Peer Instruction Teaching Techniques

The following are teaching techniques that I have found to be helpful companions to Peer Instruction
This page can be found at:  bit.ly/reedpeer    [Many of these ideas (grouping, counting off within groups) came from Exploring Computer Science (ECS) professional development.  Thanks to Danae Dorsey for "Fist-of-Five"]
Some of the techniques shown below are illustrated in a sample class video posted on YouTube.
  1. Establish community:
    Make "family groups" of 4-6, and requiring them to sit with their families.  Socially engineer the groups so that any group with females (or some other of Latino / African Americans) have at least one other of the same type in their group. This group is in addition to their "elbow partner". This gives them a semblance of instant community, a place where they belong and there is an expectation of conversation. 

  2. Invite discussion in a non-threatening way:
    After students have discussed a question with their peers, have a really soft floppy rubber frisbee to throw out into the crowd. Wherever it lands ask that person to summarize what they talked about with their neighbors.  They can always say "pass".  On the next question they get to toss (or pass) the frisbee. This introduces a regular element of fun, gets them looking at and interacting with each other, and means anyone, anywhere in the room might be chosen next to comment.

  3. Avoid asking "Are there any questions?"
    Of course there are questions, but in a large lecture room most students are too embarrassed to ask them. Besides using clickers to respond to answers to posted questions, use them to query confidence levels, say on how well students understand the current assignment.  
         In non-clicker settings use "Fist-of-five" for audience response, where you ask everyone to select their level of confidence or understanding and display it using their fingers, where five fingers is "high confidence" and no fingers is "no confidence".  Then ask them to discuss with their elbow partner (often for just 20-30 seconds), compare how many fingers, and if they are not at a five, talk about the obstacles or questions that prevent them from being at a five.  Then choose some pair of students to report out, and presto, the conversation has already started and other students are much happier to jump in, since there is not the onus that they are the only one with a question.  

  4. Accountability for group discussion:
    Have all groups count off their group members 1-2-3-4. Verify they have done this at the beginning of class by asking "all number two's raise your hands, now number 1's" and so on.  After group discussion for some question during class, choose a random group and ask "person n" to summarize what their group talked about.  This motivates active listening and equity, since anyone of them (not just the "big mouth") might be selected to report out if their group is chosen. 

  5. Single out a student (without seeming to)
    Once students are grouped, say "Today's lucky color is green.  Let's hear from someone wearing green."  Then choose a group seemingly at random.  In reality chose some attribute (e.g. "wearing a hat", or "with headphones", or "with glasses", or "with hoodie" etc) specifically selected to try and loop in some student who might be currently disengaged.

  6. Ensure participation:
    If someone is sitting there and not talking to an elbow partner, Walk around and ask them to move and pair them up with someone else.  Guests are welcome, but the rule is "everybody participates."  This works fine since people can always say "pass" when singled out.  After establishing this as the classroom culture, students themselves move to sit next to others when they come in to class.

  7. Motivate helpfulness:
    Have a small (2%) of their final grade be the average of all the students in their hands-on discussion section, or the average of their family group.  At the end of the semester give bonus points to the best citizens in the Piazza discussion board.
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