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Student teachers at WJMS
Teacher takes pupils to task
022813 STUDENT LED INSTRUCTION 02
William James Middle School eighth-grader Neha Aggarwal, 13, left, helps classmate Carl Cartee, 13, learn about the wave nature of light. According to teacher Rob Lindsey, students get more one-on-one time learning time from their classmates, and that learning how to teach their subjects helps students retain the information. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

A novel concept is making waves and improving grades at William James Middle School.
In his sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade science classes, teacher Rob Lindsey believes the only thing better than one instructor working closely with students is about 22 doing so.
Lindsey is pioneering a teaching method that is relatively new to Bulloch County, known as “student-led instruction,” which asks every student to not only learn the material they’ll soon be tested on, but teach it to classmates.
The new technique asks and expects more from kids, who no longer have the luxury of sitting back while a teacher lectures. Instead, they assemble in groups to familiarize themselves with the material so they can present it to friends.
The driving factor in implementing the new method: “It works,” Lindsey said.
“(Student-led) instruction exercises several of the 21st-century skills we try to work on: teamwork, work ethic, self-discipline, critical thinking and more,” he said. “Having to teach the material to other students, which requires them to break things down to basic steps, has improved the kids’ knowledge. They know the material backwards and forwards.”
A typical day for Lindsey’s students entails gathering with an assigned group to research, in-depth, one of several science substandards. Each substandard recognizes a different area of science — one deals with matter, chemical changes and elements on the periodic table, for example; another teaches gravity, electricity and magnetism.
Each group is assigned a particular substandard over the course of one unit (about four weeks). Single groups will “dig into” their assigned standard, attempting to answer several questions (provided by a guide Lindsey created); the students will use the information they learn to “create lesson plans, make real-world connections, conduct group demonstrations and form test questions — that will be used for a test covering all material,” Lindsey said.
They will also offer overviews of what they learned in a particular day to their classmates during a “show and tell” period in class.
After weeks of learning, every group will spend two days teaching their standard to the rest of the class.
“If we want to create a well-rounded student that is going to be able to go out and perform, and make the community better, we have to do more than just teach them something to be regurgitated back to us,” said Lindsey, about why he chose the unconventional way of teaching. “The kids are the ones who have taken this to the next level. They have blown my minds. They get so excited about coming in here to learn.”
Lindsey said the greatest benefit to student-led instruction is the ability to devote close attention to, and reach every student regardless of learning style or ability. The method has even allowed for increased achievement from historically low-performing students, because they can be paired with the class’s best learners.
“The students are able to reach one another, sometimes, much better than I can,” he said. “The data (recorded over two years) is evidence that this works.”
Indeed, there is evidence to support Lindsey’s claim.
The teacher tracks every student’s performance with benchmark tests throughout the year.
From month to month, numbers for every student steadily rise.
“I believe this is much better than what we were doing. We understand a student’s language and can teach in a way that each other understands,” eighth-grader Connor McBride said. “We can think of and use examples that maybe never would have been thought of. We can connect way more than if we were reading from a book.”
A second benefit, according to the teacher, is having students become familiar every four weeks, to some degree, with each of the science substandards — the traditional method would have Lindsey teach one at a time.
“At most schools, you learn one standard and move to the next. By the time to get to the (Criterion-Referenced Competency Test), you will not have made it to all of the standards,” McBride said. “In this class, we’ve already talked about each standard several times.”
Said Lindsey: “We are teaching all of the standards all year long. During the school year, students are able to go deeper than I would be able to teach it. The whole idea is to condition students for the CRCT. When they get there, they’ll think: ‘Okay. This is easier than what we’ve been doing.”
The technique has become very popular among teachers — two others have begun using it — and Lindsey’s students.
“I feel like I’m getting life lessons from this class sometimes – from dealing with groups and teaching,” Jameson Orvis said. “It is more than just learning the material.”
Eighth-grader Neha Aggarwal said: “I love the creative aspect of this way of teaching.”
Lindsey’s principal is on board too — for which the teacher said he is “extremely grateful.”
“The bottom line regarding student-led instruction is: it is effective instruction,” William James Middle School Principal Mike Yawn said. “Everything we’ve learned in education about effective practices is evident in (Lindsey’s) classroom. I think that it allows for creativity and ingenuity in the classroom that otherwise might not be present. It is the scientific method in practice. Students get to ask their own questions and then research to find answers.
“It allows every kid to be authentically engaged,” he added. “I love it.”

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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