A couple weeks ago I tried an experiment in my tutoring session with the 6-year-old I’ve been tutoring in math over the summer, something I’d never thought of trying before, that worked even better than I had expected.
Teaching can also be a good way of learning. I had a friend who became a high school Latin teacher, who used to say that there were some things that she didn’t completely understand until she had to teach it, and only then did it become clear. I’ve also heard that Montessori schools like to have older students teach younger students. Sometimes this can also be done in homeschooling situations. So I thought this might be something useful to try in tutoring, having him try to teach the things he was learning; I don’t know why I never even thought of doing that before. I was hoping that pretending to teach might help solidify some of the concepts I’d been teaching him, and would also give me a chance to see exactly how well he was understanding the material.
I do hour-long tutoring sessions, with a break in the middle (since an hour is a terribly long time for a 6-year-old). I had told him that we were going to do something different that day, something that he would like. After the break, I told him what it was: for the rest of the lesson, we were going to pretend that he’s the teacher and I’m the kid. He got very excited when he heard we were going to do that! Right before we started, he went out to another room to get something, and I could hear him yelling, “I get to be the teacher!”
At first, he just thought it was funny and was acting silly. I let him do that and laughed along with him, because I wanted him to think it was just playtime and not realize that I had a serious reason for doing it.
But as he went along, he began to stop trying to be funny. Instead, he began to take it more and more seriously. That was exactly what I wanted. By the end of the lesson, he was trying very hard to be just like a real teacher.
It accomplished everything I had hoped it would (and one thing I hadn’t expected).
I believe it did help him to better understand some of the things I had been teaching him. I would pretend not to know an answer, and he would use some of my techniques to pretend to be helping me to figure out the answer. I think it has helped him, because he seems to be doing a little better since then.
It was also interesting to hear him try to explain some of the things I was teaching him. It wasn’t always easy to understand his childish explanations of things, but I could tell that he did understand things I had been teaching him.
The one thing I hadn’t expected (but which turned out to be the best part) was that it gave me the wonderful experience of finding out just how he sees me. I gradually began to realize that he was seriously trying to imitate me. In pretending to be a teacher, he was really starting to act like me, treating me the way he feels he’s been being treated by me. It was like looking at myself in a mirror but through his eyes. I liked what I saw.