Students teaching students

In the past few weeks in my seventh grade pre-algebra class, we’ve been working on some hard problems involving inscribing circles in squares and squares in circles and, sometimes for good measure, playing around with equilateral triangles too. Radicals abound. And for the most part, I see them getting it.

But recently (for a number of reasons) I’m being a “teacher centered” teacher. I’m at the whiteboard explaining things or doing problems. I call on them from the whiteboard. I let the kids work and I walk around and check to see how they’re doing. But their eyes are always on me or their work [1]. Partly it’s because I know it works. And it doesn’t take a lot of time. (These kids pick up what we’re doing quite quickly… you can actually see their initial struggle, and their breakthrough… sometimes you more than see it… you hear it… “OHHHHHHHHHHH, Mr. Shah! It’s sooooo simple!”) [2]

But today I had an extra 10 minutes and so I had a student come up and take over the classroom. She was presenting the solution to a problem, and I gave her total control. She could call on students, or be at the board, or do whatever she needed to to explain the solution to the class. And with great poise, she strode up there and started asking good questions (“How do we know what that side length is?” “What’s the area of a circle?”) and adroitly led her classmates through the solution. The other students were into it: their hands waved in the air, eager to answer her, as they are eager to answer me. [3]

The cherry on top of the sundae? Once she finished, about 75% of the kids had their hands up wanting to present the next problem. They want to be teacher. Which made me happy to be their teacher. I’m sad I’m not going to be teaching seventh grade next year.

[1] Okay, that’s not entirely true. They are a collaborative class; they work with each other answering questions, running ideas of each other, and comparing answers to see if they’re on the right track.

[2] Of course, on the other — less happy — side, you’ll get to a topic where a few kids will proclaim their hatred for the subject at hand, at which case I feign (do I feign? or is it real?) pain that someone could say something so awful about something I’ve devoted my life to, and how I want to curl up in a corner and cry.

[3] I noticed that her teaching style was a lot like mine, which means that I’m rubbing off on them.



  1. teaching… one of very few jobs where you know you have done your job well when the kids don’t need you anymore. good work!

  2. huzzah! i had another student lead us through the muck and mire of a difficult problem today, and he said “come on! i know more of you know the answer to my question” when only 4 or 5 students raised their hands. huzzah for trying to get everyone to participate.

    next lesson for teaching my students to be teachers: wait time.

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