Teach Play Love: Power to the pupil: changing the teacher-learner dynamic – Raja’a Abu Jasser (Gaza) and Sara Wood (Spain)

A new aspect of the Hands Up Project focuses on how to empower the students, and change the teacher-learner dynamic. They want to create independent, powerful learners who are in charge of their own learning.

In most classes in Gaza, the teacher controls everything. From 1-10, how much of a control freak do you think you are in your classroom?

Raja’a started teaching 3 years ago. She is really enthusiastic about trying new ideas.

Students v. Teachers

The students come up with questions from Biology, Chemistry, Physics. They ask the teacher the questions. If the teacher can answer, they get a point. If they can’t, the students get a point.

The students are left to come up with their own questions, and the teacher doesn’t intervene until the students ask for it. Because the students have to be able to communicate the question and the answer, they are encouraged to reformulate and work with language to communicate what they want to ask.

The majority of Raja’a’s students aren’t motivated to learn English, because they feel that they won’t be able to leave Gaza, there’s nobody there who they can speak to, and there wouldn’t be a use for it in their lives. They are also studying in large classes.

With her 9-10 year old students with a very low level of English, Raja’a wanted to give them a reason to use the language from the coursebook in a communicative way. The students had to guess what the teacher is ‘going to’ do tomorrow. If the student gets the information right, they get a point. If the student gets it wrong, the teacher gets a point. The teacher can reformulate the language as needed.

The video Raja’a showed us demonstrated how excited the students were to do this activity. The atmosphere in the classroom was fantastic – if the students love the teacher, they’ll learn from you.

The reformulations Raja’a did as part of this activity are now an active part of the students’ language because they heard them in a relaxed environment.

The students got 5 points, Raja’a got 3 points. They were excited about this and felt empowered. The next day, they told the whole school that they had a competition with their teacher and that the teacher lost.

Collaboration, invisible connections, a little chaotic, powerful

Words Sara used to describe the Hands Up Project

Remote teaching

Sara normally works remotely with a teacher who is in the classroom.

In the example video we watched, the girls were telling Sara the story of Layla and the Wolf (similar to Little Red Riding Hood). They worked together to say what they wanted to.

During the story:

  • Heba’s decision not to speak sets the tone for the class. Why is that important?
  • Jana tells the story with the language available to her – what effect might that have on the class?
  • Sara (the student) overcomes a moment of doubt to continue the story. How does that benefit her and the other learners?

The whole process is confidence-building and empowering. They decided how to be in the class, including making a decision not to speak. As a teacher, Sara didn’t make her speak – she created a safe space for the student to make the decision to be silent. It pushes other students in the class to speak because Heba doesn’t want to.

The next step was to prepare for a retelling of the story, changing the location, the characters.

When there was a misunderstanding, the students helped each other because the teacher encouraged them to translate the word in Arabic, and teach it to her. They were allowed to correct the teacher’s pronunciation, and the students worked together to offer help. They all needed help, and they all provided help. This affected the atmosphere because it was one of equals, rather than a teacher-student power dynamic.

This is a really playful process. You can play with the different languages in your power.

Sara then retold the story with the students’ changes. She did it because she thought it would be a challenge for the students to do this spontaneously. She asked the students questions to elicit the parts of the story so that they were involved throughout the process, and using language they’d learnt connected to the story. The teacher feeds in language throughout the process to collaboratively build the story.

Throughout the whole process, the students have personal control of the language. They’re playing with it, and looking for ideas in their head. They’re learning a language properly in a way that they can actually use it.


  • Whose responsibility is it to understand?
  • Learning isn’t one-sided
  • Opportunities to take personal control of the language
  • Choosing when and how to speak, and the teacher allowing this
  • Learners’ contributions to a class aren’t purely linguistic – acknowledge all of their contributions, whatever they are

One thought on “Teach Play Love: Power to the pupil: changing the teacher-learner dynamic – Raja’a Abu Jasser (Gaza) and Sara Wood (Spain)

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