Contributed by Michelle Hassler
The old adage, “knowledge is power” rings true when referring to the classroom as well as the “real world.” However, throughout the learning process there comes a time when every student feels powerless. A student may be confused by difficult subject matter, burdened by issues at home, or may suffer from low self-esteem. With proper guidance and observation, teachers can affectively step back and encourage students to help their peers. Helping not only demonstrates mastery of a subject or skill, but it can show social intelligence, kindness, compassion, or problem solving skills. However, the presence of a teacher overseeing and guiding the process is essential. Below are three ways that you can encourage kids helping kids in your classroom.
Working in groups on a lesson or activity is a great way to bring students together and encourage cooperation and discovery. Kids can help each other and enhance the learning process through interaction and collaboration with classmates. For example, students could learn a new concept such as photosynthesis by compiling research and then creating a visual aid together to display in the classroom. You can also “jigsaw” or have various groups explore different concepts within your lesson. For example, each group could learn about a different part of a cell through readings or a guided worksheet then “teach” their concept to the class in a mini lesson plan. When grouping students, purposeful and planned grouping tends to work best. Students’ strengths and weaknesses should be considered when forming groups. For instance, if a student is introverted you may want to group them with a student who is outgoing. If a student is struggling in math, you want to place them in a group with someone who is strong at mathematics and can offer help as needed. As a teacher, you can assess the complex personalities of your class and determine what dynamics work best.
Peer tutoring is a beneficial practice for both the tutor and the student receiving the help. Serving as a classroom tutor can help to boost confidence, improve communication skills, and develop leadership traits. On the other hand, tutored students benefit from receiving valuable one-on-one instruction and may feel more at ease working with a peer. Also, fellow students may be able to explain something in a different way than the teacher. Peer tutoring could also tighten the community in your classroom by bringing students together from different social circles. Encourage students to be self-advocates and speak up when they need help. Learning how to ask for help and take care of themselves is difficult for some students. Establishing a classroom culture that encourages questions can make students feel more comfortable and likely to seek help when needed.
As a teacher, be sure to provide specific instructions for tutoring time. Have students who are strong volunteers tutor students after class or during time allotted for classwork or even homework. It is necessary to observe, answer questions, and help redirect or guide students throughout the process. You could even have an entire class serve as tutors for a lower grade-level. Talk to colleagues in your department and see if there are collaborative ways to introduce tutoring into your plans.
Peer mentoring is another way to encourage kids helping kids. Perhaps older students can visit your classroom and buddy up with a younger student for a creative activity. The activity could include subject-area content, or it could be a social exercise appropriate and timely for the age group of your students. For example, students could work together to write a story, create a collage, or simply “interview” each other with questions from a list. For middle school students, a topic to explore may be peer pressure. Students may spend time talking about a discussion prompt or create a skit about peer pressure. Peer mentors may be provided for students who are new to a district or for an entire class that is transitioning to a new school. Forming bonds with older students will allow younger students to grow both socially and academically. Encouraging questions, sharing experiences, or simply spending some time with a friendly face may be exactly what some students need.
As a teacher, sometimes the best way to promote learning is to take a step back and allow students to grab the reins. Kids helping kids not only increases confidence, but it creates a kinder classroom culture where supporting others and asking for help are not only encouraged, but expected.