Instructors Set the Tone for Peer-to-Peer Discussions

Do your students’ approaches to small-group activities and discussions sound more perfunctory than passionate? Midway through the semester are you wondering how to raise the level of peer-to-peer conversation in your classes? In a recent Teaching Professor post, Maryellen Weimer draws from two studies on student engagement in physics classrooms to offer insights on how to improve peer-to-peer activities in your classes.

The key finding from the studies is that students mirror instructors’ attitudes and approaches in how they communicate with one another. The researchers found that faculty communication styles (in asking questions, disagreeing, offering alternate perspectives and answers, etc) set the tone for classroom interactions among peers.

Furthermore, the studies found that when instructors model and value “sense-making,” that is, moving through steps of reasoning to arrive at an answer, students learn to think through problems rather than simply seek the “right” answer.

References (with links to full-text articles):

Turpen, C., & Finkelstein, N. D. (2009). Not all interactive engagement is the same: Variations in physics professors’ implementation of Peer Instruction. Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research, 5(2), 020101.

Turpen, C., & Finkelstein, N. D. (2010). The construction of different classroom norms during Peer Instruction: Students perceive differences. Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research, 6(2), 020123.