Peer Teaching from the Students’ Point of View

Is peer teaching as effective as many teachers think it is? Check out this scenario from the students' perspectives and determine if it really is as effective as it's often touted to be.
Imagine that you are in third grade. You have been struggling over a page of math word problems for the better part of half an hour. You really tried to understand when the teacher was explaining it, but she went through it so fast! You look around and can see that almost everyone else in the class has already finished. You raise your hand in hopes of getting some help from the teacher. The teacher sees you, but instead of coming over to help, she scans the room and spots Ashley reading at her desk.


“Ashley,” she says, “Can you please help Todd with his math?” Ashley looks annoyed as she puts her book face down on her desk and comes over to help.

Ashley quickly explains how to do the problem. When you still don’t get it, she starts talking to you like you are a kindergartner. She obviously thinks you are a complete idiot. At recess she will probably tell all her friends just how stupid you are. You can’t concentrate on what she is saying because you are feeling so ashamed and embarrassed by the whole situation. Finally, she just gives you the answers. Why couldn’t the teacher have just helped you herself?

Imagine you are in third grade. After sitting through the teacher’s long and boring explanation of how to do math word problems you already know how to do, you have whipped through the assignment. It was so easy! The good part is now you have almost twenty minutes to read! Harry and Ron are fighting a giant troll to save Hermione when you hear your name being called across the room.

“Ashley, can you please help Todd with his math?”  

“Again?” you think. “Can’t that kid do anything by himself?” You sigh, put down your book and go over to help. Maybe if you do it quickly, you can finish the chapter before recess. No such luck, of course. Todd is not getting it even when you try to go slow. It’s easier just to give him the answers. You wonder why the teacher can’t just help him herself. It’s her job after all. 

As a student I was often Todd (until around fifth grade when I learned to compensate for whatever undiagnosed learning disability I have). As a teacher of gifted students, my class was full of Ashleys. In my opinion most elementary children do not have the maturity or the sensitivity to be kind and effective peer teachers. In most cases the teaching student is given no instruction on how to teach. Further, a gifted student’s time in class should be spent exploring new and challenging material, not teaching other kids what she knows inside and out.

I really, really don’t like peer teaching when one student is clearly struggling. (I love partner and group work or programs that pair a much older student with a younger one; this situation is different.)  Agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts?

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