September 14, 2020

Peer to peer teaching: online edition

Ben Mardell

Earlier this year, as COVID spread across the globe and schools began to transition online, we launched a Playful Home Learning Series. We thought this series would be meaningful for one, maybe two months. Yet for many schools around the world, distance and/or hybrid learning is still in effect. Having a separate series seems moot, as online and in person schooling intertwine. We will continue to publish online playful learning and teaching pieces as part of our regular posts, just not under the Home Learning Series label. If you are particularly interested in distance learning, you can curate your own mini-series by clicking the "home learning" category on the left.

As schools in the northern hemisphere return after summer break, many will still be in distance learning mode, while others will be trying a hybrid online/in-person model. Educators may therefore continue to grapple with the question: What can playful learning look like online? Well, we’ve made a video that provides an illustration of online playful learning, highlighting a pedagogy of play strategy of supporting peer to peer teaching.  

The example comes from the 4th grade at the Advent School, an independent school serving students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade in Boston. In the example, co-teachers Christine Dowling and Danielle Tye invite their 4th grade students to teach a lesson to their classmates. Coming at the end of the school year last spring, after instruction had been online for several months, the assignment was an extension of the writing curriculum which focused on expressing ideas clearly.

In the video you will meet Eamon, who teaches his classmates about kind pranking, and Sol, who teaches about how to relieve stress. You’ll see parts of their presentations and you’ll learn how Christine and Danielle prepared their students for their presentations.

This strategy of peer to peer teaching involves recognizing that children can be effective teachers, and that the adults are not the only teachers in the room. It involves providing opportunities for children to learn from one another, and helping children see each other as resources with ideas and skills that can support each other’s learning.

Peer to peer teaching can be spontaneous—a student comes to you with a question and you refer her to other students who might have expertise or have been considering the issue so they can discuss and explore with each other. Peer to peer teaching can be planful, with official recognition of children’s expertise. For example, teachers at the International School of Billund in Denmark were finding that students’ creative flow in the maker space was being disrupted because children were having to rely on (and wait for) adults to use certain tools, such as the laser printer and the hot glue gun and even the sharp scissors for the kindergartners. So they set up a licensing system so that children can take a test and, if they pass, use tools by themselves and help their peers.

Stay tuned for more posts, and perhaps videos, about other PoP teaching strategies.