Students Teaching Students

Hana Suleiman


            The 21st Century School would be able to involve students not only as receivers of the instruction, but also as deliverers of the instruction.  “Students teaching students” enhance their own learning.  Teachers facilitate this peer tutoring, helping students utilize strategies such as reciprocal teaching.  Students teaching students would be a model that guides students with ownership of their own learning as well as providing interaction that enhances learning.  Based on Vygotsky’s social constructivist theory, students engaged in meaningful interactions with their peers learn in a socially-based and integrated way.  By identifying the student’s zone of proximal development, students can be the scaffold for other students in both expository and investigatory learning.


            Teachers of the 21st Century School would be true facilitators of learning and the acquisition of knowledge through the development of concepts and skills.  They would guide students who teach and students who learn so that the process is truly reciprocal.  Evidence of the success of peer teaching can be seen is such strategies as Reciprocal Teaching in which students have different roles and “work through a book” together, as the teacher’s role is as a facilitator of the activity.  Using reciprocal teaching, each student takes turns summarizing, generating questions, clarifying, and predicting.  Students help each other to comprehend their reading. 


            Students teaching students not only benefit those students who are being taught, but it also benefits the students who are teaching.  My high school senior daughter was asked by a parent to tutor her student in chemistry.  My daughter informed her that chemistry did not come easy to her and she had to work really hard in that class.  Was she sure she didn’t want one of the “geniuses” to tutor her son.  She told her no; she wanted someone who could relate to her child.  So, she tutored this student who ended up scoring better than my daughter did when she took the class.  My daughter was surprised how much teaching helped her understand chemistry.  Now, she always takes advantage of opportunities to explain and help other students learn difficult concepts because she knows that by doing so she is also helping herself.


            While in the 21st Century School we envision, most of the pre-defined standards will be taught via computer assisted instruction, we want teachers to help students to individually pursue their own academic interests.  For some of these students, education may be their personal academic interest.  As other students learn pre-defined standards, these students may wish to develop programmed curriculum materials and even entire modules that better teach the pre-defined standards.  By studying the feedback loop: starting with a standard; teaching to that standard; evaluating the student outcome; and then by analyzing the process; students can make significant educational contributions.


             The process would take advantage of the strengths that students and teachers possess.  As students move from the expository phase to the investigatory phase of study, students who have mastered a concept and worked through the investigatory phase successfully, assume the role of teacher.  These students assist and provide insight to the students who are still trying to understand the material.  In the meantime, the peer teacher is solidifying their own understanding of the material.  Students may at any point in time be both student and teacher.  As they are working to understand a concept and receive assistance from a peer, they may also be assisting other students with a concept that they mastered earlier.  This process of acquiring knowledge and mastering concepts is a constant loop of learning and teaching.  Teachers are the experts in the field who provide guidance, facilitate the learning, and structure the activities.


            Teachers would each have their own office in proximity to a large conference room.  Teachers and students can meet in the conference room to analyze the process and refine the instructional curriculum for the computer as well as evaluating student outcomes.  As the curriculum is refined, the student outcomes should reflect a more sophisticated acquisition of knowledge.  Students would become critical thinkers who can make contributions in the fields that they are studying.  Through cooperative groups, the students can be active learners of meaningful instruction.  The cooperative group model would also limit behavioral problems since students would be grouped at their instructional level, have peer models, and be held accountable by their peers rather than a teacher.


            The process of peer teaching needs to follow a protocol.  Students take an assessment on the standards that they have been working on.  Once the standards that have not been mastered are identified, then the computer should be able to match them to a tutor who is a few months or years ahead of them on a developmental level rather than age scale.  A tutor can have a small group of students who have not mastered that same skill for a certain amount of time.  The tutor works with the students using an alternative instructional strategy so that students can master the standards.  Then they are reassessed again.  When they’ve mastered the standards, they go back to working on the next group of standards at the computer. In the meantime, students also work cooperatively on investigatory projects that are facilitated by the teacher.  The discussion groups and cooperative groups work on projects in which a conference space or work area is provided for research and planning.


            Students teaching students also helps maintain a high level of interest so that students stay engaged.  Furthermore, students improve socially.  Students build their confidence and improve their self image not only from learning from their peers, but also from teaching others.  It provides a school atmosphere that is positive and compassionate.  In light of recent events involving bullying and peer pressure, the “students teaching students” model encourages cooperation and understanding.  Students will learn to help each other and lift each other up, rather than putting students down in order to compensate for their insecurities.  Students will become empowered by teaching and learning from each other.  They will not only reap the academic benefits, but they will also reap social and emotional benefits.