Sunday, March 07, 2010

Peer Teaching

“Teaching depends on what other people (as in the students) think,” says Deborah Ball, dean of the school of education at the University of Michigan, “not what you (as the teacher) think.”

Team peer teaching in the professional communication module I teach is coming to a close for this semester. Over the course of the past six weeks teams of students have taught their classmates 30-minutes lessons on performing effectively at job interviews, creating good resumes and application letters, using wikis and other collaborative workspaces, writing effective business correspondences, and designing effective survey questionnaires. These are all content topics that the "student teachers" had to learn themselves (with a list of websites at their disposal) then teach.

As I've mentioned, the most amazing thing for me about the peer teaching is that for many students, it's the first time they have stood in front of a class. It's also the first time they have created a lesson plan, managed a classroom, delivered a content-based lecture, and directed teaching/learning activities. Amazingly, they have done so while not receiving any instruction on teaching. They've had to learn and teach simply by doing.

What then makes this possible, or plausible? A simple mix, really, of three attributes: Intellect. Courage. Heart. Add to that a good portion of hard work, e voila!

In the lessons I've attended, I've seen a good number of natural-born future teachers, and quite a few peer teachers that are diamonds in the rough.

What makes teaching so special? And what might contribute to a person becoming an effective teacher? See the article "Building a Better Teacher" by Elizabeth Green in the New York Times for an overview.

I'd like to hear your reactions, in a couple paragraphs or less, to the experience you had teaching (and learning as a peer teacher and a peer student) this term.



Rohan Rajiv said...

I had a great time thanks to the fact that our team had designed an action session. As a result, I could feel the energy present within the class.

Listening and learning was worthwhile as well as I felt the quality of the lessons gradually improved with all the feedback through the weeks.

Clement said...

Hi Brad,

I agree that indeed intellect, courage and hard work were very much involved in the designing of the peer teaching lesson. It was really not quite trivial to come up with lesson materials and interactive activities as well as to deliver the planned lesson.

However, I feel that the peer teaching experience was indeed very helpful in achieving the objectives of the Professional Communications course.

For starters, I think that we were able to improve a lot on our presentation delivery skills. This is because we were given the opportunity to look at other peer teachers and identify pointers for good presentation delivery as well as given pointers for improvement on our own performance by the other students.

Secondly, I believe that we learnt a great deal more about the particular topic we had given the lesson on. Given the close contact we had to have with the material in order to prepare a lesson, we would necessarily be more knowledgeable about the subject than if we were merely participants in the lesson. In extension, we might actually have been given a better understanding about other topics as well, as the presenters are students just like ourselves, and would be more capable of relating the material to us.

Finally, of course, we were forced to understand the pains that teachers have to go through in the preparations of lessons, and would (hopefully) better appreciate the efforts of teachers who had really put in hard work by being more alert and pro-active during class.

All in all, I'm giving two thumbs (and two big toes) up for peer teaching, although it had involved quite a bit of hard work on our part.

Jerone JI LU said...

The peer teaching is quite an experience for me. Although I have done such a kind of presentation before, I have never cooperated with other peers and do the teaching together. It requires a great amount of team work in it.
Admittedly, our peer teaching was not as good as we expected. I think there are several reasons. Firstly, we should have emailed you the slides earlier so that we had more time to modify and improve. Secondly, we are lacking of creativity with regards to the format of our presentation compared with other groups. However, I still feel that I learnt some lessons from the peer teaching. For instance, how to come up with a new idea and modify our old plan within a short time. And also how to prepare more efficient slides.
All in all, no matter it has a good or bad result, I like such a kind of experience, because it taught me more knowledge and trained me with more skills that are necessary in the future.

♥tiffany said...

Hey Brad,

In the three years in NUS, I have never even done a single presentation in any of my modules (I am either very lucky or not so, depends on how you see it). Haha. So when I found out that we had to carry out peer teaching for this module, I was rather nervous. However, I found it to be an enjoyable experience as it is not as formal as a presentation and the audience could just bring up questions anytime.

Preparing for the lesson took a great amount of effort by all the group members. We had to brainstorm to find ideas on how to bring the message effectively across and make it interesting and engaging.

Moreover, I was captivated by the activities put together by other classmates who were in turn peer teachers. These activities allowed the peer students to be drawn into the lesson and have a hands on experience.

Ranmali said...

Hey Brad!

When I was still deciding whether or not to take the module, I remember looking at the CAs - "20 minute oral presentation" and "Peer teaching". I was stunned and not quite sure what I was getting myself into.

