Peer learning

16th May 2008 at 01:00
Parents at St Monans Primary, in the East Neuk of Fife, were not impressed when they heard their children were to be tutored by senior pupils
Parents at St Monans Primary, in the East Neuk of Fife, were not impressed when they heard their children were to be tutored by senior pupils. "They were of the opinion that it should be the teacher teaching their children," explained headteacher Diane Palmer.

Staff also had their concerns. The school had opted into the peer education study, keen to adopt the programme to improve pupils' reading. In the event, they were chosen to run peer learning in maths, dedicating far more time each week to peer learning - one-and-a-half hours - than they had originally planned.

"The schools did not get to do what they felt intuitively would work best," said Keith Topping, professor of educational and social research at Dundee University. "It depended on what came out of the hat."

Now, however, everyone is a peer learning convert, including parents.

"At parents' night they were thrilled," said Mrs Palmer. "They felt the older children had gained in confidence and were better able to explain things."

The school has also observed other areas of progress. Mags Waterson, who teaches the P4-5 composite class which is being tutored by P6-7, said: "The kids are not only getting maths out of it, they are becoming more confident and learning to work together."

The technique has particularly suited children with short attention spans and problems like ADHD, said Mrs Palmer. However, she is especially gratified by the growth in mutual respect between pupils.

She said: "The maths tutoring has really led to more opportunity for discussion and support than reading would have done. And they have been building relationships more easily because of that."

Celine, who is in P6 and works with Charli, a P5 pupil, confided that she thought peer learning was going to be "quite tricky because you are working with someone who does not know that much". However, she went on to discover that Charli was "actually quite good at it".

Celine added: "If it's not right, you praise them and they have another go."

Jamie, who is in P7, said he liked peer learning because "you work with people you've never worked with before". He continued: "Sometimes tutors learn as well from the problem, because you can't tell the tutee the answer and have to help them work towards it. You use lots of strategies."

Ms Waterson admitted it was a struggle to take a step back and let pupils solve the problems themselves. As Mrs Palmer pointed out, it was not an easy option for teachers. "A lot of input is required initially, training pupils and making sure they are on task," she said.

Kyle McMillan, P4, (left) is tutored by Dylan Muir, P7.

Photograph: Fraser Band.

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