Peer Support: a key factor to achieve 1:1 success

Peer Support: a key factor to achieve 1:1 success

The biggest challenge when implementing 1:1 (one tablet p.c. to one learner) is  to ensure that integration is applied on a large scale and there are no teachers or students lagging behind. This is the worst fear of any DOS and innovator,  i.e. the widening of the digital gap between those who embrace technology (students and teachers) and those who are either digitally illiterate or are apprehensive when it comes to using technology in their every day educational routine.

No matter how extensive and well designed training maybe, there comes a time when the educator and learner have to deal with difficulties on their own. There comes a time when they have to "sail" without the trainer's support and it is then that stress and pressure mount. It is then that the feeling of frustration may come when high expectations can be shattered by a minor problem that usually arises at the most inconvenient moment: a powerpoint presentation that refuses stubbornly to appear on the IWB through the projector, an interactive coursebook that will not open, no matter what, a file that seems to have vanished into thin air with the student's notes and homework.

Steam accumulates as you feel that your reputation is tarnished and your hard work seems to go down the drain. Training seems a distant, unrealistic session and no helping hand seems to be around. A losing game?

At that critical moment - shortly before denouncing irrevocably technology-  peer support can save the game. Based on my experience at Doukas school the following tips can absorb minor or major aftershocks, instill confidence and ensure a smooth continuity in terms of  learning technology use in class.

Staff room support

Encourage teachers to share experience and exchange ideas. Being open about what works and what doesn't,  benefits the whole team and helps make more focused decisions in the near future when it comes to deciding on the syllabus, activities, software and hardware. I have often asked for and given help with the nitty gritty stuff of interactive coursebooks, newly acquired hardware or small adversities that need to be overcome. Teamwork and peer support have saved us precious time and effort. It has also prevented us from calling and distracting the ICT dept constantly for trivial issues.

Digital native???
Even though the term "digital native" is often used to describe the ease with which younger generations can handle hardware and software and how -impressively- fast they can adapt to new technology, it is risky to assume that all students feel comfortable and confident to use it. The following have helped and added extra value to the training my learners had received from their IT teachers, who did an excellent job.

Peer to peer support
Encourage pairwork or groupwork (preferably computer wiz kids with newbies). It saves time and promotes team work and solidarity. It also takes away the panicky  feeling that "the class is advancing and I am stuck with a device I cannot handle".

Promote the notion of sharing the computer when something goes wrong with their partner's device. It keeps the lesson running smoothly and gives students the opportunity to observe and realize what they might be doing wrong.

Appoint students as your assistants in class. Being in charge of the IWB or helping other learners deal with technical issues gives them a sense of responsibility and acknowledgement in a field that most kids feel confident even if their cognitive skills are not so well developed.

Peer support can play a major role in maintaining interest in learning technologies and actively encourage the step from use to exploitation of technology to the benefit of the learners.

Dimitris Primalis


Information gap activities: what does it take to design a successful task?

Information gap activities: what does it take to design a successful task?

What makes an  information-gap task / activity a smashing hit in class? Why do some of these activities fail miserably to engage students and are dismissed as utterly boring ?

This post focuses on what makes such a task successful in terms of motivation, interaction and language output.  You can also find two jigsaw activities involving reading and speaking.

When things go wrong....

I can still remember when doing my teaching practice sessions. The technique I had recently unearthed from  a methodology book seemed fantastic!!! Two articles from different newspapers on the same  story. Students  divided in two groups. Group A reads the story  on newspaper A and respectively Group B  the report on newspaper B. Ss  work in pairs (formed by an A and a B). Then they discuss the story they've read with their partner and try to spot differences in each version.

Bought two different newspapers that very day. Found a story they had in common and designed the lesson. Success was guaranteed, or so I thought....

Learners could not spot any difference, the texts were long, linguistically challenging  and the topic was completely indifferent to them. What's more, there was no task dependency or a real life task to do. The outcome: shambles!!!

Here's a brief check list  to tick off when designing or choosing an information gap activity:
1.  Is enough info missing to stimulate students' imagination/curiosity?
2. Do students really need their partner's snippet of info to bridge the gap?
3. Is the outcome of the activity unpredictable or ambiguous enough so that students will not guess easily without having to communicate?
4. Is the task within the learners' schematic knowledge and linguistic range?

Below you can read two information gap activities.

Jigsaw reading
Digital material can be easily adapted to create an information gap activity especially if there is an interactive whiteboard.
The following activity was done in class using an interactive coursebook based on a reading activity. The students had to read the three texts as shown on photo no 1 and answer comprehension questions.
Instead I divided  students into three groups (A,B,C) and asked each group to use the   tool on their toolbar to focus on the text assigned to their group (A, B and C accordingly) and hide the others.
Photo from Access 1 (With the permission of Express Publishing)

step 1 Each group has to read their text and discuss if necessary, the difficult or unclear points in their group. Urge them to take notes if they think they will not remember the main points of the story.

Text assigned to group C

Step 2 students form mixed groups with A,B and C members. They are the editorial team of a website and they have to decide which one of the three stories, they should post. The students are not allowed to read each other's texts. They can only use their notes.

Step 3 They present their decision justifying it based on the discussion they had.

My pet monster
Ask pupils to imagine they have a pet monster.  Draw an example on the board (I usually draw a  cute monster with three heads ,  five legs,  6 arms etc) Ask them to draw their pet monster  on their notebook but they must not show their partner. If you need to encourage writing you can ask them to write a brief description:
Boo is my pet monster. It has got 3 heads and a big smile on the heads. It has also got .....

Then ask them to work in pairs. Student A describes his/her monster and Student B draws it. They are not allowed to look at each other's drawings until they've finished the description and drawing. Then they compare the two monsters. Finally, they swap roles and student B describes while student A draws.
A particularly popular activity among young learners who practice "have got", numbers, parts of the body and colors (if they have colour pencils with them).

Tips and Hints
  •  Make sure that students do not cheat because they will lose interest soon.
  •  Be prepared for a "creatively" noisy class
  • Insist that your students use English during the activity
  •  Optionally, give delayed feedback based on your monitoring during the activity
  • Don't hesitate to stop the activity and give instructions again if some pairs or groups have no clear idea of what they have to do.

 Information gap activities can stimulate a class and help shy students lower their inhibitions.

I look forward to reading your experience with such activities!
Dimitris Primalis