Trading places

One of the most radical shifts of pedagogy in recent years has been where learners take control of their own learning leading them to create their own content. Previously, the generation of new knowledge was the preserve of the expert, the academic, the teacher. In the last decade, user generated content has quickly become the most common content on the web, and is a digital age hallmark of student centred learning. When learners become producers of knowledge and not just consumers, you can be sure they are learning. And yet this is merely the precursor for greater shift where students assume the role of teacher. The old aphorism 'we learn by teaching' (or in Latin, docendo discimus) holds true when we consider that to teach something, you first need to learn it. Moreover, it cannot learning of a superficial kind, but demands a deeper process where students reflect on the meaning and critically evaluate the significance of what they are to teach. If you are teaching your peers, and your teacher is also in your audience, you really need to know your subject, or you end up looking a little foolish.

Perhaps the most radical shift of all though, is when teachers become learners, and when they take a back seat and even let their students teach them. This is not an easy thing to do for many teachers. It is often ingrained into the teacher mindset that they are there to lead from the front. Some teachers are breaking out from the mould, taking risks and encouraging their students to take the lead. It sometimes requires an act of humility to do this. Admitting that as a teacher, you don't know everything, and that sometimes others, such as your students can teach you something, can be a big step. I'm happy to admit that I learn a lot from my students, and I let them know when they teach me something new. When teachers stand back, relinquish control over 'knowledge' and become co-learners, collaborating with their students, wonderful, powerful learning occurs. It is learning that is not easily forgotten, because the joy of learning together, forging new ideas, and negotiating meaning always makes an impression on the mind. Some of the best learning I have seen in my career in education, has been when I have stepped back out of the way, and let my students discover for themselves.

Photo by Fancy Jantzi on Flickr

Creative Commons License

Trading places by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


You are absolutely right that teachers need to give the students the chance to teach them. Not always as easy as it sounds though. Thanks for the post. I have tweeted this and G+ as well and I'm following you on RSS.

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