We know we can learn when we are taught by someone, but do they learn too? Are they learning better?
Jean-Pol Martin, a French-language teacher, propounded the ‘learning by teaching’ method in 1985, Germany. He observed that students were more motivated and participative when given the chance to teach their classmates. It contributed to a sense of control and responsibility- ensuring the class understands the concept- fulfilling which generated happiness, satisfaction, and confidence over the material.
When learning by oneself, the preliminary absorption of a concept often goes unchecked. For instance, consider a sum for the concept of area and perimeter. Let the question read as follows: Find the area of the circle given it was formed using a square of size 8cm.
Assuming one is familiar with the difference between area and perimeter, a bulb of knowledge lit up when the question was read- a textbook method of solution sprang up in mind. Then, the learner equated the perimeter of the square and circumference of the circle using formulas. The equation resulted in the radius which was plugged into another formula to give the answer. A possible curiosity related to the novelty of the question was quickly appeased and a new sum was pursued.
This is generally because the questions are exhausted. In this case, ‘what is to be found’, ‘which formulae are to be used’ are the questions which were answered. This independent pursuit of knowledge is the learner’s zone of proximal development, as theorized by Lev Vygotsky; the unaided learning which takes place through individual study. In a singular engagement like this, the inquiries are limited, and the possible sources explored, are too.
When this learner decides to teach another, to explain and share their knowledge, they revisit their understanding of the concept or skill to recognize gaps and cement them. Logan and Richard studied this enhancement of learning through teaching. Their experiments elucidated the ‘generative processing’ and ‘long-lasting’ learning furthered through teaching. The learners synthesized the reading material into a relevant and coherent explanation.
The learner may be presented with new questions which lead to exploration of new aspects and/or lags in previous understanding. Our learner’s understanding may be challenged with- ‘how can the perimeter and circumference be equated?’ or ‘what is the difference between area and perimeter?’. Cognizant of their fellows’ needs, our learner may now use a flexible rope to visually display the transformation of the square into a circle. The rope itself will be described as the perimeter and contrasted with the space within, as area.
The individual being taught assisted the learner to unlock new ways of explaining the same idea i.e. scaffolding through the zone of proximal development, to a better understanding beyond which this support will not be required. In this manner, the concept was learned through an observable and/or applicable format, making its retention easier, for both learners.
Thus, having learnt a new concept, the best way to assess one’s understanding is to teach it to someone else.