Extinguishing Behavioral Problems with Peer Programs: Challenging Students to be Active and Accountable

Engaging students is at the top of every educator’s list, but how to engage today’s student is far more vexing.

For some, engagement can mistakenly be synonymous with entertainment. In schools around the country teachers try tricked out gadgets, expensive software, experimental pedagogies to try and tap into what interests the 21st century student. It’s important to cater to the interests of students, but the end result shouldn’t be to be hip to new technology. Instead, engagement, whether achieved through flashy technology or not, should aim to tame behavioral problems, improve student grades and retention, deepen learning, and call student’s forth to be active and accountable .

One class profiled in the article “To Change Behavior, Students Act as Teachers” used a reading-buddy model to engage an entire fourth-grade class described as having an “appalling” lack of respect. “If you know what it’s like to be a teacher, you probably are going to be a better student,” said Teddy Gross, the co-author of the buddy-reading curriculum, in the article.

At Public School 51, the program started with a first-grade teacher coming to the fourth-grade class and telling them she needed help teaching her first-graders how to read or they wouldn’t reach second-grade. The fourth-graders were hooked. They spent the next week learning how to be reading tutors, then were released in the first-grade class. After their reading session with their reading buddy, they would debrief in their classroom about what worked and what didn’t. A few students who were trouble makers themselves complained about their difficult reading buddies who didn’t want to read.

In the end, the six week program wasn’t enough to extinguish all behavioral problems, but it did bring the classroom closer together and give students a new perspective that made them more manageable in the classroom. This is just one of many innovative ways educators can engage students without having to turn to technology. Giving students more responsibility and challenging, unpredictable assignments is a powerful way to engage.

This summer, LifeBound’s summer classes in Colorado Springs, Jefferson County and Omaha, Nebraska, focus on enrichment facilitated by teachers while creating a way for students to teach each other for the last day of a five week class. Students get a period of time each day to think through their approach, consider important topics to be conveyed and the options in which they have to creatively and effectively communicate and faciltitate the learning.  This accomplishes a variety of things:

1)      Students need to plan and think about an impactful rubric whereby peers can learn from them

2)      Students must know the content and think about it in different ways in order to teach it

3)      Students gain a perspective on what teachers go through every day

4)      Students are much more aware of why being actively involved matters in the learning process

It’s time for us to realize that students are the captains of their own learning. As teachers, we can facilitate that process as their guide and their coach.  Most importantly, however, is our ability to create an environment of learning that calls students forth, gives them a chance to create and teach, and holds them accountable for their learning and teaching choices.



“To Change Behavior, Students Act as Teachers,” by Beth Fertig. 27 June 2012. School Book. Accessed on 2 July 2012.  http://www.nytimes.com/schoolbook/2012/06/27/to-change-behavior-students-walk-in-teachers-shoes/

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