Faculty Reflections

Teaching as Learning, Learning Through Teaching
By Virginia Christy Lamothe
Lecturer, School of Music

At this past August’s annual Teaching Center workshop, Belmont faculty were treated to an opportunity to work with Dr. Saundra Yancy McGuire, author of Teach Students How to Learn (2015) and Director Emerita of the Center for Academic Success at Louisiana State University.  Dr. McGuire focused on how teaching students about metacognition and learning better mentoring skills can help students succeed in college and beyond.

Whenever I attend one of these Teaching Center workshops, I look for an activity I can try out myself with my students to improve learning outcomes, or help students learn better study skills.  I was intrigued by a slide that Dr. McGuire showed that asked a question directed at a student. It read “For which task would you work harder?”  The choices were “A. Make an A on the test” and “B. Teach the material to the class.”  McGuire explained that when she asked this question of students she worked with, they almost always chose task B.  She then went on to explain how teaching the material makes us think more deeply along the lines of the Bloom’s taxonomy, as opposed to surface learning or “memorizing” information.

Dr. McGuire encouraged us to try an activity with which she had seen some success where students “teach” the material they are learning.  She gave an example of a young man who was studying for his Praxis exams, but feeling like he was overwhelmed and having no success.  She asked him to “teach” his lessons – even if he was not teaching them in a formal setting or even to a human being.  The young man chose to teach his “Baby Groot” action figure of Guardians of the Galaxy on a regular basis.  Soon, the young man saw great improvements in his own retention and understanding of the material.

I decided to try this activity out for myself.  I spend the first two weeks of my Freshman Seminar talking with them about study skills.  I showed my students a slide similar to Dr. McGuire’s and asked the students the same question: “For which task would you work harder?” with the same tasks.  Only a few of my students answered, “To make an A on the test.”  Almost all the students chose “Teach the material to the class.”  But, when I asked them why they thought they would work harder for teaching the material, they had few ideas as to why that task would require more hard work.  For homework, I asked the students to “teach” a lesson from one of their classes to anyone or anything that would listen.  I also offered extra credit to those students who made an mp4 video of themselves teaching the lesson.  The students were asked to write down their observations about how they felt they understood the lesson both before and after they taught it.  Most of the students returned the next class day and reported that “teaching” the lesson made them aware of “holes” in their knowledge or understanding.  Some even reported that teaching the lesson helped them simplify it in their own minds, thus making it more accessible and easier to remember.  While I did expect these improved learning outcomes, I was pleasantly surprised by the adorable videos some of the students made.  I now have videos of my students teaching business basics to Batman, the intervals of a major scale to a cookie (although the cookie’s music career was cut short as it was eaten in the end), and a piano lesson for a stuffed snowman, a blue dog, and Mickey Mouse.

The students who made the videos did so with the agreement that I could share their lessons with the rest of the class.  I did this because I often teach from a social constructivist philosophy that students learn best when they learn from each other.  While the students also agreed that the videos were funny and cute, they also said that they learned the material each student-instructor in the video was teaching, even if it was material outside of their major.  This further reinforced the idea that teaching is a highly effective way of learning material, and when one can learn the material well enough to teach it, they also make that same material accessible to others.