I thought I started covering this when I was going over fan fiction as a learning tool, but it appears that I didn’t. That’s a shame because if you become involved in the fandom or a fan fiction community, then creating fan fiction is often an act of peer teaching.
Peer teaching is another of my favorite teaching methods because it gives a student the chance to be the teacher. When the student is one who struggles to learn material, being able to explain a concept to a fellow student can really build self-confidence. I often get out of the way when a student wants to teach something to another student, only stepping in if something has gone wrong in the explanation, if for no other reason than to watch that confidence build. Helping someone else understand the concept also helps reinforce the student’s own understanding of the material.
Peer teaching has another benefit – it provides an authentic means to assess whether or not the student actually understood the material. If I hear or watch the student clearly explain the concept to the other student, then I know they understand the material and I know I can move on to the next lesson. The student has clearly demonstrated what they know, and I didn’t have to give a test or assign some grade to rate how well they knew it. Knowledge in the real world is often a pass-fail situation, anyway.
While I see it frequently among my students, I really learned about the power of peer teaching when I wrote fan fiction. Writers would help each other (in both benevolent and malevolent ways) with content and grammar issues. Some of them help other writers by editing, or beta reading, stories beforehand and pointing out areas that need to be fixed to make the story easier and more enjoyable to read. If the writer is really focused on their craft (and I know of very few fan fiction writers who enjoy being insulted), then they take the more kindly stated suggestions and learn from them to help improve their next chapter or story. It can be really fun to watch someone’s skill evolve throughout the course of a story.
It’s easy to worry about how much students are talking or about how to best lecture (which is really fun when the teacher isn’t much for lectures either), but maybe we need to help them focus on more productive discussions inside the learning space, and leave the gossip for the hallways.