Helping Pupils Become Their Own Teachers

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March 6, 2012 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin

I have recently been reading John Hattie’s fantastic book, ‘Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning’. I am only half-way through at the moment but I know it will be one of those books that I dip in to constantly. Reading the book, one of the key messages that really stood out for me was the idea that, ‘…the greatest effects on learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers’.

With those words in mind, I have been working with a Year 8 Maths class that I teach and  trialled some of the ideas developed by the PLC group I have been working with this year (see previous post about Developing Independent Learners).

The first strategy I introduced to pupils was the idea of ‘C3B4ME’. Before pupils stick their hands up during a lesson and exclaim, ‘Sir, I’m stuck!’, they are being encouraged to see three of their classmates for help. The idea of this is to encourage pupils to become more resilient and resourceful.

The second strategy I have trialled has been to have ‘Masterminds’ for every lesson. The Mastermind is one pupil that takes on the role of a teaching assistant during the lesson. We started out by having one Mastermind per lesson. This pupil would complete the same work as everyone else but they would complete their work on a large whiteboard at one side of the classroom. During the lesson pupils were free to go to the Mastermind and have a look at their work. They would discuss with the Mastermind how they achieved the answer that they had written on the board, and could look at the Mastermind’s working out.

Finally, I have begun using the Wallwisher site with my classes. I am hoping to be able to use this site as an opportunity for pupils to ask the questions they don’t feel like they
I trialled both of these strategies for two lessons. At the end of the second lesson I asked pupil to share their views on how these ideas had impacted upon their learning.

The table below summarises their views:



The Mastermind because A was very helpful

More time

Having a Mastermind, C3B4ME, 5R’s Wallwisher

The Mastermind didn’t really explain the answer deep enough for me to get the hang of it.

We had a lot of help.

Two Masterminds would be better.

I learnt new things.

The Mastermind could walk around.

The Mastermind helped a lot.

There was more different questions e.g. on a different topic to help us.

I liked C3B4ME because 3 different people helped us understand the work.

Be a bit quicker.

It was good when we had A doing the work on the board so we can go and ask him how he did the working out.

It was too easy.

We got the work done

Make a game at the end of the lesson.

Mastermind was good

We could have had two Masterminds.

C3B4ME really worked well.

We worked in groups or on the computers.

I found it helpful when I asked 3 people before Sir because KJ helped me.

C3B4ME was okay but some people don’t give the right answer or did not help.

I understood the lesson and I was working well. It was very easy and calm.

To work more independently.

The Mastermind and C3B4ME.

It was explained more.

I thought C3B4ME was helpful most of the lesson.

Easier to get the answer than show the working out.

Mastermind, C3B4ME, Wallwisher.

We could have two Masterminds.

Having the Mastermind because it is helpful and easier to ask them for help and see how they did it.

If I had finished the work.

I found it helpful to go and talk to the Mastermind.

If at the end of the lesson we played a game to see if we remember what we learnt.

I found it very easy because I saw my friends and we all worked together and when we got something wrong we helped each other.

Do my working out at the same time not after.

I learnt how to convert imperial to metric and the reverse.

It wasn’t clear about the units, times and divide.

People can ask questions and can ask the person near to them and stay calm.

To work independently.

I found it helpful to learn from other people, study groups.

If I had finished all my work.

The lesson was good because it was really easy and I had loads of people ask me questions and I had my own group.

Could have explained conversions better.

The Mastermind. Helping people. I learnt new things.

More examples.

I learnt about metric conversions.

The Mastermind, Wallwisher, and C3B4ME.

WWW – Mastermind

EBI – Mastermind

You can help other people and they can spot the Mastermind’s mistakes.

You don’t get as much work done as usual and you have to keep on stopping.

As you can see from the summary above, some interesting points were raised by pupils after this first trial. One positive point emphasised by pupils was that they felt that they were being given more help during these lessons. Some pupils also enjoyed helping others during the lesson and thrived in the role of helper. It seemed that although there was one pupil working as the official Mastermind of the lesson, unofficial Mastermind’s sprang up in different groups around the class.

Another encouraging point raised by some pupils was that the lesson was ‘calm’. The development of a calm learning environment was a consequence that I had not anticipated when starting this work.

There could be many reasons why pupils felt calmer in these lessons. Receiving help and talking with others during the lesson could help pupils realise that everyone in the class has difficulties from time to time, and that it is rare for people to understand everything that they come across the first time they see it. The fact that pupils also don’t have to wait for the teacher to give them help could also reduce the amount of time they may spend sitting in ‘isolation’ and struggling with the work. Whatever the reason for our new-found ‘zen-ness’ (!) it can surely only be a good thing. It would be interesting to investigate this impact of the work further.

Some negative points that I will have to investigate include…

The Mastermind noted that they didn’t get as much work done as they usually would. This does not necessarily mean that the Mastermind is not learning, however I will have to pay careful attention to tracking the short-term progress of pupils who carry out the role of Mastermind.

After receiving the feedback described above, I have implemented a few changes to the strategies I have been using to develop the independent learning skills of pupils:

  • I have decided to employ two Masterminds per lesson instead of one. This follows on from suggestions made by pupils in their initial feedback.
  • Masterminds are now better prepared for their role by having an opportunity to use homework time to complete the work they will be helping the rest of the class with.
  • Masterminds no longer complete their work on a white-board so the rest of the class can see. Instead, the Mastermind pupils have the completed work in their books which they can take with them as they circulate the room helping individuals or groups of classmates.

I have decided to stick with the principle of these strategies that everyone will have an opportunity to be Mastermind. I also intend to continue my use of Wallwisher and see how this could be further developed.

As Hattie argues in ‘Visible Learning…’, it is incredibly important that we, as teachers, constantly evaluate the impact of our interventions…so expect an update on this work in the future!

John Hattie’s book, ‘Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximising Impact on Learners’ (2011) can be found here amongst other suppliers.


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