School Your Parents: Learning by Teaching

Is there a portion of your standardized test or academic course that just keeps tripping you up? Maybe it’s dangling modifiers or trigonometry. Online learning, specifically quarantine learning, can lead us to testing out new and useful study methods!

Try teaching that tricky portion to a friend or family member, just like we teach you. Now, I know that may sound a little strange, but teaching as a study tool is remarkably helpful and can unlock that hitch in understanding for you.

Learning-by-teaching is a psychological effect that has been proven in multiple studies, including one in 2018 that sought to discover why learning by teaching is so effective. When we take the time to slow down, gather our thoughts, and try to articulate them to someone else, our brain goes into an overdrive of processing. Students who teach material they just learned retain knowledge better than students who only re-study the material. 

Active learning gets students involved in the learning process, rather than lecture and rote memorization alone. Learning-by-teaching is a perfect example of this. Instead of passive review, a student-turned-teacher has to engage in analysis, synthesis, and on the spot problem solving.

Rubber Duck Theory. For a long time now, coders have used a practice they call “the rubber duck theory.” When confronted with a particularly troublesome code, they will explain their thought process step by step to a rubber duck. Articulating each step helps them understand their own assumptions and where they’ve made mistakes, ultimately leading to that “Aha!” moment.

Engagement. The rubber duck theory has one glaring pitfall. The duck can’t tell you when you are and aren’t making sense. Teaching family or friends addresses this pitfall. Teaching another person causes you to explain each step logically and thoroughly, to check in and gauge understanding before you can move on to the next step. Your “student” may not understand what you’re saying, leading you to find a new explanation that is clearer to you than ever before. They may have the bright idea to ask a question that you had never considered which then fills in a gap in your understanding.  This is one of my personal favorite things about one-on-one tutoring. I find myself learning from my students as they learn from me.

Whether preparing for the ACT or SAT, studying for AP exams or academic courses, or just trying to learn new skills, learning-by-teaching can help. So go on and try it! It might be fun, and you’ll get to enjoy the success of knowing both you and your new student have learned something today.

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