The Power of Peers in the Classroom: Enhancing Learning and Social Skills
Karen R. Harris and Lynn Meltzer, Editors
Guilford Press, New York, NY, 2015
322 pages (paperback), $33.25, ISBN 1462521061
Reviewed by David Roden
The Power of Peers in the Classroom, part of the What Works for Special-Needs Learners Series of Guilford Press, seeks to expand "the positive effects of peer coaching and tutoring on student motivation, self-concept, academic behavior, attitudes toward learning, and academic achievement" (p. ix) by presenting a collection of peer-capitalizing interventions that address a spectrum of student needs including executive function, differentiated instruction, writing, comprehension, mathematics, English language learning, and social skills.
This book was written for classroom practitioners. I will focus on the utility of the resource rather than the content. The only consistent theme of the book is a detailed description with examples of each peer-based intervention. With as many as thirty contributors (each chapter having several authors), there is no predictable, consistent style or format for the nine independent chapters. Each chapter, to a varying degree, eventually operationalizes its core terminology, presents a review of the literature surrounding the topic, and then focuses on demonstrating how the intervention might look in practice. Some chapters summarize findings evaluating the individual interventions.
There is a moderate amount of material accessible for immediate use in classrooms. Several chapters contain anagrams and examples with which teachers might implement strategies regardless of their full investment in programs such as SMARTS (strategies, motivation, awareness, resilience, talents, success) and PALS (peer assistance, leadership, and support). Chapters 2 and 3 offer a number of non-technology-based "differentiated curriculum enhancements" (p. 37). Along with the text, purchasers will gain access to eighteen pages of forms in portable document format (PDF). Chapter 4, "Using Collaborative Strategic Reading to Promote Student Discourse" by Scornavacco and colleagues (pp. 102-142), which recommends using peer discussion to promote reading comprehension, seems to offer a strong framework. Some of the most useful guidance for teachers is contained in chapter 7, "Maximizing the Benefits of Working Cooperatively with Peers" by Wilkerson and LeQuia. Chapter 7 offers guidance to help teachers avoid many of the...