Students learn from each other

In Elizabeth St. Germain’s article “Five Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design,” design pitfall #5 stood out to me for my ALS 161 Listening/Speaking class: Don’t ignore the ways students learn from each other. A vital part of learning a second language comes from using that language and making mistakes in that language. If students are always looking to the teacher to guide them in “perfect English” (which doesn’t exist, by the way), they will dramatically decrease their chances for authentic communication. After all, most speakers of English aren’t native anyways.

Additionally, English teachers talk a lot about the potential benefits and drawbacks of peer editing. ESL students hate it because they feel unequipped to correct other students’ English. So I’m always trying to boost students’ confidence in their own abilities, so they have more self-assuredness to critique their classmates’ work.

In the hybrid course, because there will be less face time with the teacher, building trust among students to learn from each other will be crucial. One way I plan to address this is by modeling regular, positive feedback online and in person and including activities that establish personal commonalities between students. Another way I plan to encourage group feedback and collaboration is by providing students multiple methods for interaction, including formal and informal ones. For instance, my students will sometimes need the scaffolding of a formal critique checklist of what to look for and comment on when it comes to assessing one another. They need basic examples of what to say and encouragement to do so.

For many reasons, I’m looking forward to a hybrid classroom because of its potential to allow students the time and space to contemplate their responses instead of always being asked for their ideas on the spot. And by setting the expectation early that students should provide feedback and comments on each other’s work – whether it’s a video, audio, blog, discussion board, wiki, etc. – will increase their own self-reliance and collaboration.

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4 Responses to Students learn from each other

  1. elliokar says:

    You brought up some great ways to avoid this pitfall! I agree that it is incredibly essential for students to interact with each other and build that trust and friendly “classroom” environment in a hybrid format. Are you going to have a specific number of responses that students need to fulfill in terms of peer feedback in the discussion board? When I have used discussion boards, I have built into the rubric a peer feedback section, in which they are required to respond to two peers by a due date. I am always so impressed with how thoughtful their feedback is to each other and the wonderful input they provide! It truly is part of the valuable learning and growing process for students. I really like how you have a formal critique checklist that students can adhere to. That can really help those who are new to the discussion board and hybrid format.

    • terrella says:

      Yes, specifying a minimum number of comments is a must. Thanks for mentioning that! I was given the same instruction for online discussion boards in college, and I’ve found the “respond to two posts” is a good number.

  2. Demian says:

    I also think the peer review process is tremendously beneficial–something happens when a student goes from learning to teaching or assessing. Not only does this build confidence, but it also forces them to conceptualize the material differently. Put differently, teaching changes the dynamic from “I know what I know” to “how do I get someone else to know what I know.” Obviously very different processes.

    I imagine it’s very difficult with language learning to instill confidence, as there’s so much wrapped up in being right. Maybe some self-assessment would be a good balance? Either way, I have empathy for wha you’re trying to do…

    • terrella says:

      Thanks, Demian! Peer review is always a learning process for students … as well as teachers. I really love it when I basically show my students they don’t need me.

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