The Students Become The Teacher

The Role Reversal

By: Hayley Johnson

Think back to your experiences with high school or maybe college classes and relate your experience with one of the following teaching scenarios:

Scenario 1: The teacher is the “expert” of the class. The teacher stands in front of the students and pours their knowledge into the minds of the passive students. The students sit and listen and are expected to receive all of the information being told to them for the next test.

Scenario 2: The teacher makes a very brief introduction of a concept in class and allows students to describe knowledge they already have that may relate, as well as make some connections to any prior experiences with the concept. The students are divided into smaller collaborative groups and work together to learn, question, solve, explore, or research the concept or problem and then present their findings or solutions to the class.

Unfortunately, the first scenario is one that I am personally all too familiar with, as I assume most of my readers are as well. The latter scenario is actually rooted with constructivist views of learning. There is a shift in the teacher-student role that allows the students to take charge of their personal, ever-changing knowledge and view of the world with the help of their prior knowledge, peers, and teacher when necessary.

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” -Socrates

Constructivism: A theory that the way people learn is through constructing their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experience and reflection.

Constructivism in the classroom has to do with the initial “role reversal” phrase that the blog mentions. This simply means that the teacher understands that the students are not passive, unidirectional receivers of information, but rather an active member of the learning process in the classroom. This allows the teacher to step back from the “expert” perception and release the students to foster more of their own learning and understanding.


      ^The teacher, being a minor character, acts more as a support or a base for the students to lean on or utilize to help achieve higher levels of knowledge, but the students are the only main characters in the “story” of their learning. 

Access your Students Knowlege:

In the article, The Relation between Prior Knowledge and Students’ Collaborative Discovery Learning Processes from the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, the connections between  collaboration and discovery are explored through actual student interactions.

The effect of prior knowledge on the students’ new understanding of concepts in the physics world and the results of the observation showed a positive correlation between a high prior knowledge of term definitions and the amount of communication when interpreting results in the classroom. This shows how students may use their prior knowledge and understanding to explain and reflect on their current experiences and use them to build on their knowledge. This shows how the constructivist theory can play a role in your students learning in the classroom when you take the time to access their prior knowledge.

Gijlers, Hannie, and Ton De Jong. “The Relation between Prior Knowledge and Students’ Collaborative Discovery Learning Processes.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, vol. 42, no. 3, 20 July 2005, pp. 264–282., doi:10.1002/tea.20056.

Key Terms:

Construct, collaborate, share, inquiry, role, ever-changing, question, grow, prior knowledge, build

* Reminder- Students with a higher level of knowledge should be encouraged to teach the students around them in order to help all students grow and learn during the exploration of the world around them.

A second grade science lesson plan for the students to explore the concept of evaporation is dissected to integrate key components of a constructivist-style lesson that includes:

  • Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate

These students are seen teaching and presenting their subject knowledge to the class and taking on the role of the teacher.



  1. Hayley,
    I love the organization and overall design of your blog! The images are great and flow really well with the topic that you are presenting! I love that you mentioned having students become the teachers to their fellow students, that truly incorporates the entire theme of your blog and resonates personally with me. We must foster this idea, because repressing it will hurt the students in the long run.

    • Thank you Dillon for the feedback! I always seem to find images that fit in really well with our blogs and that seem to connect the ideas well. I really stressed the idea of students taking on an alternative role in the classroom besides just the “empty bucket” for teachers to pour knowledge into because that is what resonates with me the most about constructivism and I feel that I will take a lot of these ideas with me into my future classroom. The students will definitely benefit from this alternative classroom strategy.

  2. Hayley-
    I really like how you’ve organized your blog! It’s easy to read, and the graphics you picked really fit with the content of your blog.
    You mentioned that many of us, including yourself, are used to classrooms that fall under that first scenario. Why do you think that is? Is it “easier?” Can constructivism be as “easy?”

    • Thanks for the feedback, Meghan! An interesting question; and my answer is yes. I think teachers may see this approach from “scenario 1” as an easier method to pass along information. It requires no personal interactions with the students and the teacher can get through a lesson with minimal effort and check a box that it was “taught”. In reality, the kids deserve so much more. A little more time and effort investment from the teacher will help the teacher gain insight to the level of ability among her students and how she can utilize strengths and weaknesses in the class to allow students to collaborate and grow their knowledge together through a more meaningful exploration of the content. This can be “easy” when the teacher realizes that this extra involvement is for the benefit of the students and the work should no longer seem “hard” but rather an amazing and rewarding way to help the students form their own understanding of concepts. Great question!

  3. Hayley,
    I really liked all of the graphics you included with this post! They all related to constructivism in such a great way! I also really liked how you presented the reader with two scenarios to take them back to their schooling experiences. It really helped emphasize the importance of letting the students make their own connections.
    I really liked the lesson plan you found, but I would love to know what kind of lesson you would use in your own classroom.

    • Thanks, Shay! I seemed to have received a lot of good thoughts on my graphics so I’m glad they fit into the blog so well and connected my content well enough for the readers. When we discussed this constructivist theory in class, I realized that I had never really experienced it in my personal educational journey, so it was eye opening to learn more about the benefits of this concept. It is hard to understand why this instructional approach is not more common in our education system. I hope that I can take these ideas and incorporate them into my future classroom and create a more meaningful experience for my students so that they will have closer connections to “scenario 2”. I found many examples of lesson I could potentially use in my future classroom but the one in my blog really dove into the 5 E’s and more so I thought it would be great to include that. I will start brainstorming some original ideas for a lesson plan I could use in my own classroom!

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