The Role of the Educator, Part 3

Edgy Interventions

Sometimes, when students are giving the politically correct answers instead of what they actually believe, persisting past the obvious will usually yield results. Likewise, if the group is getting off task in some way, redirection will often get them back on target. If that does not work, a more severe response might be needed. Doing something unexpected or outrageous like threatening to leave or throwing a small, harmless object at someone might startle the class back to the task at hand (Lakey, 2010).

I often had difficult classes with several behaviorally challenged students. When I asked one principal why I was always so “lucky,” she answered that she assigned those kids to my class because she knew I would not walk out on them and really believed that the highly structured nature of my class would help them.

The composition of my class meant that sometimes a lesson would get out of hand. There were so many interruptions that I could not get anywhere educationally. If redirection or a stern call to order had no results, I would announce that whatever part of the lesson remained unfinished when we ran out of time would go home for homework or would be done in lieu of other fun activities like recess or Fun Friday, a time when kids could play educational games or do structured art projects unless they had missing work to do. Then I would return to my desk and check my email or start grading papers while keeping an eye and ear on the class. Sometimes I turned off the overhead lights.

Before too long, students would start shushing each other. When the class had been quiet for a full minute, I resumed the lesson.

The Role of the Educator, Part 2

Active Listening

One useful strategy is active listening. This requires careful attention to what the speaker is saying verbally and nonverbally. Once the speaker has finished, the listener rephrases what was said to receive verification or clarification of the message (Lane, 2008).

I used this for years while I was teaching without knowing there was an official name for it. Although I hear very well, I do not process the information well unless I am paying close attention. In my class, I had a standing rule that students had to get my attention before speaking to me. To do it any other way risked total lack of comprehension. Most students respected that rule, but there were those who still blurted out questions and comments while I was engaged in something else. Whenever that happened, I repeated back to the student exactly what I heard them say, which rarely had little to do with the actual comment.

Somehow, my brain misinterpreted comments like “I need to go to the restroom” as “I read alone in my bedroom.” By using active listening techniques, I received the corrected message and more than a few laughs when what I misheard involved elephants, turkeys, or other totally off-topic things.

The Role of the Educator, Part 1

One feature of collaborative learning is to remove the teacher from the spotlight so the groups can figure out things on their own. This encourages critical thinking and a deeper understanding of the material (Pratt & Palloff, 2005). If the students are now responsible for their own learning, where does that leave the instructor?

The Instructor’s Role

Relieved of the burden of getting students to learn, the teacher now becomes more of a designer and evaluator. Lessons are carefully designed to lead students through the process of starting where they are and building understanding until they can reach the goal.

As an evaluator, teachers are responsible for providing feedback to students about their progress. That may involve redirection if the student has gotten off track, validation if the student is progressing well, and correction if misconceptions and misunderstandings occur (Lane, 2008).

The next couple articles will go into specifics.

Reciprocal Teaching: Jigsaw

Here’s a closer look at one I’ve used in class.


In a jigsaw activity, students divide into groups to become experts in a particular topic. Then new groups are formed, and each of the new groups contains at least one person from each of the old groups. Once in the new groups, each student teaches the others about what they became an expert in.

This could be a useful way for students to learn the basics of the different kinds of animals available as pets. The first groups could study one of the major pet types: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals, dogs, and cats. That would result in seven members of the second group, which is the upper limit for the ideal range for a group size (Team-Based Learning Collaborative, 2011).


When studying ecosystems in science, I divided my class up into groups, giving each group an ecosystem and a set of questions they needed to be ready to answer. The groups studied the ecosystem and discussed it. Ideally, everyone would have become an expert and then taught the other groups about their topic. As often happens, some groups and some students were more diligent than others.

To assess how well the teaching occurred one year, I took the questions given to each group and asked a random member of the class to provide an answer. Those who had been in the expert group for that ecosystem could not answer their own group’s questions. That showed me where there were still weaknesses, and I made sure to cover those concepts in more detail.

In another year, the class built a chart to compare the different ecosystems. This allowed the class to see the bigger picture of how small changes can have big effects.

References for Reciprocal Teaching

Barkley, E. F., Cross, K. P., & Major, C. H. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lane, D. R. (2008). Teaching skills for facilitating team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 2008(116), 55–68.

Palsolé, S., & Awalt, C. (2008). Team-based learning in asynchronous online settings. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 2008(116), 87–95.

Team-Based Learning Collaborative. (2011). Team formation for TBL [Video file]. Retrieved from

Reciprocal Teaching: Part 3

Two more ideas for reciprocal teaching…

Role Play

Students form small groups. Each person takes on a role of a specific person or type of person and discusses an important topic.

My own experience with role-playing events is that people are too self-conscious to really participate. Many of the people I tried this with just read their character description from the card and participated no further. The best participants were those who were experienced in improvisational theater, but there are not many people with such experience.

Test-Taking Teams

After material for the class is covered, students take a test independently and turn it in. Before they receive their scores, students meet in groups and retake the same test, this time discussing their answer choices with the whole group. The team turns in a single set of answers. The scores for the individual and team tests are weighted and combined so that the individual test carries the most weight.

This could be used as a middle or end of course test or as little quizzes scattered throughout the course, similar to the Readiness Assurance Tests (RATs) used in the 4S model (Palsolé, & Awalt, 2008). The appeal paper is missing, but that could be added in easily.

Next time, Jigsaw in more detail.

Reciprocal Teaching: Part 2

A couple more reciprocal teaching ideas…


Learning Cell

Students develop their own test questions regarding material covered in class or in readings. Then they pair up and quiz each other. Problems occur if one student in the pair is unprepared. Using the question set as a means to gain admission to the class that day will cut down on wasted time. If a score is needed, students can answer their partner’s questions on paper. The questions could be assessed for their appropriateness, and answers will allow the instructor to see where confusion or misconceptions exist.

This might be an interesting follow up to the Note-Taking Pairs activity. After compiling notes with a partner, students could go build their set of questions and then quiz each other the next time the class meets.


A fishbowl is structured with two groups of students. An inner circle engages in a discussion while an outer circle observes and critiques the inner circle. The whole class then participates in a discussion about the content discussed and other features of the discussion.

This might be useful in the pet selection class if the inner group consisted of veterinarians or other animal experts rather than members of the class. The inner group could discuss the merits and challenges of owning various pets. The outer group would be the class, and the discussion would then focus on the content of the inner group’s discussion. This could possibly happen before the Note-Taking Pairs and become the source material for that lesson.

Two more reciprocal teaching ideas are coming next time.

Reciprocal Teaching: Part 1

When we teach a skill, we need to have a thorough understanding of it, so using techniques that require students to become an expert in something to teach the concept to their peers should be particularly effective. This is called reciprocal teaching (Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2005).

Six Techniques

These six techniques for reciprocal teaching may be useful for our pet selection course to varying degrees. Each technique will be described and assessed for usefulness in light of the current project. Each of these techniques is described in greater detail in Barkley, Cross and Major (2005).

Note-Taking Pairs

For this technique, students take their own notes independently based on a lecture, reading, or other lesson. Then pairs are formed. Students share their notes, providing corrections and clarifications. Points of contention can be discussed in more detail and clarified using source material. This should result in superior notes, unless both students have the same misconceptions or other errors.

This technique might be a useful way for students to compare what they think they learned about the different types of animals after a lecture, reading, or video that provides details on the pets being presented.


Next time, a couple more reciprocal teaching ideas.