February 18, 2016
3 Timely Tips
Peer-mediated learning approaches are evidence-based strategies that involve one or more students providing assistance to classmates to achieve an academic or social objective, and can be used in almost any instructional setting. Research shows that peer-mediated learning benefits students with disabilities because it increases academic engagement, allows for more opportunities to respond, provides students with immediate feedback, and increases the amount of time on task (Mattatall & Power, 2014). In their research, Mattatall & Power (2014) found “when classroom teachers employed peer-mediated approaches to review, practice, clarify concepts, and provide opportunities for students to receive immediate corrective feedback and subsequent practice on those corrections, that positive effects on academic achievement occurred for students with learning disabilities even after short periods of time” (Implementation & Recommended Practice section, para. 3). Students without disabilities also profit from peer-mediated learning because it encourages more interaction in the classroom with peers, promotes academic gains, boosts engagement and assignment completion and gives students an opportunity to positively change attitudes towards classmates (Bell & Carter, 2013).
Applying peer-mediated learning strategies in the classroom includes the following tips:
1. Sessions should be well planned, organized and highly structured, particularly for younger children. Peer-mediated sessions should typically be short (15 to 30 minutes) and contain clear objectives and learning goals for each session. Students engaged in peer-mediated learning should understand the objectives and outcomes of each session. Teachers should spend time training students how to work in pairs and how to provide corrective feedback to one another in their peer-mediated sessions. This may entail the teacher modeling for students the desired outcome or providing students with a script to use.
2. Students should be grouped together based on varying skill levels. Typically, students with higher skill levels are paired with students with lower skill levels. This allows for more opportunities for appropriate modeling, corrective feedback, and additional coaching or instruction if necessary. However, teachers should avoid too much of a gap between student skill levels. Pairing students that work well together should also be taken into consideration when planning groupings.
3. Effective peer-mediated learning works best when teachers make sure students have appropriate prior knowledge to complete the tasks required of them in their sessions. Peer-mediated supports are best utilized for the purpose of providing additional practice, review, engagement, corrective feedback, and opportunities to practice corrected work.
2 Teaching Tools
1. Numbered Heads Together
This cooperative learning strategy is a classroom-wide, peer-mediated approach which promotes discussion, with both individual and group accountability. This strategy is beneficial for reviewing and integrating subject matter. After direct instruction of the material, the group supports each member and provides opportunities for practice, rehearsal and discussion of content material. The steps are as follows:
First, the teacher divides the students into groups of four and gives each one a number from one to four.
Second, the teacher poses a question or a problem to the class.
Third, students gather to think about the question (heads together) and to make sure everyone in their group understands and can give an answer.
Fourth, the teacher reminds the students of the question again and calls out a number randomly.
Last, the students with that number stand up or raise their hands, and when called on, the student shares the team answer.
In this example of Numbered Heads Together, an elementary teacher is having the students use the strategy to explore main ideas from a story they recently read.
2. Reciprocal Peer Tutoring
In this learning strategy students alternate between the role of tutor and tutee. There is a structured format allowing students to prompt, teach, monitor, evaluate and encourage one another. In this example, two students are practicing addition with two digits using Reciprocal Peer Tutoring. While engaged in the tutoring session, the students switch roles as tutors, engage in frequent verbal prompts, provide each other with feedback, and use positive reinforcement. The teacher also monitors the students and provides them with feedback.