Multilingualism and education

Learning by Teaching: The Goal is Independence

Pupil at the Peter Vischer School during classes. Photo/Copyright: Goethe-Institut

In this method of teaching – “Lernen durch Lehren” (LdL, Learning by Teaching) – the school students teach each other, thereby gaining additional skills – and teachers are better able to respond to the individual problems of the children.

Tuition of school students by school students

The French lesson has just begun. Today the subject is reflexive verbs. The pupils are looking towards the front of the class: there are two girls standing at the board, both eleven years old. While one of them is telling her classmates what they can expect, the other is handing out a text with blanks to fill in that they designed themselves. The teacher, Ursula Schönberg-Hertel had discussed the text with both of them and corrected it. Now she's sitting at the side watching the lesson. She only intervenes if there are problems with pronunciation or syntax.

The teacher Ursula Schönberg-Hertel is pleased that LdL promotes individualism and initiative in her pupils. Photo/Copyright: Goethe-Institut At first it sounds like the pupils are giving a prepared talk, but “Learning by Teaching” (LdL) has little to do with such talks. Often presenting talks is used to occasionally loosen up tuition centred on the teacher; in LdL on the other hand, the pupils constantly learn from one another – and explain the content of the lesson to each other. The principle is simple: the teacher divides the material into small portions and lets the pupils prepare and carry out its presentation during the class periods. In doing so the children have as much freedom as possible in preparing what is to be learned.

Independence and creativity

Whereas pupils primarily learn passively during classes run in a conventional way, during LdL they actively come to grips with the subject matter all the time – because they do not only have it presented, but actually present it themselves. LdL has been used successfully at the Peter Vischer School for a long time now. Photo: Bene, Copyright: GNU Free Documentation License

“The children have the feeling that they can get on themselves in their day-to-day life. They learn strategies to master goals themselves. This promotes individualism and initiative,” their teacher Ursula Schönberg-Hertel says.

That doesn’t mean that the teachers can simply sit back. Rather, they can concentrate better on observing the pupils – and respond to their needs at a later point of time. And also, if they notice that something is unclear or that a pupil has explained something wrongly on the board, then they intervene immediately.

Scientifically established since the 1980s

Ms Schönberg-Hertel has been using the LdL method in her classes since 1982. Today she uses this principle at the Peter Vischer School in Nuremberg. She trained with the educationalist Jean-Pol Martin who established the LdL in educational science.

The educationalist Jean-Pol Martin established LdL in the 1980s on a scientific basis. Photo/Copyright: Martin While it’s true that the concept of LdL has been known since ancient times, earlier on the method was applied for economic reasons rather than educational ones: sometimes there were too many pupils and not enough teachers – out of necessity pupils were taught the necessary skills.

It is Martin’s life-time achievement to have worked out and scientifically underpinned the idea since the beginning of the 1980s. “Also against resistance, right up to today,” the educationalist, who is now retired, said. He has now given the scientific responsibility for LdL over to Adj. lecturer Joachim Grzega, who is continuing to spread and refine the method at the University of Eichstätt.

It has stood the test against traditional methods of teaching

Joachim Grzega has developed LdL further at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Photo/Copyright: Grzega For Grzega, LdL is a modern method of teaching that comprises more than everyday school. “It is a philosophy which orientates itself on what people need today in the globalised society,” Grzega says. Interactivity is the most important component. Individual pupils think something out that other pupils have to react to. “The teacher just has to make sure that it doesn’t turn into a dialogue between good pupils but into a type of polylogue in which all are involved,” according to Grzega.

LdL doesn’t need to hide itself away in the face of other methods of learning. Grzega compared the performance of two groups learning business English at an academic secondary school. With both, the focus of learning was on interactivity. The only difference was that one group was taught in a teacher-centred manner and the other – according to LdL – pupil-centred. “Both groups did equally well,” the language educationalist said.

Also an advantage from a social-psychological perspective

What can be measured through school exams is only a small component of LdL. What Ms Schönberg-Hertel as a teacher sees again and again in everyday life are the social-psychological components which are also a significant part of the philosophy of Jean-Pol Martin.

Pupils at the Peter Vischer School during classes. Photo/Copyright: Goethe-Institut

Shortly after the reunification of Germany, a child came from Bautzen in East Germany into the sixth class at Nuremberg. The children had been learning French there for one year, the pupil from Bautzen on the other hand had not had any French lessons. “The pupils were very helpful: without being asked to, the children got together and ‘independently’ taught their new classmate French,” Ms Schönberg-Hertel remembers. "Very soon, after only a few months, the pupil was actually in a position to take part in classes without problems.”

Only a sporadic spread

Nowadays LdL is also used at the University of Eichstätt to teach students. And LdL can also be found in the curricula of trainee teachers. However the method is still relatively thinly spread in practice. In Germany, the method of teaching is used in several schools but usually only by individual teachers.

But LdL gradually seems to be spreading abroad: for example, Jean-Pol Martin has already been to Japan to present his method. It was well received there – there is now LdL teaching at some schools there.
Christian Heinrich
is a freelance author from Hamburg.

Translation: Moira Davidson-Seeger
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion

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November 2007

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