Last week, I just sat in our school library and watched. I noticed that there was more than one effective way to interact with the children in your class. Some approaches are better than others at different times and promote different skills in the children. Teacher to Pupil, Pupil to Teacher and Pupil to Pupil are all great methods, but what are they and how can they be used effectively?
Recently, I decided I was going to sit in the library and watch. I didn't really have a focus or an agenda, I just wanted to watch what happened. The first class came in with their teacher and the children dispersed to look for their next book. To my dismay, the teacher whipped out his laptop and sat at a table to respond to emails, leaving the children to choose their books independently. Where was the engagement, where was the interaction?
This led me to reflect back on the first teacher - the ‘laptop teacher’. Although there had been little ‘Teacher to Pupil’ interaction, there had been ‘Pupil to Teacher’ conversations. Children had approached the teacher to ask questions and he had responded.
This led me to ask the questions: Are there times in the day when actually it is better to leave the kids alone? Is there time when Pupil to Teacher engagement is more effective than Teacher to Pupil? The answer, I concluded, was yes. But when, why and how?
Teacher to Pupil
Pupil to Teacher
This where the next approach can be far more effective. By stepping back and waiting for the pupil to approach the teacher an independence can be generated. The children may gain a resilience by being forced to think primarily for themselves. Strategies like ‘three before me’ give the children a chance to take a risk, solve the problem on their own before using the teacher as a resource. Another successful approach I have seen is the ‘Collaboration Table’. The teacher sits and waits for children who wish to ‘collaborate’ or simply need support. Children get to decide if they need to be part of a guided group or not.
Of course, Pupil to Teacher interactions may overlook the children who are reluctant to ask for help. Independence and knowing when to turn to others is a skill in itself and needs teaching. Additionally, this approach does not give the teacher a whole-class view and so it can be difficult to assess the children using this method. Perhaps you need some assessment helps…
Pupil to Pupil
I suppose this may be described as the ultimate classroom interaction. Pupil to Pupil engagement is probably the most powerful form of interaction. While one pupil is asking for support, the other is encouraged to explain, guide and verbalise their own understanding. A win win situation! Expert learners is one great example of allowing students who know to support students who will know soon. Of course, these interactions need to be taught. Resources, such as question prompts, can guide students in supporting others. Steps to success can be used as a reference for children to identify the step they are having difficulty with.
There is no wrong or right approach and, in fact, a good teacher will probably utilise all three approaches at different points, even within the same lesson. As a teacher, you will know the pupils who prefer to be left to tackle problems for themselves and you will know the students who require that more focused ‘teacher to pupil’ engagement. Equally, some lessons suit peer to peer discussions more than others. By experimenting, you will discover when each can be most and least effective. And if you don’t, you can always ask you children what they prefer...
With a keen interest in the neuroscience and psychology of learning, WAGOLL Teaching is about sharing research alongside great, simple teaching ideas to a global teaching community.
Ben has been in education for over 10 years and is passionate about simplifying high quality teaching and learning through innovative and practical approaches in the classroom.