Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
December 1, 2015
Vol. 73
No. 4

Show & Tell: A Video Column / Students as Co-Teachers

author avatar
author avatar

Show & Tell: A Video Column / Students as Co-Teachers- thumbnail
Teaching with another human being is a powerful experience. When there's sufficient trust between people who are teaching collaboratively, both students and teachers can benefit.
The two of us have co-taught classes since 1999. In our experience, students benefit when we teach in tandem. For example, in one lesson Doug explained the ways in which readers can analyze a character's development in a text while Nancy took notes, which the students could view on a document camera. At times during the class discussion, Nancy would think aloud about the information she was hearing and how she was recording it so that she could use it later. Thus, the students had access to the information as well as a model for metacognitive processing.
But the benefits of co-teaching are not limited to students. We've become more skilled teachers because we talk about our lessons. One time, as we planned a lesson in which students would work in groups of three to discuss their analyses of character development in a text, Nancy realized that we needed to integrate more assessment into the discussions. Together, we thought through the ways students could demonstrate understanding during their group discussions. Each student was analyzing a different text, which contributed to the complexity of this assessment. But we figured it out together: We decided to have students use a graphic organizer that would allow them to track the development of the characters they were analyzing and then compare the results with others in their group. Working together helped us develop that solution.

Creating the Peer-Teacher Program

Thinking about what we have learned from co-teaching, we wondered whether students could also benefit from this experience. So we created a class called Peer Teaching, in which we recruit 11th and 12th grade students to teach alongside classroom teachers in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. Peer teachers are assigned one period with a specific teacher, and they are in that class daily. These students provide instruction for their peers while receiving course credit and service learning hours. Some of the students who enroll in the peer-teaching class hope to become teachers; for them, the class provides an opportunity for career exploration. Other students participate because they really like a class or teacher, and they want to help others develop that same level of appreciation. And still others participate to earn service learning credit.
Before the school year starts, a group of teachers engage the peer teachers in a two-day boot camp that gives them general guidelines about teaching strategies, routines, and procedures. During the school year, students in the peer-teaching class attend weekly teaching methods seminars led by a special educator, who also invites other teachers in as guests to share their thinking. In the seminars, students learn how to
  • Identify learning targets. The peer teachers have to determine what they want students to know and to ensure that the content they're focused on is appropriate for the grade level of the students they teach.
  • Determine success criteria. As part of their plans, the peer teachers determine what success would look like for a given learning target. This requires an understanding of differentiated instruction and assessment, as well as recognition that students can demonstrate success in many different ways.
  • Structure collaborative learning tasks. The peer teachers are taught how to use collaborative learning tasks, such as jigsaw, reciprocal teaching, literature circles or book clubs, or collaborative posters. Of course, they have directly experienced collaborative activities through their enrollment in our school. Drawing on both of these experiences, students propose learning tasks to their partner teacher.
  • Guide small-group learning. The peer teachers learn how they can use prompts, cues, and questions to guide students' learning instead of relying on direct explanations or just giving the answers.
The peer-teaching class has been in place for four years, and the results are impressive. More than 80 percent of the peer teachers get better grades during and after their peer-teaching experiences. In addition, their writing performance has improved, as measured on essay grades. These data are not surprising; John Hattie has noted that peer tutoring benefits not only those being tutored, but also those doing the tutoring. At this point, 65 percent of the more than 175 peer teachers have declared education and teaching as their intended major or career focus.

See It in Action

In the video that accompanies this column, we see teacher Sarah Soriano meeting with a group of peer teachers several weeks into the school year to check in with them about their successes.
We also visit three classrooms in which the peer teachers are engaged in instruction. In a 9th grade math class, Riahana reminds a student how to check her answer, after the student asked her whether it was right. Note that Riahana doesn't tell her student whether the answer is correct, but rather provides her with a method for checking. We then visit Alejandra, who is working in a 9th grade English class, as she helps a student compose an essay, prompting him to locate a quote from the text The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka to use as evidence. Third, we visit Lupe in a 10th grade English class as she facilitates a small-group conversation about thesis statements.

Everyone Benefits

We've found that teaching in tandem with students is a powerful way to ensure that students learn. As you can imagine, Riahana understands math better because she's developed lessons on that subject. And Alejandra and Lupe are better writers because they've analyzed writing with an emphasis on teaching others to write well.
But it isn't just the peer teachers who benefit from this experience. The students in their classes also benefit because they have the advantage of hearing two different perspectives on each topic—one of them from someone close to their own age. And then there's the teachers. All our participating teachers wish that they could have their peer teacher teach with them all day. They become better teachers as they discuss lessons with another person, make adjustments to those lessons as they listen to the perspectives of a high school student, and maintain their sensitivity to students as learners.
Teaching in tandem is powerful, and the peer-teaching class is just one of the many potential ways to mobilize resources so that teachers are less isolated. It's time to de-privatize our practice and learn from anyone who is willing to share.
Instructional Strategies

EL Magazine Show & Tell / December 2015 - January 2016

9 years ago
End Notes

1 Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge

Nancy Frey is a professor of literacy in educational leadership at San Diego State University where she focuses on policies and practices in literacy and school leadership. Staying true to her belief that it is critical to remain deeply embedded in the life of a school, she also teaches at Health Sciences High and Middle College, an award-winning open-enrollment public school in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, which she cofounded with Ian Pumpian and Doug Fisher.

For over two decades, her work has been dedicated to the knowledge and skills of caring teachers and school leaders needed to help students attain their goals and aspirations. Frey’s interests include instructional design, curriculum development, and professional learning. She is a recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Early Career Award from the Literacy Research Association.

Frey has published many articles and books on literacy, instructional design, curriculum development, and professional learning, including Student Learning Communities: A Springboard for Academic and Social-Emotional Developments.


Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
From our issue
Product cover image 116031.jpg
Co-Teaching: Making It Work
Go To Publication