UKEdMag: The Power of Peer Teaching by @Missjones110


The bell rings for the end of class, and as usual, there is one boy who I’ve held back. This boy, let’s call him Jake, has for the 5th or 6th week in a row single-handedly ruined my lesson. Heckling, refusal to work, general low-level, but persistent silliness and backchat all feature in his repertoire. This student is not struggling, he doesn’t dislike me particularly, or even my subject – he just needs to be the centre of attention.

But I’ve reached breaking point. The time has passed for lectures, detentions and phone calls home. I don’t get angry, I don’t make threats, I simply place a pack of resources on the desk in front of him and say quietly:

“Jake, because of your behaviour today the rest of the class suffered. Work was not fully completed, students were off-task, and time that I should have spent supporting those students who need additional help was forfeited because I had to address your behaviour. If you cannot bear to not be the centre of attention, then that’s fine – next week, the stage is yours”.

I told him that he would research the topic of next lesson and prepare a starter, main activity and a recap activity. He would deliver the lesson solo, and best of all he’d have 100% of the attention. For the first time since I’ve taught him, Jake merely stared and said nothing.

He had 3 days to create this lesson, after which point he was to email it to me and I would send it back for editing before its delivery the following week. Not holding out much hope, I was surprised when I heard my email notification ping on Sunday evening and saw an email with an attached Powerpoint and word documents. With credit to him there was a source of inference square starter, a reading sheet and questions, followed by a short video for the main – and an adapted familiar plenary game at the end.

Shocked, impressed and quite frankly a little speechless I sent it back with some tweaks and eagerly anticipated the coming lesson. Jake walked in and I invited him to set up as I made myself comfortable at the back of the room. Jake stood awkwardly at the front, unusually quiet, as his classmates walked around the room, chatted with friends, shouted across tables to each other. I smiled back but didn’t intervene. After a few minutes, I stood up, settled the class and told them that Jake would be taking the lesson. I didn’t interrupt again for the rest of the hour.

The reaction was fascinating. Some students laughed in disbelief, some heckled Jake from their seats, others turned around and stared at me, trying to work out whether this was all a big prank. Jake awkwardly introduced the starter, a little flustered and stumbling over his words. The class raised their hands to ask questions but got on with the task. Jake went over to people with raised hands to assist and then asked some students to read what they had written. Cutting students off (albeit a little aggressively) when they shouted out or interrupted each other, Jake heard from a few of the class members and even praised them for their answers.

With increased confidence, he set up the main activity and even proceeded to circulate while students worked. I listened to him point out spelling errors, and chastise one of his friends for being lazy – instructing him not to just write in one word answers: ‘this isn’t primary school’. It was somewhat unnerving to listen to him parrot my commonly used phrases back to the class ‘remember to support all points with evidence’, ‘make sure you fully develop your explanation’, ‘be ambitious with your adjectives’, ‘use your keyword mats to help you’.

By the time he reached the plenary the class were responding well, the novelty of the situation having worn off, and Jake seemed to be enjoying himself. I dug out one of my NQT observation forms and at the end of the lesson went through the long list of positive comments with him. He was chuffed, in the awkward, embarrassed way that teenage boys, unused to receiving praise, often are. He asked me if he could do the same the following week. The following week, 3 students stayed back to ask if they could have a turn next. What began as student’s punishment to make up for a loss of learning is now something my year 9’s compete to do.

If you had told me in my first few months of teaching that by the end of the year, my year 9 class, whose behaviour is notorious across the school, who look for distraction and mischief at every opportunity, and disengage from any task which lasts more than 4 minutes (even when it includes gangsters and murder), I would have laughed in your face. As it is, my class are more engaged than they’ve ever been, and they participate more enthusiastically and fully than I would have ever thought possible. The greatest effect of peer-teaching isn’t that it’s made lessons more interesting or that it’s allowed students greater ownership over their learning, it’s the confidence it’s instilled in them. In my school, as in many, apathy is one of the greatest barriers to success. Boosting these students confidence has allowed them to truly flourish – and their climbing results are evidence of it.

As my NQT year draws to a close it dawns on me, that while I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, my most dreaded class of my NQT year has become my favourite lesson of the week, and one of my proudest achievements.

Hollie Jones @Missjones110 is a Newly Qualified teacher of History, currently working in Walsall. Some days surviving, others thriving she seeks to share her stories in the hope that they will encourage or and entertain other teaching professionals. After all, teaching is a team effort and our solidarity is our greatest strength.

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