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Details of How Peer Instruction Works


Details of the Purist Approach to Peer Instruction

Eric Mazur's peer instruction approach boils down to the following processes:

  1. Students attempt to answer a multiple choice question (preferably a conceptual question) without talking with anyone and guessing if needed.
  2. The students shares their answer with the teacher. 
  3. The students then turn to their neighbor (ideally to a fellow student who has a different answer) and discuss their answers, trying to convince their neighbor that their own answer is right.
  4. The students then must come to an agreement on who is right and share their final answer with the teacher.
This process is repeated on the next question.  I teach on an 86 minute block schedule, so I try to do three to four peer instruction questions each day.  If I did not teach on a block schedule, I would try two peer instruction questions a day.  After the peer instruction session, students spend time doing math problems where the teacher and the peers are able to answer individual questions or students may spend some time taking an assessment.

The above process is how Eric Mazur does it, but you may need to adjust it to best meet the needs of your students, your subject area, and even your style.  Rob Warneke (a fellow mathematics teacher at Byron High School) typically follows the above process pretty closely.  He gives students 60 seconds to answer the question initially and submit their answer followed by three to four minutes of discussing their answer with their peers then submitting their final answer.  Following this process closely often works well, especially for younger students or students that often need more structure.

Details of My Modified Approach to Peer Instruction
I modify this approach to work with my unique students.  At the high school level I work with accelerated students and high school students who are concurrently enrolled (students taking a class in high school for high school credit but are also registered for college credit and will receive college credit if they earn a "C" or above in the course).  These students often take ownership for their learning and strive for understanding.  With these students I typically put all three to four peer instruction questions up at once.  Some of these questions are multiple choice while others are open-ended.  The students answer the questions or try to answer the questions by themselves, then they start discussing their answers with each other. 
If a student is not able to answer an open-ended question, their peers step in and help him/her understand the problem.  I follow this by quickly going over the problem on the board (work and answer) and giving clarification on commonly missed or misunderstood issues.  These commonly missed or misunderstood issues are things that I have observed students missing or struggling with during my more than 20 plus years of teaching.  This modified peer instruction process seems to work well for this group of students.  According to student surveys, 86% of my students report these peer instruction problems helpful or very helpful.  Peer Instruction has also impacted student learning.  When I switched from lecture to the traditional flipped classroom, the percent of students earning a grade of 80% or above on assessments increased by 4.5% on average.  However,  when I switched from the traditional flipped classroom to the peer instruction flipped learning process, the percent of students earning a grade of 80% or above on assessments increased by 7.5%, or comparing lecture to the peer instruction flipped learning process, this is a 12% increase in student learning.
   
At the college level (Augsburg College-Rochester campus), I work with adult students who
average 40 years of age and are working full time.  Most of these students need to either take and pass my statistics class to complete their four year nursing degree (already holding a two year nursing degree) or already have a four year degree but need  a statistics class before they can be admitted to a masters of nursing program.   In this situation I put up three to four questions at a time, typically multiple choice questions,  but occasionally open ended.  The students answer all the questions without talking with anyone, then they start discussing their answers and reasons with their peers.  I follow this with a student telling what his/her answer is and why.  Occasionally, I interject an additional comment when the student is discussing his/her reasons if he/she is missing a key part the reason.
  I repeat this process for 60 to 90 minutes depending on the concepts.  This class meets once a week, and class starts with students taking a quiz or exam on material previously discussed in class.  In my "Introduction to Statistics"  course with the Peer Instruction Flipped Learning Model, my class average is up by 5.5% compared to lecture.   

Survey results are below.
1.    Would you have preferred class to have been taught with the Peer Instruction Flipped Learning Model or Traditional Lecture?   
  • Peer Instruction Flipped Learning Model: 100%
  • Traditional Lecture: 0%
 2.    Do you believe the Peer Instruction Flipped Learning Model is more effective than the Traditional Lecture?
  • Peer Instruction Flipped Learning Model: 100%
  • Traditional Lecture: 0%
3.    Do you feel that the Peer Instruction Flipped Learning Model made class more interactive compared to a Traditional Lecture in this class?
  • Agreed or Strongly Agreed: 100%
4.     Do you believe the Peer Instruction Flipped Learning Model helped you understand the material better compared to the Traditional Lecture?
  • Yes: 100%
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