Peer Teaching in Extracurricular Learning Environments

Kids have a lot going on today. They spend several hours in school, and then they look for creative ways to get out of doing homework kill themselves trying to impress the college that will bankrupt them head off to their extracurricular activities. And while there are useful things to learn in school, it’s in extracurricular activities that kids often find Career #1, or at least something to look forward to when school either isn’t challenging them or allowing them to utilize their strengths. (Not bashing on classroom teachers here. It’s hard to introduce truly open-ended responses when school boards are convinced the ability to perfectly fill in a small bubble with the precisely right pencil is a life skill.)

“Extracurricular” covers a lot of ground. Some kids head off toward sports programs, be they school, league, or private. Others take to studios to practice visual and performing arts. Another group heads off to the diverse, hands-on world of scouting; and in recent years a fair number check in to their local makerspace. There are even groups of kids who race home to log on to their computer to hang out with fellow writers, designers, and hackers.

Regardless of how a kid likes to spend his down time, extracurricular activities provide many benefits, including opportunities for peer teaching. That sports kid? He might take after university professor Dr. Tae, blending his new understanding of physics with his skateboarding practice to help new skaters become better at their own tricks. The performing artist might use the close reading skills she’s picking up in English class to help younger performers prepare for an upcoming performance. I’ve gone on at length about the communities of practice that spring up around fancraft. In every single one of these groups, kids are using the skills they’re learning both in school and in their extracurricular pursuits..

In groups like scouting and makerspaces, where diverse activities are present, the more experienced participants reach out to the newer ones to help them develop their own skills. There are adults present in the form of scout leaders and facilitators, but by and large the kids are expected to and encouraged to step up and lead. In fact, in both situations, the kids involved have been known to work together to put on events (whether they’re required to or not). And in both situations, they then are encouraged to reflect on how their event went so they can make changes to the next event, where other kids will likely be involved and will benefit from those lessons.

If you ever think a kid isn’t capable of stepping up, being responsible, helping others, and doing it all simply because he wants to, just watch how he conducts himself in his after-school activities. Kids want to be helpful, and they do it in their extracurricular activities because they’re given room to be the voices of authority without the adults feeling threatened.

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