Peer Teaching

Peer Teaching – Strategy to Deepen Understanding

Teacher-Author: Sherry A. Johnson

A great way to help students deepen their understanding is to provide the opportunity for peer teaching to take place. One of the incredible aspects of this strategy is that students may be flexibly grouped to teach each other or review a concept. In my classroom, peer tutors are called experts. For example the student who will be teaching a multiplication concept, would be called the multiplication expert. Each student who demonstrate mastery of a concept and is willing to be trained, may be “an expert” for a particular topic. By offering the choice, coupled with training possibilities each student is given the opportunity to be “the teacher” as they work together.

There are times when students are homogeneously grouped, other times they are heterogeneously grouped or paired.  In heterogeneously partnerships or groups, the student who demonstrates mastery of the concept is not necessarily the teacher. The person who is struggling or who lacks confidence may be chosen in order to provide opportunities for growth. He/she may direct the conversation using questioning strategies  whereby those who have a firm understanding of the concept may provide answers to the questions the teacher asks. (Question stems are often provided to offer scaffolding for students who may need this additional support).

Peer tutors may be from the same class, grade level or one to two levels above. I have third and fourth graders who come to my second grade class on a regular basis to help with  tutorial sessions. These students help to explain concepts using their kid-friendly words, phrases and examples that the other kids can easily relate to. There are times when I use “kid-friendly” language, and still I do not get that epiphany moment among my students and one of their peers may say the same thing, with minor word substitutions and immediately the light bulb goes on! Peer teaching allows another opportunity for students to interact with the content, either information is clarified or understanding is deepened through peer teaching strategy application.

The tutors as well benefit from the opportunity to explain the concepts. As they share, their understanding is also enhanced. I believe a student fully understands a concept when he or she is able to teach someone about the topic effectively.

As we prepare students to function effectively and efficiently in the 21st century, it is imperative that teachers take the moment to help students develop high expectations for success. It is crucial for students to understand they are the determining factor in their education. By releasing them to take ownership for their learning, teachers are empowering students to be lifelong learners and contributors to the society. There are various theories that support the student-led instruction, and all attest to the fact that an increase in achievement is directly influenced by an increase in student engagement with the concept being taught.