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Last week, I just sat in our school library and watched. I noticed that there was more than one effective way to interact with the children in your class. Some approaches are better than others at different times and promote different skills in the children. Teacher to Pupil, Pupil to Teacher and Pupil to Pupil are all great methods, but what are they and how can they be used effectively?
The next teacher and her class came in and I was relieved to see that, this time, there was no laptop in sight and she moved around the library interacting with the children – asking questions and prompting further engagement with the books. However, one or two children were reluctant to respond as they were far too engrossed in their own exploring. They were almost frustrated by the teachers constant attempt to interact. What I considered to be positive interactions with pupils was actually generating a negative response in some children who simply wanted to be left alone.
This led me to reflect back on the first teacher - the ‘laptop teacher’. Although there had been little ‘Teacher to Pupil’ interaction, there had been ‘Pupil to Teacher’ conversations. Children had approached the teacher to ask questions and he had responded.
This led me to ask the questions: Are there times in the day when actually it is better to leave the kids alone? Is there time when Pupil to Teacher engagement is more effective than Teacher to Pupil? The answer, I concluded, was yes. But when, why and how?
Teacher to Pupil
This is probably the 'traditional approach' to interacting with your class. This is when the teacher seeks to interact and speak to individuals of groups of children. This method, if done well, ensures all children get a chance to speak and engage with the teacher. This is great for assessment and gathering an understanding of how well each child has learnt something. A no-hands-up policy can ensure that no one child dominates the conversation and strategies like ‘pose-pounce-bounce’ can generate good discussions.
However, Teacher to Pupil interactions do not generate independence in the best way. Of course, great questioning can develop independent thinking but there is a danger that pupils do not develop ‘self-help strategies’. Some children, also, just like the time to think and do. if a teacher is constantly pestering them, it can be off-putting. Like the child who just wants to read in the library, why should they constantly have to answer questions to develop their inference skills?
Pupil to Teacher
This where the next approach can be far more effective. By stepping back and waiting for the pupil to approach the teacher an independence can be generated. The children may gain a resilience by being forced to think primarily for themselves. Strategies like ‘three before me’ give the children a chance to take a risk, solve the problem on their own before using the teacher as a resource. Another successful approach I have seen is the ‘Collaboration Table’. The teacher sits and waits for children who wish to ‘collaborate’ or simply need support. Children get to decide if they need to be part of a guided group or not.
Of course, Pupil to Teacher interactions may overlook the children who are reluctant to ask for help. Independence and knowing when to turn to others is a skill in itself and needs teaching. Additionally, this approach does not give the teacher a whole-class view and so it can be difficult to assess the children using this method. Perhaps you need some assessment helps…
Pupil to Pupil
I suppose this may be described as the ultimate classroom interaction. Pupil to Pupil engagement is probably the most powerful form of interaction. While one pupil is asking for support, the other is encouraged to explain, guide and verbalise their own understanding. A win win situation! Expert learners is one great example of allowing students who know to support students who will know soon. Of course, these interactions need to be taught. Resources, such as question prompts, can guide students in supporting others. Steps to success can be used as a reference for children to identify the step they are having difficulty with.
There is no wrong or right approach and, in fact, a good teacher will probably utilise all three approaches at different points, even within the same lesson. As a teacher, you will know the pupils who prefer to be left to tackle problems for themselves and you will know the students who require that more focused ‘teacher to pupil’ engagement. Equally, some lessons suit peer to peer discussions more than others. By experimenting, you will discover when each can be most and least effective. And if you don’t, you can always ask you children what they prefer...