Peer-coaching and Technology

A quote from an article by Amy Golod for USA News and World Report called “Educators Work to Better Integrate Technology Into the Classroom”:

“Typically, a pre-service teacher is between 18 and 22, so many people think they should know all about technology, but this is an overestimation of digital media skills,” Hughes says. “For example, they use social networking sites such as Facebook, but there are lots of other social networking applications.”

This is one of the biggest misconceptions that teachers make about students. Just because a student can use Facebook or Twitter does not mean that they are able to translate those skills to other areas as well. Often times, I have had to train students on the use of Powerpoint or Word for the most basic of tasks. Students know how to do a few tasks really well, but not everything is transferable to other areas. It’s like saying that I can drive a car, so I must be able to drive a Formula One race car. While certain things remain the same, most the most critical pieces are missing.

Here in lies the problem for ELT teachers: How can we teach something we don’t know ourselves? Here is where peer-coaching from other instructors or even students helping other students can make up the virtual gap in understanding. Our primary goal is to teach English, not teach technology. Still, teaching someone a skill can help someone use the language in context. The balance is found in giving enough instruction and then letting the student fill in the gaps. Have students watch videos or read articles on how to use a particular tool and then have them teach one another.

I have used this extensively in my English and Photography class. I have the students prepare ‘How to’ presentations on using a single aspect of photography by doing research online and by practicing it themselves before presenting it to the class. I simply provide the guidance and make sure that they are not straying too far off the mark. I also provide them the language necessary to present their finding and give correction along the way. In the end, they have accomplished a task (TBLT) and students teach one another (peer-learning).

How have you handled the changes in the classroom? Have you been able to coach someone else?

The wonder of peer-teaching

From Dr. Olenka Bilash in her article Student Motivation and Investment in the Language Classroom:

If you are passionate about your subject area and show enthusiasm, this can influence student motivation. Being passionate about your subject area also means you are more likely to invest your own time and perhaps even your own money in creating a milieu that makes it interesting and exciting for the students. This means you may have more posters, intriguing objects, pictures or postcards of your own travels, personal photo albums from trips, and allow your students to see all of these things.

While I agree with Dr. Bilash, I am a bit worried that we are keeping the focus on the teacher here. By focusing on your trips, your experiences, and your knowledge, it puts the instructor as the dispenser of knowledge and the most important person in the room. I am sure that is not what Dr. Bilash is thinking here and I would think that she would agree when I say that there is a lot we can learn from our students and they can help teach one another.

Today, my class was working on a project in small groups and one student was having problems with something and instead of turning to me, he asked another student in a different group to help him. He had remembered that this student had experience in this area and decided to use him as his ‘teacher’ instead of me. I just sat back, listened, and smiled as this one student carefully explained to his classmate what to do. Do you think that the student who was asked felt good about being able to help someone? I am certain of it. I just wish that happened more often.