On Speaking: Developing near peer learning in the classroom

Niall Curry

Niall Curry, Senior ELT Research Manager, continues to delve into the latest research on teaching speaking with this look at the importance of near peer interaction in the language classroom.

In our next paper on speaking, we focus on motivation and how our peers can act as learning catalysts – not just any peer, however, we’re talking about near peer role models.

What is a ‘near peer’?

If a role model is someone who we admire, and whose behaviour and actions are ones we try to imitate, then a near peer role model is all that and more. Near peers are not only of a similar age, gender, nationality and culture, but also tend to share educational and professional backgrounds and a common goal such as language learning.

The value of a near peer cannot be overstated. There is strong evidence of their value for increasing motivation, excitement, risk-taking and the amount of language used in the language classroom. Clearly then, near peers present a powerful option for effective language learning.

Given the above description, we can see a departure from a native speaker-centric view of language learning. With a near peer, non-native speakers (teachers and students) can act as examples of people who were successful in their endeavours to learn new skills. They can show language learning in its many stages, instead of positioning L2 native-like mastery as the only goal.

Near peers can help learners see the achievable and reasonable process of language learning. In so doing, this can help them stay motivated and driven over what can be a long learning process. In quite simple terms, seeing people who are similar to you succeed makes it reasonable for you to imagine that you may succeed, too.

Using near peer research in the classroom

So, how can we use this research to help us in the language classroom? Well, in group activities for example, we might pair students with different strengths and weakness who can help and balance each other out. In this way, we can combine near peer language models (i.e. those with stronger language skills) with near peer effective learners (i.e. those with positive learning habits). In stressful contexts, near-peers can offer each other support and reassurance. They can often give feedback that a teacher cannot, such as from the perspective of someone who has recently taken a language exam.

Developing a culture of near peer learning in the classroom can lead to a stronger learner autonomy outside of the classroom, too. Research has also shown that through effective use of near peers in the classroom, teachers’ beliefs can change, and their practices can evolve.

Developing this learning culture in the classroom is valuable. It can lead students down a path of learning of which they have greater awareness and greater control. Ultimately, in learning psychology, near peers are a powerful device for the pursuit of the ideal L2 future self, where the success of others can help us see such a future for ourselves – a possible future, a real future.

In this brief blog post, we have only scratched the surface of what is involved in developing near peers in the language classroom and their value as a motivational tool in language learning. In her paper,Motivational aspects of using near peers as role models Christine Muir delves deeper to consider the implications for teachers, students, materials design and teacher training. You can also catch Laura Patsko and Ben Goldstein talking about this topic at IATEFL 2018: Near-peers as role models and content creators.

For further insight into peer interaction, take a look at our previous blog post on enhancing student involvement in the classroom.

These insights have been used in the development of our new American English course Evolve. Please visit the Evolve web hub for more information and resources.

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