How do you teach a child who knows more than you?

I wrote this piece to contribute to the consultation at on ‘teacher skills and role‘. This is a public consultation on the role of technology in education.

When I was at primary school all my teachers had to worry about was that I was better at operating the video recorder than they were. For everything else it seemed they were the experts, the ones in control, the ones in the comfortable place of knowing more than me.

Last year Tom, an 8 year old in my class, came to school with a memory stick. On it was an incredible 3D model of a castle created using Google Sketchup, the free software many architects use to try out their ideas. Beautifully symmetrical, every tower was topped with a flag, carefully created line by line. There was nothing I could teach him about 3D design; he was the expert.

We are now in a place where many children are more skilled than their teachers in the use of technology. At home they brain train on their Nintendos, surf the internet on their parent’s smartphones and share their videos with the world on YouTube. At school too many teachers shy away from technology, how can they teach children to do something they aren’t confident with themselves?

I was unable to teach my class anything like Tom’s skill in 3D design and as a teacher that is a scary place to be. However, they didn’t need to miss out on those skills; with a bit of support Tom could teach others. I wasn’t the expert, but I am a good learner and I could support the class with their skills in learning how to create castles like Tom’s.

Technology makes this really obvious, but haven’t many children always been more expert than their teachers? Aisha was a natural at realistic drawing, which has never been a strength of mine. What is a strength of mine, and most teachers, is breaking down skills into ways they can be communicated to others. Together we worked out how to help the class to learn some of her skill with a pencil.

Teachers do need to make time to get some understanding of technology, a whole new culture is developing and they need to know the language. However, there is so much out there and it is moving so quickly that they can never be experts in everything. What they can do is be confident in their skills as learners. After all their job isn’t to know everything, it is to unlock the learning.


(Names have been changed.)





6 responses to “How do you teach a child who knows more than you?”

  1. Brian Lockwood Avatar
    Brian Lockwood

    Tom can clearly draw pretty well with sketchup. The thing to teach him is how real castles where designed and what strategy you would use to attack his castle.
    The problem about not being able to be an expert in everything is not new and the idea that technology is moving faster than it used to is not new either.

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks for the ideas Brian. This was written as something to prompt discussion amongst a general audience of not just teachers. I’m not sure I claimed the ideas were new, in fact I think I made the point that these issues were around before new technologies came into play.

  2. Fiona Collard Avatar

    This came with the territory for me when I started teaching to computing undergraduates. There are definitely plenty of students out there who know more about technology than me and always will be. However, I drifted into teaching because I love learning so this is just another thing that makes teaching enjoyable for me.

    The key with teaching in higher education is to recognise and value what you do bring to the room. You don’t have to be better at everything and it’s highly unlikely that you will be. Being secure in how you can help students frees you up to really listen and learn from the students. Respecting students’ existing skills and knowledge frees them up to learn from you too.

    I guess it might be different when teaching younger students though?

  3. Janet Abercrombie Avatar

    My students have been making iMovies for three years. I made my first iMovie 6 months ago. You are correct – students can teach other students. What I can do (and they usually can’t) is specifically state the criteria for a quality project that demonstrates understanding.

    So they are more tech savvy…or they know far more about Harry Potter than I will ever know. I go back to my original task: teach objectives, taking each child as far as he/she can go in every one. If a student has mastered an objective (or knows one better than me), move on to another.

    …And, when kids are better than me at things, they are usually proud and want to show me how they do it – which increases student communication skills.

    How can that NOT be exciting?
    Janet |

  4. odziez robocza Avatar

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  5. […] also reflected on the issues around teaching tech savvy children who know more than their teacher, the problems of trying to use ‘child friendly language’, and an approach towards […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *