We have all heard of peer teaching in small groups, in pairs, and in whole classes. Peer teaching is a natural approach in my diverse setting. It is not always the higher level students teaching the lower level students. Sometimes the non-reader might be really excellent in math. He can then shine by helping a lower level math student, and the one who struggles in math can help the first student with word problems. What’s important to remember is the one doing the teaching is learning as much as the one being helped.
There are tons of mutually beneficial combinations. Many teams form naturally, based on who they choose to work with and where they feel the most comfortable. Remember the three guys helping each other learn to subtract? That’s a perfect example.
One of my lowest level students, Mr. Ramirez*, knew a technique to better understand measurements and fractions. This was like a “Kodak moment” for me, and with a little prodding, he explained it to the whole class.
It was a hands-on activity. Mr. Ramirez had them all take a piece of paper, fold it in half, quarters, eighths and sixteenths, and then they all labeled the folds, creating an enlarged inch. I was amazed at his ability to explain this, and honestly shocked at the value of this simple lesson. Even the supposedly higher level students were clearly engaged and learning.
It is important to be on the lookout for opportunities like that. Mr. Ramirez came back in the afternoon and presented the lesson to that class. The look of pride on his face was priceless. It was also precious to see how successful the exercise was with the other students.
I find it is difficult for my students to make presentations to the class. They are more uncomfortable than most people, when it comes to speaking to groups. If a man can show just three or four others what he knows, I think that can be effective, or, at least the first step. Eventually, he may be able to teach the whole class like Mr. Ramirez with his measurement lesson.
*All names have been changed in order to protect the privacy of each individual.
Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at .