Students enlisted to tutor others, these researchers have found, work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. In what scientists have dubbed "the protégé effect," student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake.
And just why are these student teachers so dedicated?
Above all, it's the emotions elicited by teaching that make it such a powerful vehicle for learning. Student tutors feel chagrin when their virtual pupils fail; when the characters succeed, they feel what one expert calls by the Yiddish term nachas. Don't know that word? I had to learn it myself: "Pride and satisfaction that is derived from someone else’s accomplishment."
I see this dynamic in effect every year in my work with the Leadership Fellows at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The Fellows, a select group of 66 second-year students, are each assigned to 6-person "squads" of incoming first-year students, and together they work through a series of experiential exercises in our Leadership Labs. The Fellows are acting as coaches and guides, not, strictly speaking, as teachers, but they're no less invested in their students' learning. They absolutely feel chagrin when their squad struggles with an exercise, and they're bursting with nachas when their squad succeeds.
And I'm in a similar relationship with the 11 Fellows who are assigned to me in my role as a Leadership Coach. I help them learn to employ coaching skills and techniques, not to train them for a career in coaching but rather to prepare them to be better leaders and managers in any number of fields they might enter after business school. When they struggle with the extremely challenging task of coaching a diverse, newly formed group of students, I empathize deeply--and when they succeed, I couldn't be happier or more proud. It's an extremely emotional experience, and the research cited by Paul in her post only confirms my sense that these emotions are powerful intrinsic motivators, both for myself and for our Fellows--and reinforces Paul's point that a key to promoting learning is ensuring that the learners are also teachers.
We're about to say goodbye to the 2011-12 Fellows, and I'll truly miss them--at the same time, I'm eager to get started with the 2012-13 Fellows in a few months. The cycle continues.
Photo by Nathan Russell. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.