According to my students, one of the most successful strategies I used as a teacher was getting students to help each other. I was astonished by how much helpers and helped enjoyed this process, and by how much time it saved me.
Students helping in pairs: ‘study buddies’
Imagine you teach on a business studies course, and you have found that Jake is having trouble with percentages. You find another student Bracha who is good at percentages, preferably not a close friend of Jake. You talk to Bracha and ask if she would help Jake with percentages. You emphasise the difference between being helped and copying! Students get this, you don’t need to explain much.
You explain this to Jake, and Jake and Bracha meet outside class time to resolve Jake’s difficulties. Jake knows that Bracha will report back to you how things are going: e.g. the effort that Jake is putting in, and progress made etc. You might formalise this agreement with ground-rules and an explicit process. Or you might leave it informal and fluid.
Research shows that Bracha will get at least as much learning out of this as Jake, and that both students will enjoy it.
Students helping each other in groups: Learning Teams.
Learning teams are groups of about six students who offer each other mutual support. They last about two months to a year, and are carefully monitored by the teacher.
You explain at the outset, that in the real world people do not work in isolation, but in teams. And good teams communicate well, discover issues and difficulties, help each other with good grace, and team members feel absolutely happy to ask for whatever help they need. Students make take time to achieve this, but it is worth the effort.
Teams take collective responsibility for each other’s learning, they share mobile phone numbers, land-line numbers, e-mails, addresses, maybe even a Facebook page.
Teams will meet during course time to begin with, perhaps while tutors are seeing students one-to-one, but then meet outside of class time. Some adult teams meet up in pubs outside class time.
Teams meet with an agenda. They take it in turns to be the chair and secretary and to keep minutes. They agree ground-rules, and negotiate action plans, and support for each other.
“Okay what are people finding most difficult?….. Who needs help with Mr Jay’s latest assignment?’
The minutes are then presented to the tutor or class teacher in charge. The effectiveness of learning teams is monitored by the teams themselves, and by the teacher.
If a student does badly with an assignment or test, you can turn to the team who are partly responsible for this poor performance and say: ‘Did you know of Tim’s difficulty? …..What did you do about it? ……Why didn’t he get all the help he needed?’
If you would like to use this method, download the handout which gives a more detailed account, or search for “Learning Teams Geoff Petty”