I'd only done only one other "presentation" in my life 3 semesters ago - it took roughly 3 mins, so I don't think it really counts. I learnt so much from this peer teaching excercise though, and from the peer feedback. Number one, do not get so focused on your material that you forget your audience. Number two, pumping as much information into the students within the time frame ISN'T key (who knew?) - engaging and connecting with them is. Number three - and I feel is the most important - try to relax! Nervousness shows, anxiety dampens! The feedback and QnA was the hardest part though - it drained to be nitpicked on and the class had a LOT of questions for us. But I feel like throwing us in that situation toughened us. I had another presentation RIGHT after mine and I found it to be a cake-walk compared to peer teaching!

I learnt from my fellow peer teachers too. Some of them were quite inspiring with their confidence and cheer, and I enjoyed being part of the class. Peer teaching had taken a LOT of effort from each of us, but it was all worthwhile because hopefully I'll take into account everything I got out of it in all my future oral presentation endeavours.

Deenise said...

The most effective form of learning is through peer teaching because it enables you to be a student and a teacher at the same time. it becomes more engaging when you get to switch between "student" and "teacher" role.

Traditional teaching methods stresses on a one-way communication ( teacher to student).Teachers would always assume the role of a educator who only imparts knowledge to students while students,on the other hand, only receive inputs from them.In fact, teachers should humble themselves down and play the role of a student because some students often have fascinating ideas and knowledge which the teacher could constantly learn from.And students should play the role of a teacher so as to learn how to express ourselves clearly and effectively.Through peer teaching, students would be able to appreciate the process of learning and teaching at the same time.

You may also find that there university students who have great potential to become teachers as most of us have teaching experiences as tutors and mentors.Part-time tuition jobs are very popular among local university students who are seeking to earn extra pocket money.

Even though our peers are also university students like myself, I still believe we could still learn from each other.In class,as you will notice, some students do enjoy this sort of role playing.When they are asked to role play as a teacher or an interview, they became more self-aware and critical as they took hold of a new responsibility.

Class has become more interesting when you add in some "acting" and a spice of "drama".

Stephanie said...


The peer teaching session was definitely something different and has value-added this module. It was interesting to see my classmates peer teach and also to be a peer teacher myself. I observed that there were different teaching styles and each was unique in its own way. Throughout the peer teaching sessions, I learned the effective ways to capture the attention of the audience while at the same time effectively conveying the message.

I agree with the quote saying that teaching is judged by the students on how effective the learning experience had been. To add on, I feel that learning and teaching is a mutual process. Effectiveness also depends upon the response and receptivity of the audience. With respect to this, I would like to relate back to the peer teaching session which my team and I conducted. It was also with great contribution and engagement from my classmates which made the whole process enjoyable!

Unfortunately, I've met teachers/ lecturers who failed to state the learning objectives and just go ahead with their teachings. What is there to achieve if the direction is unclear? Therefore, I believe that for any effective learning to occur, there need to be a dedicated teacher (who is determined to impart knowledge) and a responsive student driven by some common goals to be achieved.

Ye Thu Win said...

Hi Brad,

I learned a lot from peer teaching. Since our group was the first one, we didn’t have any standard measurement to compare and I was afraid and nervous till the end. Before the actual day, we did the dry run and that was terrible. Luckily, Geraldine and Lin Hui effectively pointed out my mistakes and I became aware of theses. Rehearsal helped me a lot. I became aware of my subconscious and unconscious action and speech. I felt quite satisfactory after the peer teaching comparing to the rehearsal. It was a wonderful experience for me!

I love your quotation in the first paragraph. I compare that quotation with my engineering core modules, and unluckily, some modules are like “…, what you think”. I feel that it becomes NUS culture that lecturers have to teach so fast to cover the syllabus in time due to so many lessons within limited time. Hence, some fails the objective of teaching. I feel that teaching is a combination of arts and science. You have to understand what people feel or think and at the same time, you have to deliver the message accurately to get maximum understanding. It is never an easy job. Teachers’ roles and responsibilities are very important for students to have a good attitude and outstanding characters.

peirong said...

The peer teaching was a valuable learning experience. Not only are we required to teach the audience who are our peers, it requires us to work together as a group in a relatively short period of time, to come up with innovative methods so as not to bore the audience. I find this challenging and rewarding because not only are we imparting some knowledge to others, we are also assessed by our audience. Constructive feedback and criticisms were also given by our peers and helped to improve the learning experience.

I strongly feel that this activity should be continued in this module as it would benefit everyone in the class.