The Best Way to Learn Is to Teach

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I spent this morning writing something that might seem odd to people outside of my own religion. Basically, I was preparing a “sermon” for Sunday, even though I am not any kind of pastor. In the LDS church, we have a “lay ministry,” meaning that everyone volunteers their time to serve the church rather than being paid. Instead of a professional pastor giving a weekly address, the bishop of the congregation (who usually serves only about three or four years until a new person is asked to be bishop) doesn’t speak every Sunday or even all that often, delegating to the church members instead. This week I was asked to be one of the speakers and deliver a ten-minute talk on the atonement.

Every time I’m asked to speak, I marvel at how much it feels like it’s for me more than those I’ll speak to. Ten minutes isn’t much time compared to the hours I’ve spent reading and studying the topic and carefully choosing the best of it to present. I gain so much from the opportunity to teach others.

It reminds me of the retention pyramid I learned as an education major in college. On average, we remember only 5% of what we hear, 10% of what we read, 20% of audio/visual material, 30% of a demonstration, 50% of a discussion, 75% of what we do ourselves, and 90% of what we teach.

I know from experience how true the pyramid is. There are so many things — like punctuation usage, for example — that I didn’t fully grasp until I both used it myself and taught it.

Sometimes the pyramid haunts me as a teacher. I can find lots of ways to create activities so that students are participating and thereby hopefully retaining 75% of the material. But I’ve had a harder time thinking up opportunities to let them teach.

Maybe that’s why being asked to teach something at church always feels like a huge blessing to me — a chance to really integrate some concept into my life that wouldn’t stick with me as well if I were on the other side of the podium.

And today it’s renewed my determination to find more ways to give that opportunity to others. I can let my older children teach the younger ones to do things. I can give my students more time for peer reviews and other activities that allow them to teach each other.

If we are all teachers, everyone gains more.

What do you think? What concepts have you been able to teach someone else and understand better yourself? What ideas do you have for letting students teach each other in a writing class?

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