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Expert Teaching, Expert Learning

Expert Teaching, Expert Learning
Coral Balubar

Each year, the children lead the way on a new inquiry journey filled with excitement, curiosity, and wonder. As they are the protagonists of their inquiry learning, it is of the utmost importance that they lead with confidence and the assurance that their voices, their thinking, their experiences matter, and are the catalyst for moving us all forward in our learning. With this in mind, we have brought to life our “Yellow Pages Project” to support the idea that we are all teachers and we are all learners. This mini-project has become a powerful way for the children to build an understanding of these concepts:

  • We each bring unique talents, skills, and knowledge that we can teach others.
  • We each can learn from all members of our class community, not just from Mrs. Balubar.
  • We have responsibilities as both teachers and learners.
  • Sharing our knowledge and thinking empowers others and brings them joy!

This project began with each child brainstorming a list of things they felt that they were both really good at and that they believed others in the class would be interested in learning about. The children then selected one idea from their brainstorm and thought through the materials and steps they would need to carry out their lesson plan.

Just as the “Yellow Pages” are used by adults to find experts in the world, so too is our version to be used for the children to find experts on skills they want to learn more about. Although in the real-world, the need for a tangible book has been replaced by the internet and the ability to “Google,” we took things back “old school” and even looked at a copy of the Oahu Yellow Pages that was donated to our class by a student’s grandparents several years ago! The children were fascinated as we simulated looking up a vet clinic, perusing the different advertisements, and remarking on which ones caught our attention.

From here, we studied various advertisements in family magazines, noticing the phrasing, the purpose, and the inclusion of details such as websites, images, and locations--even hashtags! We discussed the term, “slogans” and observed that slogans consisted of words that were “catchy” and “got the reader’s attention.” The children came up with their own slogan ideas, and then used all of their observations to create their own advertisements to market their skills and talents in our class Yellow Pages. It is important that as writers, the children have a vision before they begin to create, and studying real-world examples of the kinds of writing they're asked to produce (whether the writing be a fairytale or an advertisement) supports them in understanding the traits of good writing and encourages them to be thoughtful and purposeful decision-makers as they write. This "study-driven" approach to learning about writing is one we will use throughout the year, looking closely at mentor texts, borrowing and expanding on the ideas and crafts used by writers in the real world.

After completing their advertisement, the children were excited to begin their teaching sessions! Lessons being offered ranged from origami fortune tellers to creating traps to drawing dragons to writing poetry! Expert teachers got to work prepping their materials to prepare for their lesson, taking care to check that they had enough for their group of learners and that all supplies were accounted for.

Before sending our learners off to their expert teachers, we engaged in a discussion about what expectations and responsibilities teachers should have and learners should have. We organized their ideas on a “Double Bubble” Thinking Map. Thinking Maps are visual tools for learning, and include 8 visuals, or maps, that each connects to a specific cognitive process. We will continue to use Thinking Maps throughout the year as a way for children to visually organize their thinking.

Many of the children’s ideas began with assigning the responsibility to just “teachers” or just for “students,” but upon further reflection was changed to be a responsibility for both teachers and students. For example, the idea of “listening” first began as a responsibility only for “students” but then J.K. remarked, “teachers also need to listen to their students if they have questions or they need help.” After offering several ideas to fill our double-bubble map, D.K. exclaimed, “Wow! There are so many that are the same for both teachers and students!” What an interesting revelation about the overlapping and kindred relationship between the role of “teacher” and “student!”

Then it was time for our expert teachers to begin! Teachers ushered their group of learners to locations in the room and began guiding their "students" through their lesson. Each teacher adhered closely to the expectations we had established during our group discussion, making sure to offer words of encouragement and support, and patiently giving instructions and modeling demonstrations. Through the room, statements like, “Looks great! Keep up the good work!” and “Mr. N.G. is this how you do it?” Expert teacher S.S.B. even gave feedback to her students by writing positive comments on their work! They truly looked and sounded like the expert teachers they are! Learners also followed through on their responsibilities, staying engaged in the process, remembering to politely ask their teacher for help when needed, and listening closely to the instructions.

We conducted several rounds of expert teaching sessions and also took the time to reflect at the end of each session. All teachers and all students remarked on what a wonderful job everyone did in their roles. Teachers pointed out that their students were successful, that they listened, that they followed directions, and had fun. Teacher S.C. mentioned that teachers sometimes had to give up some of their own time to prepare and to focus on their students’ needs. O.S. also brought up the point that he saw how talented his students were and gave them freedom to put their own spin on the task and make it their own. K.H. brought up the importance of humor and fun in both teaching and learning! What sage advice for us all!

This experience on the surface may appear to be “just” kids at play doing what they like to do. We see it as something much deeper. Through this project, the children have been able to connect as a community, sharing a piece of themselves with one another by offering up their talents and passions. The experience has also allowed each child the opportunity to be a leader in the class; to see themselves as an expert with valuable knowledge and ideas to share.

What a talented group of teachers and learners we have!

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