Numerous research studies have supported the theory that children – and adults – often learn best from their peers, as learning is a truly social experience. And while the role of teacher or therapist can never be underestimated, your best role at certain times may be that of gatekeeper: Provide the necessary guidance, then stand back and allow collaborative learning to succeed.
It’s like putting a positive spin on peer pressure. Having students help each other is an extremely powerful classroom technique, as it improves children’s achievements, perseverance, persistence and overall attitude toward school.
From Preschool to Harvard
One of the keys to interactive learning is encouraging students to demonstrate kind, helpful behavior toward each other. Researchers have found that this results in greater academic success for children, as well as the development of better relationships with teachers and friendships with classmates.
- In a 2010 study published in the journal Psychological Science, 18-month old children were shown photos of household objects, like a tea kettle, featuring different backgrounds: two dolls facing each other, a single doll, or two dolls facing away from each other. Those who say the dolls facing each other were three times more likely than the others to spontaneously help a person in need. All it took was a gentle reminder of human connectedness to prompt kids to reach out and help someone else.
- At Harvard University, physics professor Eric Mazur incorporated interactive learning into a course that involved solving complicated problems. The result was significantly better knowledge retention. Scores of other faculty members adopted his approach.
Make it Happen
A few simple, effective, research-based tips can help you encourage students to encourage others:
- When you set up your therapy area, hang posters of people interacting and helping each other. Such visual clues not only prompt students to imitate them, but also let them know that you personally value this kind of behavior.
- Greet students every day. Children are more likely to behave with kindness and encouragement if they feel a sense of belonging. A study of 158 tenth and twelfth-graders found that those who felt connected to their teachers and other students scored higher in empathy – a building block of prosocial behavior.
- Use a warm, positive tone of voice. Start this on the first day of school and continue it throughout the year. Modeling kind speech with students tends to have the effect of them positively interacting with one another.
- Provide students with opportunities to assist each other. For instance, when they work in cooperative learning groups, inform them that one of their responsibilities is to help one another.
Read our related articles or contact Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services for additional tools, research and in-depth knowledge to support and advance your school therapy career. And check out our job listings for current opportunities in the Atlanta region and beyond.