Michael Toth in Edweek: The Value of Peer Teaching

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This excerpt was originally published in Edweek, Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo Blog

Michael D. Toth is the author of the award-winning book, Who Moved My Standardsthe co-author with David Sousa of Improving Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Learning Through Academic Teaming (forthcoming, 2019), and the co-author with Dr. Robert J. Marzano of The Essentials for Standards-Driven Classrooms, School Leadership for Results, and Teacher Evaluation That Makes a Difference. Toth addresses teachers, school leaders, and superintendents at national conferences, policy forums, and workshops, including past addresses to the U.S. Department of Education and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


Peer Teaching and Coaching Through Academic Teams

Peer teaching and coaching is a key element in the development of students’ social-emotional skills, as well as other crucial 21stcentury workforce skills like critical thinking and creative problem solving.

We have found the best way to embed peer teaching and coaching in daily classroom instruction is by shifting to a team-centered model of instruction. Students step up to support each other when the proper team structures are in place.

Arguably ,student teams that have more peer coaching have more student learning, as illustrated in Improving Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Learning Through Academic Teaming(Sousa & Toth, in press). This is a healthy sign of what we call teaming effects that result from strong team structures, well-defined roles, and norms. Our field research has shown when these structures produce teaming effects such as use of academic vocabulary in student discourse and debate, self- and peer-regulation and -encouragement and students owning the team results, that peer teaching and coaching is a natural result.  

Peer teaching and coaching is a key element in the development of students' social-emotional skills, as well as other crucial 21st-century workforce skills like critical thinking and creative problem solving. - Michael Toth Click To Tweet

Techniques for Beginning Student Grouping

To help support productive peer teaching and coaching in academic teams, we recommend at minimum the roles below for each team:

  1. The facilitator, who ensures that every group member participates equally and keeps track of time.
  2. The success-criteria quality checker, who tracks the group’s progress to the learning target and ensures that every member is learning according to the success criteria.

To establish conditions for peer teaching and coaching, we have seen teachers post and regularly reinforce the following classroom norms:

  1. Respect others by: not talking out of turn; being kind to others; being appropriate.
  2. Disagreeing: look at the person; use a nice voice; tell how you feel; give a reason; listen to the other person.
  3. Before you start a task: read learning target to your group; read success criteria to your group; read the task; pick out important information; explain how the task will demonstrate the learning target and the success criteria; plan your work using the success criteria. 

Teachers often post “question stems” as communication guidelines during peer teaching and coaching:

  1. “Have you tried…?”
  2. “Did you think about…?”
  3. “What is your evidence?”
  4. “I agree/disagree with you because…”
  5. “Can you explain why you think that?”

From Grouping to Teaming

Once students are comfortable with teacher-imposed roles, norms, and communication guidelines, the classroom can begin moving into team-centered instruction. In a team-centered classroom, students take ownership of their learning and that of their peers while completing the task. Students no longer rely on the teacher or on scripted supports; conversations and debates become natural. In a team-centered classroom, peer teaching and coaching becomes embedded in the classroom culture, and students develop highly advanced SEL and other critical 21st-century skills.