Research corner

12th June 2015 at 01:00
Each week, we highlight education research conducted by teachers. This week, Natalie Murphy, an English teacher from Maghull High School in Liverpool, explains how she used Learning by Teaching to turn her most able students into their own teachers


The concept of Learning by Teaching was developed by educationalist Jean-Pol Martin to enable children to teach their own lessons. It involves a teacher switching from being a central authority to an observer - one who appoints student "leaders" to independently prepare and deliver a lesson in their class.


Natalie Murphy was concerned that high-ability students in her mixed-ability Year 10 English class were not achieving their target grades. In a key stage 4 controlled written assessment on descriptive writing, her top students obtained a C or D grade rather than the targeted A. With the next assignment looming, Murphy looked to close this gap by adopting a strategy of Learning by Teaching to help her high-ability students improve their grades.


First, Murphy issued a questionnaire to her class of 22. This gave them the chance to express their views on what they felt needed improving. Students agreed that work could be differentiated better to favour pupils who were being stretched to obtain an A or A* grade. That meant getting the high-ability students to do something different. Murphy identified five such pupils and explained the Learning by Teaching concept. They would be her "leaders" and would each teach a group of students in preparation for the next assessment. Twice a week at lunchtimes, leaders were given exemplar work for the assessment to cross-examine and compare with their own work. They were also given a copy of the KS4 marking grid. Having gained a clear focus during these lunchtime sessions, students were subsequently able to distinguish exactly what was expected in the assessment and communicate this to their groups. They then taught for 45 minutes each in four lessons over a week.

The results

Murphy reports that during the planning and completion of their controlled assessment, students felt a sense of confidence in their ability and knowledge. Each high-ability student raised their level - either from a D or C grade to a C or B, respectively. Their aspirational grade A, however, remained a goal.

The impact

Although Murphy is conscious that her strategy has been used only on a small group, her study has shown an increase in her high-ability students' progress and she feels the approach has further potential. Students responded positively and were motivated by the extra responsibility. Murphy is also experimenting with other strategies for her more able students and is setting up a school newspaper for them to work on during lunchtimes.

To find out more about the project, email Natalie Murphy at

To share your research findings, email


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