Peer Teaching: Increasing Student Voice and Mastery

My sophomore year of college, I walked into my first psychology class, briefly heard from Dr. Bryan Saville (the professor), and participated in a type of learning I had never before experienced in college or in my PK-12 education. Little did I know I would end up majoring in psychology, Dr. Saville would become my thesis advisor, and my thesis research topic would focus on this unique structure known as interteaching.

A key philosophy of interteaching is “an effective way to learn something is to teach it.” It differs from a traditional lecture or teacher-led class in that, for the majority of the class period, the students are teaching each other the material while the instructor circulates, ensuring quality discussions and collecting data on common misconceptions. The following class period, the instructor teaches a brief (10-15 minute) lesson on those misconceptions and then the students are paired up and begin teaching each other the next lesson.

Not only has Dr. Saville’s research (along with many others) shown that, “interteaching produces superior student-learning outcomes when compared to lecture,” but I also ENJOYED going to these classes. I took every class that I knew used this method, even if it wasn’t a graduation requirement. We must incorporate more of these principles in our PK-12 classrooms. Below I have outlined the components of interteaching and ideas for successful implementation in the PK-12 world.

PREPARATION GUIDES

Students in an interteaching-based class complete a study guide, called a “preparation” (or “prep”) guide, before class that contains around 10 questions and covers anywhere from 10-20 pages of material from a textbook or other resources that are relevant to the material. The types of questions on the prep guides typically include essay or short answer questions and application questions. Students then bring their completed prep guides to the following class.

PK-12 Application: Rather than homework acting as a review of the material taught that day, homework is a preview of tomorrow’s material. Depending on age and subject material, the questions could be answered from readings or the teacher could find or create teaching videos. Edcite lends itself to this beautifully. Create a nightly Edcite assignment and for each question pull a text or video that the student reads or watches before answering.

PEER TEACHING

In class, students pair up and discuss the material on the prep guides. Students work in as many different pairs as possible during the course of a semester, so as to avoid working with the same people repeatedly. While the pair discussion is occurring, the teacher walks around the room, answering any questions that students might have about the material and facilitating discussion between group members.

PK-12 Application: Teachers should assign different partners each day. Either have them review their preparation guide or Edcite assignment from the night before or have them complete a new Edcite assignment (same content, but different questions) in partners.

INTERTEACHING RECORD

After the discussion period, which lasts 30 to 40 minutes (depending on the length of the class), students fill out an interteaching record with any questions or topics they found confusing, thought were interesting, or would like explained in more detail. Using this information, the teacher constructs a mini-lecture designed to clarify confusing information or elaborate on material that students found interesting. At the beginning of the next class period, the teacher takes 10-15 minutes and discusses the questions that were identified by several students on their interteaching records. Once the brief lesson is over, a pair discussion over the next preparation guide begins.

PK-12 Application: Either as part of the interteaching record or in addition to the interteaching record, create one “exit ticket” question for students to complete that assesses student mastery of the lesson objective. The teacher should use both the self-reported areas of confusion as well as the data from this question to inform the following mini-lesson.

POINTS/GRADES

There are several ways students can accumulate points in an interteaching-based course.

  1. Students receive points each class period for participating in the pair discussion and completing an interteaching record.
  2. Students earn points on the unit tests, which occur more frequently than typical unit tests, and usually cover three to four prep guides. The tests begin with two or three essay questions drawn verbatim from the prep guides. The rest of the questions are objective in nature (e.g., multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank) and stem from the same information covered on the prep guides. The similarity between the tests and the prep guides further encourages students to take the guides seriously.
  3. The final means of obtaining points is through “quality points.” Along with ranking on the interteaching record the quality of the discussion, quality points are a means of ensuring students have effective discussions. On the unit test, if both students receive a certain number of points on an essay question (e.g., 4 out of 5 points) they discussed in class, then each receives an additional number of points toward his or her course grade. These points make it worthwhile for students to have quality discussions.

PK-12 Application: Essay questions may not be appropriate for all subjects (i.e., math), so the first 2-3 questions can be constructed response, multi-part, or application questions.

POSITIVE SIDE-EFFECTS

In courses where students are doing more of the teaching, a bit of positive peer pressure tends to occur because students feel the responsibility of teaching one another. As a result, you are likely to also notice that students show:

  • An increase in attendance.
  • An increase in learning.
  • Increased investment in class material and enjoyment in coming to class.

meghan thompsonMeghan Thompson joined Teach For America in 2008 and began her career in education as a 9th-12th Special Education Teacher in Charlotte, NC. In 2010, she was a member of the founding team at Henderson Collegiate (a school that has ranked in the top 3.5% of all NC public schools for the past 4 years). In 2014, she was a member of the founding team at Democracy Prep Baton Rouge and throughout her time at DPBR served as a middle school ELA teacher, middle school math teacher and the Middle School Campus Director.

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