One of the more interesting truths I’ve learned during the first couple years of teaching is that I have learned so much more by having to teach it than I ever did in school.
I think my favorite example of this is my experience with Romeo and Juliet. When I was in high school, I’m pretty sure we read it (I know I knew the basic story), but that’s about all I remembered about it. In college, I read it again for a Shakespeare course, and I vividly remember the sort of literary reawakening that happens when you see something in a deeper way for the first time.
But a couple years ago, I was asked to teach Romeo and Juliet, and I realized I didn’t really know that much about it. I realized that if I wanted to teach it effectively, I had to get a better understanding of the play. I reread the play, highlighting and making notes in the margins. I did research online for different explanations and interpretations about the play. And I surfed the web and tried to find some interesting lesson ideas and/or plans.
By the time I ended up teaching the play, I felt much more competent in my understanding. But perhaps what was more interesting to me is that, as I was finishing the play, I had inadvertantly memorized several of the lines that I highlighted for the students.
When I taught the play for the second time (this time to five classes simultaneously), this only became more obvious. It was surprising how much I knew off the top of my head – how many lines I could recite without trying to memorize them, how quickly I could find specific events in the play, and how much deeper my understanding of the play became.
That was really enough evidence for me. It has become abundantly clear that people learn infinitely more about something by teaching it to others than by listening to a lecture.
I began to think of ways I could apply this fascinating reality in my classes. I wanted to help my students experience this in the classroom – where they learn more about a subject by teaching it. I experimented with a group teaching project, which failed miserably. I tried individual teaching projects, with marginal success (the higher-level students did well, the rest did not).
I’d really like to incorporate learning-by-teaching more, but I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to do it successfully. Any suggestions?