For more than 30 years, Youth Teaching Youth has been a prime example of a cross-age teaching program. In cross-age teaching, teens are not just assisting an adult teacher or informally sharing experiences,but facilitating an entire learning experience by teaching curriculum and fully managing a group of younger peers. Cross-age teaching can also enhance social and emotional learning for both teacher and learner.
Youth workers often ask those of us on the 4-H YTY team how they might start a cross-age teaching program of their own. Chances are, your program is already infusing some components, but there are 10 essential elements you need to define in order to do this well.
1. Dedicated Adults Who Support Teens
Strong and consistent support from a dedicated adult staff member or volunteer ensures that teens are fully engaged while teaching (doing), reflecting, and applying and provides safety and continuity.
2. Active Teen Recruitment
The 4-H YTY program partners with local school districts to identify and recruit interested teens; many of whom are not already involved in 4-H. Recruitment takes time and concentrated effort and often includes building dynamic partnerships with outside organizations to build a solid, active teen teacher base.
3. Strong Curriculum
A strong curriculum with a series of detailed lessons that teens can easily teach the younger youth is essential. The subject matter can be anything that is of interest to children and the teenagers; from science to decision making.
4. Initial Training
Initial training needs include defining expectations and responsibilities, while providing classroom management techniques and ages and stages information. Teens must also have time to explore the curriculum they will be delivering and work with their teaching partner to plan their delivery strategy.
5. Ongoing Training and Support (Reflection)
A key piece of the experiential learning process is reflection. The adult leader should facilitate exercises after each teaching experience to reflect on the highs and lows of the session while creating goals for any upcoming teaching opportunities.
6. Attention to Details
Where is the program being held? How are teens being transported? All of the everyday program coordination to pull a cross-age teaching program off can be intense. Ensuring that youth feel safe, supported, engaged, and have the opportunity to interact with their peers should be guided by the YPQA.
7. Recognition and Reward
Without teen teachers, your cross-age teaching program does not exist! Be sure to thank your teen volunteers sincerely and regularly.
8. Team Building
The 4-H YTY program pairs teens up in two’s and three’s to plan, teach, and reflect as a team. This creates a positive peer support network and provides real-world experiences when executing a program with others.
9. Setting Teens Up for Success
In addition to providing high-quality initial training and ongoing reflection, the curriculum that is used should be created with the teen teacher in mind. Developing an easy to navigate script allows teens to effortlessly deliver appropriate content without worrying about memorizing or missing key points. This in turn allows the teens to focus on managing the classroom and building relationships while teaching. Additionally, teens should teach their younger peers at least three consecutive times to provide opportunities to apply new skills and focus on identified goals.
10. Feedback and Evaluation
Feedback from the adult leader is crucial to ensure teen teachers are growing and learning through the cross-age teaching process. Additionally, the 4-H YTY team is experimenting with teens observing and providing feedback to each other using the YPQA tool. All cross-age teaching programs should be regularly evaluated to understand impact and to monitor program improvement needs.
Implementing a strong cross-age teaching program can provide countless volunteer opportunities for older youth participants in your program, eliminating the need to rely solely on adults to lead and teach, and leading to dual benefits for both the younger youth and the teens. What types of cross-age teaching programs are you offering in your organization, and what are some of the benefits you observe?
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