Teaching Something You Don’t Like: A Model That Works

I am not a history buff and do not enjoy teaching or learning about history in general. So, as an instructor who is required to teach the history of my field, I have had a difficult time finding an interesting way of relaying the information. Needing a new approach, I decided to see if I could adapt the Family Involvement Model. This research-based model found that when family members are involved in the courses of Latino college students, their persistence and success in higher education improves. The model is based on the idea of including family to promote students’ education and as such supports the old premise that you really don’t understand something unless you can convey that knowledge to another person.

Students enrolled in my class taught a family member (loosely defined as someone close to the student) about the history of our profession, occupational therapy. At the beginning of the course, I explained that we’d be using this model to learn the history. I assigned readings about our history and then presented other historical material in class. After reading and listening to this historical content, students were asked to complete a self-reflective learning audit at the end of class. They were given five minutes to write down every historical fact they could remember.

Then students went home and gave a history lesson to their family members. They administered pre- and post-tests to document changes in family members’ knowledge, and they chose how to present the content. At the next class session, I tested the students’ knowledge of this historical material. I also asked them to answer several quantitative and qualitative questions about their family members’ involvement. At the end of the course, student volunteers participated in a focus group during which I once again tested their knowledge and asked them to respond to the same quantitative and qualitative questions. I wanted to see if they had retained the knowledge and whether they now responded to those questions differently.

Success of this new approach was apparent in several ways. Students averaged a grade of “A” on test scores of their knowledge of the history. Post-test scores indicated that the students had successfully taught their family members. When I asked them, “What do you know about the historical paradigms of our profession?” on average, the number of items that they could state about each paradigm increased slightly after teaching their family members. On the qualitative questions, students’ answers were generally very positive. They felt they taught their family members successfully and that the teaching experience helped them learn the history. As one student noted, “I had to learn it well enough to teach it.” They also felt that this exercise helped them develop a skill they will regularly use in their clinical practice. They realized their strengths (“patience,” “communication,” and “creativity”) and weaknesses (“need to improve teaching skills”) as illustrated by comments like these: “It made me realize how important it is to listen to your patient/student” and “You must adapt to the person you are teaching.”

As a teacher I learned two important lessons as well. First off, if some part of the course content isn’t a joy for you to teach, you may be better off devising some sort of self-directed activity that lets students learn the content on their own. Obviously, the teacher still needs to provide resources and guide students’ acquisition of the material. I also found that this model, where students teach the content to someone else, helps them learn the material at the same time it develops their teaching skills. In my field, students need to know this content and they must be able to teach their clients.

Veronica T. Rowe is a clinical instructor of occupational therapy at the University of Central Arkansas.

Reprinted from “Teaching Something You Don’t Like: A Model That Works” The Teaching Professor, 25.6 (2011): 2.