Peer learning is a form of collaborative learning that capitalizes on active learning. Children's interactions with peers in early childhood have been consistently linked to their academic and social outcomes (Rudasill et al., 2013). When involved in peer interaction, students help each other learn new content or skills. While peer interaction has always existed, the concept of students learning from one another has become more prominent in the classroom in the twenty-first century. During the peer interaction process, the tutor manages the content or skills and modifies the material so that the tutee learns new content or skills. The tutor benefits through monitoring the learning process, as the tutor learns to detect, diagnose and correct misconceptions or understanding. Peer learning has been found effective for all ages, kindergarten through college, all learning styles and disabilities, and across all content areas (Topping, 1996).
Keywords Active Learning; Class-Wide Peer Tutoring Models; Collaborative Learning; Heterogeneous Groups; Homogeneous Groups; Interteaching; Metacognition; Peer Grouping; Peer Instruction; Peer Learning; Peer Review; Peer Tutoring; Scaffolding; Schemata; Tutee; Tutor; Zone of Proximal Development
The action of giving and taking information that results in knowledge construction and cognitive development can be accomplished through peer-to-peer interaction (Lim, 2012). Peer interaction (or peer learning) is a term that represents a form of collaborative learning that capitalizes on active learning within a classroom. During peer interaction, there is a definite shift away from the traditional lecture format of instruction to a more personal experience and efficacy in learning (Saville, Zinn & Elliott, 2005). While the lecture disseminates information to the student, in peer interaction, the student is actively involved in the learning process. Through peer learning, students acquire knowledge and skill through active helping and supporting among status equals or matched companions (Topping, 2005). Students help each other to learn and learn themselves during the process. Tutors gain increased control over subject matter, develop self-esteem and social skills, and improved attitudes about school. Tutees receive extra attention and emotional support during the learning process (Anderson, 2007).
While peer interaction has always existed, the concept of students learning from one another has gained greater prominence as a classroom methodology in the past 25 years. In prior models of peer interaction, peers were used to assist the teacher in teaching to students who were less knowledgeable. This linear model of transmission of knowledge was transferred from the teacher to the student and then re-taught by that student to another student. Teachers chose only the most knowledgeable students to act as “pseudo-teachers.” The model has shifted, as teachers scaffold peers to teach one another important concepts or skills (Topping, 2005). Peer learning originally targeted core skill areas such as reading and mathematics (Topping, 1987; Topping & Branford, 1998). However, as teachers began to see the benefits in peer interaction, peer learning began to appear in lessons across the content areas. Peer interaction or learning has now become a theory with strong implications in classroom practice.
Research by Lev Vygotsky (1978) supports peer learning theory. Palincsar and Brown (1984) promote the using of scaffolding to reach Vygtosky's concept of the “zone of proximal development.” Vygotsky's concept of the zone of proximal development is involved in the peer learning process. By scaffolding students, students can activate schemata, organize and retrieve knowledge, and monitor, evaluate and reflect on their learning (Palincsar, 1986). Learning becomes socially constructed during interaction and activity among peers (Vygotksy, 1978).
The Interaction Process
Topping (2005) describes this process. The tutor manages the content or skills and modifies the material so that the tutee learns new content or skills. The tutor benefits through monitoring the learning process, as he or she learns to detect, diagnose and correct misconceptions or understanding. As Topping (2005) suggests, tutors can acquire valuable skills through tutoring, such as "listening, explaining, questioning, summarizing, speculating, and hypothesizing" (p. 637). In turn, the tutees benefit from trusted relationships with peers who have no authority over them. Both tutor and tutee add to and extend their capabilities by modifying that which they know and then building new understandings.
King (2002) suggests that it is important to match the peer learning approach a teacher chooses to the requirements of the learning task. The nature of the cognitive process is the critical trigger for selecting a strategy. While some tasks require primarily recall and repetition, other learning tasks require critical thinking, problem solving and/or decision making. Higher level cognitive processing in peer learning may involve "making inferences, drawing conclusions, synthesizing ideas, generating hypotheses, comparing and contrasting, finding and articulating problems, analyzing and evaluating alternatives, and monitoring thinking" (King, 2002, p. 34). Peers learn to exchange ideas, information, perspectives, attitudes and opinions (King, 2002; Cohen, 1994).
