Peer Groups -- fun or a nightmare?

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There is this trend to use peer groups to help kids learn at school.  I understand why people may think it's a good idea. 

There are peers that understand what the teacher is working on and can help others - as the teacher only has so much time. Or the group work offers opportunities to work as a 'team' - however, a team is usually made up of selected people that bring their strengths to the table - not their weaknesses. 

I've watched videos on this subject and why this approach has benefits.  But as I watched the videos, all I could think about was how terrifying it was (and still is...at times) for me to work with peers in a group.

Just stepping into a group setting puts me 'on guard' or in a state of 'fight or flight' mode.

What will be requested of me?  

Will I be embarrassed again? Silently shamed for what  I CAN'T do as well as others? 

How can I get out of this situation?  

This setting, in most cases, does NOT offer a learning opportunity ...but a place to 'survive'. 

What does 'surviving' look like: 

Understanding the Information is LOST 

Reading out loud to a group is the number one fear that leads to complete embarrassment as you stumble through the words.  Even if you know all the words, the anxiety that is associated with 'reading out loud' leads you to read quickly and stumble. Not only that, but you focus so hard on getting the reading RIGHT that you have no time to really grasp what the information is.  And on top of this, the whole time this reading experience is going on, you are so consumed with 'when you will have to read again' that you don't even take in what others are reading.  

Getting the ideas DOWN may be MINIMAL

The second dread is spelling and writing out your ideas while others watch.  If you are asked to scribe ideas for others, you are left in a very similar position as reading out loud.  You are so focused on spelling the words correctly that transferring the ideas to paper can easily be lost, and the risk of shame is there again for you to face.  People can't imagine what it's like not to spell a word correctly --particularly an easy word.  You may even know how to spell the word at any other time but when this pressure to perform is there with the peers -- your skills can easily drop.  

The 'possible' END result

The peer groups (and even peer tutoring) can leave you exposed to 'silent shame'--and limited learning.  

We, the adults, need to be AWARE of the 'lack of learning' and even worse, the 'negative impact' that peer groups (and even peer tutoring) can have on a student. 

Can Peer Groups WORK?

Peer Groups could work if students were able to bring their strengths to the group-- and they were aware of what was requested of them in advance, so they can come to the group prepared and ready to learn.  

This approach requires planning to ensure a 'safe' learning environment that promotes confidence and learning -- instead of dread and anxiety. 

 

Susan