I often wonder how kids are supposed to become part of a community and the world when they have so little experience learning how. We teach kids how to beat each other – in sports and spelling bees and such – but give them almost no opportunity to discover what’s possible when they work together. It’s no wonder American corporations are spending millions of dollars on team-building trainings for their young employees. These young people have been educated in schools where talking to one another in the classrooms, hallways, and even the cafeteria has been forbidden. And the idea of working together? Well, in the past there was a name for that; it was called cheating.
Clearly, I’m in favor of peer-to-peer learning. When kids collaborate, they’re much better prepared for the world – regardless of any argument made by those who believe it’s a “dog-eat-dog” place to live. When we stop to consider it, we have to admit that life offers us far more opportunity to cooperate – with life partners, family members, co-workers, employers, community and church members – than it does to compete.
Because I love this topic, I fully enjoyed my conversation with Suzie Boss, Dave Truss, and Shelly Terrell, three educators who understand the value of collaborative learning. Here’s some additional advice from them on the topic.
1. the key to peer to peer learning is providing sufficient scaffolding for students to be successful. Provide students with enough information and structure so that they can meaningfully contribute to the learning.
If you want students to become experts in a topic, provide some guiding questions to help their research.
If you want students to peer assess, provide them with clear criteria, or better yet, help them develop the criteria so that they feel invested in the process and have an understanding of what is being assessed.
2. Peers don't mean [only] classmates. Find ways to connect students to peers beyond the walls of your class. This isn't a new idea; students have been learning about different cultures from pen pals for decades, but now the tools are so much richer and more engaging than pen and paper and three weeks’ wait time to get a written response from the other side of the world.
3. Another key idea is accountability. Do students know what they are responsible for and are they provided with a meaningful way to share their learning?
As you shift to peer-to-peer learning and other practices that give students more voice (and, thus, more engagement) in their own learning, be deliberate about teaching students how to use their voice effectively. Don't expect that they'll know how to give and receive peer critique, for instance, without modeling and practice. This wonderful video featuring Ron Berger of Expeditionary Learning makes the case for peer critique (https://vimeo.com/38247060). It's a great resource to use with students, in professional development, and even with parents to help them understand the value of peer-to-peer learning.
We can create the culture and environment for meaningful peer to peer feedback with various web tools, such as Google Drive, Hangouts on Air, Edmodo, Schoology, KidBlog, Edublogs, Educlipper, Voicethread, and various curation and eportfolio tools. Students need a forum where they can post ideas, writings, or creations and quickly receive comments, support, and feedback from their peers. Additionally, meaningful feedback needs to be taught with examples so students understand how to evaluate work and how to provide feedback in a way that gets their peers to do more of the good stuff and enhance it with other suggestions. My students use rubrics I grade them with to grade their peers. They also have forums where they post their work for their peers to post feedback. They look at what makes a good-comment videos by Mrs. Yollis 3rd graders: http://yollisclassblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/how-to-compose-quality-comment.html?m=1 .