Conditions for positive peer interaction include shifting methodologies from a focus on individual achievement to creation of classroom environments that promote genuine collaboration. Challenging problem-solving must be "beyond the comfort zone of student knowledge in order to promote discussion," and teachers need to carefully select groups "to ensure respectful working relations" (Blair, 2004, p. 38). They also need to provide immediate feedback through quality discussion time.
Types of Peer Interaction
There are many types of peer interaction:
Peer interaction shifts the nature of instruction in such models as peer tutoring. Peer tutoring exists when two students take on specific roles as tutor and tutee. The focus is on learning content and is driven by a defined process of application. The tutor is trained by the teacher and is given structured materials or is taught to follow a certain process for tutoring a peer. This model can be used in any content area. Topping (2001) states that teachers must consider certain elements for there to be successful peer tutoring sessions. While the tutee learns specific content or skills, the tutor benefits from the experience, as well. The tutor's social and communication skills are enhanced during the process.
The most simplistic form of peer tutoring is drill and practice, peer assisted rehearsal, or recall and repetition of material. Often this form is used when students are learning factual material. Students learn to work together, as they master skills or content (King, 2002). Through drill and practice, students are scaffolded with one another. Tutors and tutees communicate with one another by practicing a certain skill and provide feedback for one another during practice of the skill. They reinforce understanding or skill level (Topping, 2005).
Peer assistance is another simpler form of peer interaction, as peers aid students with disabilities by helping them read directions, gather classroom materials, or take notes for them. Mastropieri, Scruggs, and Berkeley (2007) point out that peers who assist those with disabilities "promote social responsibility and stronger understanding of other's needs" (p. 2).
Peer instruction is defined as "an instructional method aimed at exploiting student interaction during lectures by focusing students' attention on underlying concepts" (VanDijk, VanderBerf, & VanKuelen, 2001, p. 4). The teacher presents key points in lecture form and the students are given questions to answer individually. The students then pair off or work in small groups, discussing their answers with one another. This form of peer interaction breaks up the traditional lecture, as students think through the concepts presented (Mazur, 1997).
Peer grouping (also called interpretive communities) is an effective group strategy often seen in writing classes. Weaver, Robertson and Smith (1999) state that peer grouping provides students the opportunity to investigate how their writing might impact readers. Teachers who are committed to peer grouping during writing workshops must develop community skills within their students, allowing time for students to develop trust in one another and provide supportive and useful feedback (Weaver, Robertson & Smith, 1999).
Peer Review Editing
Peer review editing also involves the writing process. In this process, students edit and respond to one another's writing. The teacher is freed from the task of reading and editing every student paper (Karegianes, Pascarella, & Pflaum (1980). Students are thrust into the role of being responsible for one another's success in writing.
Peer questioning is often used to promote high-quality questioning among peers. There are several types of questioning approaches such as strategic questioning. In strategic questioning, students are provided with strategic questions that specifically develop problem solving (King, 2002). Pairs squared develops reasoning skills in argumentation (King, 1995). In guided reciprocal peer questioning, the teacher structures peer interaction that promotes high-level cognitive processing. Question starters are given to peers in the form of formatted questions that promote student thinking during discussion (King, 2002).
Interteaching is defined as "a mutually probing, mutually informing conversation between two people" (Boyce & Hineline, 2006). In this type of active learning methodology, the teacher designs and distributes guides that lead students through course material. Questions are in the guide and trigger the learning process, with some questions focusing on factual knowledge and others emphasizing application and synthesis. Students pair with one another and discuss the questions and their answers. The teacher acts as a mentor, clarifying questions, evaluating student understanding, and supporting the students in this interactive process (Saville, Zinn, & Elliott, 2005; Boyce and Hineline, 2002).
Peer monitoring occurs when peers support one another's learning behaviors by "observing and checking" the behaviors of group members during the process of peer group interaction (Brown, Topping, Hennington & Skinner, 1999). Students...
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