- A recent study based on a large-scale field experiment and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) by four authors — including Angela Duckworth, developer of the “Grit Scale” — indicates high school students who give motivational advice to their peers improved their own grades in math and another self-selected target course.
- The authors of the study suggest that, based on this and other findings in social psychology literature, the improvement may come because people come to believe what they advocate, the reflection involved in giving advice may help them form more concrete plans for using the advice in their own lives, and advising increases the advisor's confidence because it's an act of giving and promotes the notion of autonomy.
- In the abstract, the authors also suggest that implementing such strategies in schools may be a more cost-effective way to improve student grades than many other strategies, such as providing incentives or offering academic help, because these actions imply students cannot help themselves without intervention.
While this study was limited to the giving of motivational advice, peer teaching and tutoring has several applications in a classroom setting as well. Past research and experience have shown peer instruction can provide positive experiences in the classroom and engage students more fully in the educational process.
While students receiving the instruction can benefit from a peer’s perspective on the material, the student giving the instruction often benefits even more because the position of leadership they are given demands they explore the material more fully and learn it well enough to communicate it to others. In a multi-grade classroom, this approach can be particularly effective and can help teachers, as well.
Peer counseling and mentoring programs can offer similar benefits to both the receiver and the giver if they are carefully structured to make sure the advice being given is appropriate and the emotional demands of counseling are not too much for the provider.
Students are often more likely to receive advice from their peers, especially in the adolescent years. And peer mentoring programs have the added benefit of building relationships and connections that can improve overall school culture.
These peer instruction methods also often work well in adult settings, with businesses beginning to see the value of peer-to-peer learning in training. In the educational community, peer-led professional development has an even greater likelihood of success because the teachers are trained in instruction.
In all these settings, sharing advice, counsel or instruction with another individual forces the “teacher” to cement the ideas even more firmly in their minds. As the author of the recent study noted as they quoted Seneca, “When we teach, we learn.”