On Peer-Teaching

Learning as a teamTeaching others to help them understand has been something that I enjoy doing. I became an Organic Chemistry Workshop Leader during the Fall semester of my third year of university (August to December 2010). As a workshop leader, my responsibilities consisted of the following:

  • Facilitated a productive learning environment for students to communicate ideas to solve problems.
  • Provided on-hand guidance to students to enrich their learning of Organic Chemistry.
  • Provided additional information (i.e. study tips) beyond the core requirements.

Although these duties are similar to those of a tutor, the basic goal was to have the students come up with the solutions to the problems themselves instead of having me lecture. This process is based on the theory of Peer Led Team Learning, in which students who have previously done well in a specific course can become leaders to successfully guide fellow students through a difficult course and encourage personal growth and motivation. While participating in workshop does– to an extent– lead to higher grades, the real deal is the individual’s motivation to learn the material. Students of Organic Chemistry are expected to be studying the material learned from lecture and self-practice so that when they come to workshop, they are able to put together the puzzle pieces with the guidance of their peers and workshop leader. In my personal experience, I found that my students did not fulfill these expectations.

At first, I had five students coming to my workshop session on Wednesdays from 12 to 2PM. These students were all of different academic backgrounds and learning styles. Some had trouble balancing their social life with their academics, leading to little time to review the material from class. Others were already at a high level of understanding the fundamentals of Organic Chemistry that they were more likely not to show up since they felt they have a good mastery of the material. To add, these students had different professors, whose teaching styles differed and not necessarily covered the same amount of material. Everyone was on a different page. As a result, I had to review the material thoroughly so that I can explain concepts as necessary.

A major problem I had was trying to explain less and use questions to verbally guide them to thinking towards the answer. Being too straightforward and rigid may have made the sessions less enjoyable than they should be. Another problem was motivation to learn. I learned that not everyone enjoys Organic Chemistry, because of the rumors from failed students that the course is a nightmare. I feel that these rumors can be discounted. Firstly, workshop is meant to facilitate a positive environment: everyone is in the same boat, so why not work together to understand it? Secondly, the workshop leader had been through the subject and had successfully passed it. Ergo: Organic Chemistry is doable!

You ask, what is the key to success? The answer is consistent practice. Each week in workshop there is a new set of problems based on the concepts from the weekly lectures. Doing these problems under the tutelage of a workshop leader allow students to exchange ideas, learn new methods, and gain self-confidence in their understanding of the material. Still, these are only ideals.

In the end, my session dwindled from five to one. The one student who came 12 out of 13 times was the most successful. He did well in his tests and had one-on-one sessions that consisted of working through each problem methodically. This was one positive result. I felt that this experience has taught me more on how to lead others, how to communicate more effectively, and how to improve my own understanding of the material.

Resources

Kampmeier, J. A., Varma-Nelson, P., Wedegaertner, D. K., Wamswer, C. C. (2006). Peer-Led Team Learning: Organic Chemistry (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Prentice Hall.

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