- Liisa Rännäli
What is it all about?
Learning a language has a big effect on how a youth with an immigrant background will integrate into school and society. Language is needed to create social connections, but also to understand the topics covered in one’s studies.
Language skills develop best through using language. Schools can support students and foster the courage needed to use language and take responsibility for one’s learning. There are many ways to learn. One efficient way is teaching the topic to others.
A pilot of the Migrant Youth Helsinki project, Buddyschool brings different aged students together to teach and learn actively from each other.
The method was developed for students who struggle with their grades for one reason or another. The idea for peer learning as a part of formal studies came from the realisation that at the time of graduation in Finnish comprehensive school there are students who have not completed their studies or have underperformed. Instead of extra exams to boost grades a more active approach was chose — an approach that offers a chance to experience the joy of learning and tackle one’s challenges with studying.
Even though the Buddyschool was primarily founded to answer the challenges of language learning, the method works in all subjects. The Buddyschool program has included reading, writing and illustrating fairy tales and short stories, leading an exercise session, going through literature genres, and organising a study group instead of taking an exam on a unit on water.
The Buddyschool offers students non-passive alternatives to traditional school work and help the students see themselves in a different role. The students feel they are on equal footing in the classroom. As communication becomes natural, they can take charge and become active language users. As a result, students take more responsibility both for their learning and their other actions.
Students participated in the study groups enthusiastically. People, who usually don’t shine during ordinary lessons, have risen up to the occasion. Many quiet and passive students have turned into active study group leaders and students who are unsure of themselves have realised that working together leads to learning. The study groups have also received positive feedback from parents.
How do you implement it?
The goal and participants of the study group
Start by considering who would gain from this method and in what situations. Who are the students who could learn better with it? In what subjects? Which requirements could be replaced with study groups?Read more ›
The study groups can bring out the strengths of different kinds of learners and offer an active alternative to anyone. Students who find traditional written assignments challenging especially benefit from the method.
An example from the Pasila comprehensive school:
This innovation stemmed from the need to create new ways of learning that are in line with the new Finnish curriculum and make sense to students that are in need of language support. The scope later broadened from languages to other subjects and topics.
The method has been used, for example, as an alternative to traditional exams: fifth graders organised a study group on water for first graders after first studying the unit themselves. Afterwards they evaluated both their own and their team’s work.
The method has also been used to organise indoor exercise during recesses. Seventh graders organised exercise games for second graders with help of their P.E. teacher for course credits.
Teacher collaboration in organising and planning the study groups
Who you could organise the study group with? Teacher collaboration can be carried out in several ways.Read more ›
An example from the Pasila comprehensive school:
Combinations that have organised study groups include:
- The secondary school’s Finnish teacher (both L1 and L2) with the primary school’s Finnish as a Second Language teacher
- The primary school’s Finnish as a Second Language teacher with a classroom teacher
- The Finnish as a Second Language teacher for both the primary and secondary school in collaboration with different subject teachers (including P.E.)
Eighth graders have studied short stories with third graders, seventh graders have written stories as told to them by first graders, and fifth graders have, instead of an exam, taught younger students about water. In addition, seventh graders have organised exercise games during recess for primary schoolers as part of their P.E. class.
Planning in detail and choosing a method
Plan the topic of the study group and how the study group will work together with the students. The teacher’s role is to help out during planning, but students will be responsible for organising the study group.Read more ›
Once the topic is chosen, it is important that both primary and secondary school students familiarise themselves with the topic in an age-appropriate way before the study group meets. Also, the teaching method of the study group should be chosen with the students.
If the topic is, e.g., scifi, horror and detective short stories, the introduction to the topic can be done in the following ways according to student age:
Primary schoolers are introduced to the vocabulary and what the genres include briefly.
Secondary schoolers will study the topic in more depth during classes.
Writing short stories
Planning the study group, during which the topic will be delved into in more detail with the primary schoolers.
In addition to the lesson plan, secondary schoolers will practice reading short stories, asking questions, and leading discussions.
An example of how the Buddyschool group can progress:
Students sit in a circle.
The group starts with a discussion on literature genres led by the older students. The older students will ask questions and keep the ball rolling.
Then, the older students will read short stories they have written themselves. After each short story, the younger students get to guess which genre the short story belonged to. Afterwards the discussion continues.
After the study group, the younger students write their own stories in their notebooks or on iPads. The older students will check and grade them.
Both age groups may continue to discuss the topic during their own classes, but the dialogue between different aged students will also continue.
You might get ideas for further collaboration — you could for example publish a storybook together!
Setting the time
Once the students have finished preparation during their own lessons, decide on a time for the study group that suits both teachers.Read more ›
The more often the study groups are held, the better they work. During the first time there will be more need for the teacher’s support, but later on, the teacher’s role will be more in the background.
When choosing the time, you should take into account the space you will need and other limitations. What is the best size for the group, so you won’t need to crowd control? It might be easier for students to teach peers with a friend. Or could the teachers ask the students help to figure out what kind of groups would work best?
General notes for using the Buddyschool system and implementing it at your school
At the Pasila comprehensive school, study groups have been arranged both as one time events and over the course of the school year. The method suits both ways well.Read more ›
A method that proved to be effective was having a student hold the same lesson several times for different groups of first years. This allowed the student to improve and evaluate their performance, as well as build their confidence.
The more often study groups were held, the more natural it was for students to take extra responsibility for, e.g., planning. The method feels easy and effortless as long as spontaneity is preserved, so that nobody will feel burdened, the level of enthusiasm is maintained and as many as possible can participate.