Why Teaching Makes You Smarter

The protege effect is a powerful force. So if you want to learn better and faster--try to teach the subject.

We tend to think of thinking as something super solitary--but as Annie Murphy Paul observes in the Brilliant Report, cognition is a two-way street.

How so?

"Students enlisted to tutor others," Paul reports, "work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively."

The result is a phenomenon called the protege effect: students who teach their study material to others perform better on tests than kids learning for the sake of learning.

Realizing that, innovative educators are setting up situation where students can teach young students, the most awesome of which may be happening at the University of Pennsylvania--a "cascading mentoring program" in which college undergrads teach computer science to high schoolers who teach CS to middle schoolers.

Other researchers--who have built a virtual pupil for kids to teach--found that since students are more motivated to learn their material, they study it more consciously--and as they try to parse the information, they discover gaps in their own understanding--a humbling, energizing epiphany familiar to anyone who's tried to teach English to a non-native speaker.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the factor the most accelerates the learning in a teacher is a kind of emotional intelligence. As Paul explains, there's an ecstatic empathy that arises:

Student tutors feel chagrin when their virtual pupils fail; when the characters succeed, they feel what one expert calls by the Yiddish term nachas. Don’t know that word? I had to learn it myself: “Pride and satisfaction that is derived from someone else’s accomplishment.”

So when you find someone who will take a risk on you, you're helping them, too. The Spirit Guide thing goes both ways.

[Image: Flickr user Nick Smarto]

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1 Comments

  • deserteacher

    Thank you so much for clarifying this truth. I totally agree, as a teacher, and a classroom manager of students. The role of tutor/teacher not only enhances the understanding by  requiring deeper expertise of the subject, but ignites a social and emotional connection bolstering the learning/teaching experience.