, could apply for this position that had students in the role of facilitator of learning. Instead of Teacher’s Aide, or gloried gopher, a Student Project Coordinator lead sessions, coached small groups, organized model lessons and demonstrations, and much more.

PORTFOLIO PRESENTATIONS / DEFENSE OF LEARNING

     We need to create systems where students have to not only do regular presentations, but also practice reflective learning in regular semester or annual presentations. These not only get them to present their best work and learning, but also again teach them again and therefore continue to learn at a higher level. If it’s good enough for graduate students and doctoral candidates, it’s good enough for all students. Many classes, programs and schools have started to have their students do Final Reflective Oral Presentations - Defense of Learning - in order to capture this deeper learning experience. My former school - Minarets High School (www.minarets.us) - designed a year-end portfolio presentation students would do each year entitled the Personal Brand Equity. This culminating project not only required them to analyze and assess their learning and best work, but also do the same for them as a growing, learning and ever-improving young adult (skills focus). See some pics of these presentations here: http://bit.ly/PBEPresentationPics. Reflection, presenting and teaching will represent the highest form of learning these students can both experience and demonstrate.

STUDENTS AS EXPERTS
     All students need the opportunity to become experts - experts in various focused areas of their content studies, as well as experts in professionals areas of choice. As our educational pedagogy becomes more project-based, students will have greater opportunities for deeper learning like this. In their core and other courses, teachers and students will collaborate to design challenges and areas of inquiry where students focus deeply on specific aspects of the content and its application. PBL expects that students will have voice and choice on what they study deeply and how they will demonstrate their learning. In that spirit, many teachers are discovering the tremendous opportunity to make their students experts through choice projects such as 20 Time Projects or Genius Hour pursuits. These are in-depth and often long-term project pursuits specifically based on a student’s interest. They choose what they want to learn more about and how they will again demonstrate it. It’s the ultimate version of Student Voice and Choice. But again, it clears the adult or teacher out of the way giving the student full rights and means to become the expert, to become the teacher and to ultimately the Lead Learner in this given area. Not only does this lead to learning at the highest or deeper levels, but also relates to the skills our students are going to need in the gig economy. They will often have to create their own work. For more on 20 Time Projects/Genius Hour, please visit: http://www.20time.org/, http://www.20timeineducation.com/ and http://www.geniushour.com/.

CULMINATING OR CAPSTONE PROJECTS
     Again, educators need to explicitly design project opportunities that are culminating, capstone type projects for our students. This is not a new idea. We have had senior projects at the college and secondary level for years. However, these can take a 2.0 to them as well where students have a chance to choose areas in which to pursue for their culminating learning experience. At my last high school where I served as the site leader (www.minarets.us), we created the Senior Legacy Experience. This was our version of a senior project. Students could choose an area that they were advanced in throughout their four years (AG, Arts, Athletics, AP, Academics, Media, IT, Core Subjects, etc.) and then pursuit something that would be impact the school and community. Check out the Minarets SLE Projects here: http://bit.ly/SLEProjects Unlike the portfolio, reflective quality of the Personal Brand Equity or Defense of Learning presentations, these are more again about student choice, expertise, passion and deeper learning. These are also often opportunities for students to see their learning and work have impact beyond themselves. These could be applied well beyond the senior experience. Maybe we do them at least as we move from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to postsecondary, etc. There are many ways and reasons to design these capstone experiences. So, instead of another template, think about how we can create these for all of our students in our courses, programs and schools.
     As usual, I’m not pretending that this list is complete or the best. However, I would like to challenge all of us to think of our students as teachers, experts and lifelong lead learners. They can all teach and therefore learn at highest, deepest levels.

(Images courtesy of Minarets High School, Foter, Pixabay and others)

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