Does Peer Instruction Work in High Schools? Part 2


Last week, we heard from Peer Instruction Network member, Ryan Campbell, who teaches high school history using Peer Instruction. This is the second part in his 2-part series on how to adapt PI for use in high school settings. 

The Ten Non-Commandments for adapting Peer Instruction to the high school setting: Part 2 in a 2-Part Series 

Post by Ryan Campbell 

…continued from June 19, 2012

6th Non Commandment: Consider including an active starter activity

I would suggest experimenting with having starter questions either on the whiteboard or cut up into strips and have the class mill around and ask each other. As well as giving you a perfect starter activity, it will also allow you to fine tune any weaker answer responses on your ConcepTests as student responses to the open-ended questions will give you some valuable (and occasionally disturbing) insights into any misconceptions they may have.

7th Non Commandment: Small is beautiful so exploit your class size to your advantage

As I’ve hinted at above, working at the secondary level gives you some important advantages over the tertiary setting when using PI. This is particularly apparent in terms of flexibility. Instead of ‘turn to your neighbor’, you can easily have the whole class stand up and mill on a mission to ‘sway others to your point of view’. This adds a physical element to the discussion and is also motivating all on its own.

This flexibility from smaller class sizes at secondary level also allows you to easily add other levels to the PI formula as well. I’ve often had the class still split 50/50 or 60/40 even after the discussion phase. A small group, allows you to have add an extra final phase to the PI workflow where one (or even in pairs) spokespeople for one position or another get the opportunity to argue their case one more time to the class before getting a final vote. This works very well for many reasons, the most obvious being developing public speaking skills. Indeed, this development of confidence is one of the many ‘hidden’ benefits of Peer Instruction.

8th Non Commandment: External examinations are really your friends

If you are unsure what material to focus your ConcepTest questions, then rest assured someone on the internet has probably done it for you. If you teach International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement, then PI will allow you to suddenly develop a whole new appreciation (and understanding of) the course syllabus. Past papers and examiner reports in particular, are a superb resource for constructing ConcepTests.

9th Non Commandment: Let the results speak for themselves

 I don’t really need to explain this one do I? No one likes a try-hard. You may be flushed with PI enthusiasm but your colleagues could well be suffering from initiative fatigue. Peer instruction works and works well. Let the results speak for themselves.

10th Non Commandment: The PI structure should always be your base.

Experimentation is good, successful experimentation is even better but just make sure that you always return to the core PI workflow before tinkering again. This will ensure that you keep enjoying success and crucially, you will always be able to benefit from the work and experience of others on the PI network. If you don’t return to the core workflow you could find yourself lost down some professional cul de sac (or as I like to refer to it-my twenties).

Speaking personally, my next experiment is going to be introducing particularly persuasive, high status and high achieving students to the group discussion elements primed deliberately to defend the wrong answer. Other than sheer mischief making, this aims to eliminate any latent adolescent tendency to just support popular and persuasive students rather than rely on their own thinking. It may not work. That doesn’t matter.

Concluding thoughts

So does Peer Instruction work in the high school setting? The short answer is ‘Yes”. The peer instruction formula follows all the principles of good pedagogy, including built-in formative assessment in the shape of the concept questions, retrieval practice, and an emphasis on “joined up” learning by connecting homework to classroom assessments and to the overarching syllabus aims. The follow up, and much deeper question is “how does peer instruction work in high schools?” Hopefully, this post will begin that conversation.


The Ten Non-Commandments for adapting Peer Instruction to the high school setting

by Ryan Campbell

 1.    The learning objective and the ConcepTest were meant to be together. Don’t separate them.
2.    ConcepTests work equally as well for skills as they do for content.
3.    Plan for adolescent stuff getting in the way. This might include teens supporting the answer choices of popular peers or kids being less than diligent with their pre-class work.
4.    You have younger students with shorter attention spans. Cut the input segments from 15 mins to 5-10.
5.    You have a mixed ability cohort. Plan your ConcepTest answer response option with this fact in mind. Better yet, use their responses to construct the answer responses.
6.    Consider including an active starter activity with students milling round the class asking open-ended questions based around the learning objective.
7.    You have smaller class sizes. This gives you important advantages in terms of flexibility.
8.    If you’re working towards external examinations such as IB, or AP, the syllabus and past papers are superb tools for deciding what skills and concepts to focus your ConcepTest questions around.
9.    You may be all flushed with PI enthusiasm but your colleagues are probably suffering from initiative fatigue. Don’t try and persuade them, let the results speak for themselves.
10. The PI structure should always be your base. By all means tinker with it but always go back to the standard form before changing things again.

Readers, if you were to give a new high school PI user one tip, what would that be? (Use the Comments Section OR this form. 



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