More Thoughts on Peer Instruction

Peer instruction, a technique in which students answer questions, present arguments as to why their answer is correct to a partner or small group, and then answer the questions again, this time with (hopefully) a better understanding of the concept, has proven to be a successful way to engage students in learning experiences.  This method is beneficial because it gives students more than one potential teacher, and the more ways something is explained, the more chances a student has of understanding the concept.  Additionally, it makes students think critically about their processes for arriving at answers, and come up with a well thought out argument in defense of their answer choices.  Learning how to think critically is as important as learning the content or skills, so this is a definite benefit of peer instruction.

Despite its obvious advantages, is peer instruction something that could work in a secondary library?  I think it could, with some adaptations from its original format in college lecture courses.  Ryan Campbell, a secondary teacher, has some tips for adapting peer instruction to work in a high school class, including writing clearly defined learning objectives, using peer instruction for skills as well as content, and limiting the time spent on direct instruction/lecturing. [1] (More of his tips can be found here.)

These tips are helpful for librarians in addition to classroom teachers, particularly since we are often teaching skills rather than content.  In a secondary library lesson, the librarian may teach students how to evaluate a website to determine whether it is a reliable resource, and then implement peer instruction with questions related to this skill.  Students may be given a website to evaluate, and then have to explain to their partner or group members why it is or is not a reliable source.  This could be adapted for different skills, or even different situations.  Although it strays somewhat from the original technique, students working on a research project could explain to a partner their process for locating information on a topic, new information they learned about their topic, how they are planning to present or publish their new knowledge, etc.

Peer instruction empowers students by allowing them to take on the role of teacher, while at the same time helping them to develop important critical thinking skills.  It is definitely something that could be beneficial in a library setting.

References

1. Campbell, R. (2012, June 19). Does peer instruction work in high schools? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blog.peerinstruction.net/2012/06/19/does-peer-instruction-work-in-high-schools-2/

 

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Peer Instruction in the Library

So, last time, I started talking about what peer instruction is, how it works, and why it is beneficial. Now that we know what it is, we can talk about how peer instruction can be used in the library.

Peer instruction was initially designed for, and has mostly been used in, the university setting; however, I think it would still be a useful technique in elementary or secondary schools, though some modifications may be necessary.  What would peer instruction look like in an elementary setting?

In the library, the skills being taught aren’t content area skills, but rather information literacy and inquiry skills. After the librarian teaches a mini-lesson on, for example, using the library catalog, she could ask students questions, such as how to find a particular book in the catalog, or why a particular search was unsuccessful. Students can answer individually (perhaps by using clickers, or another tool like Socrative or PollEverywhere, depending on the available technology). Students must then defend their answers to a partner or small group.  Finally, the librarian has all students answer again, and is able to see if the percentage of students who understand has improved.

While the questions asked in the library might not have the same concrete answers as those in the content area classes, the process of students explaining to one another how they figured something out, and helping others to understand a concept or idea, is very beneficial, despite the different setting. The librarian is teaching students the basics of the skill or concept, but the students must describe their thought process, present an argument for their answer, and, at times, teach other students why and how to do a certain thing.  Students are sometimes better able to explain things to other students than the teacher, so this technique can be a useful one for teachers and librarians.