A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Evan Stoudt, Freshman Dean and Algebra teacher at Sci Academy in New Orleans–one of my favorite schools. I find them especially reflective about how to combine real college prep academic rigor with loving attention to the in-school (and often out-of-school) lives of their students. Evan mentioned that one of his colleagues, science teacher Ben Ifshin, was using Teach Like a Champion to train peer tutors to work with their fellow students. Evan explained, “We have ‘college prep’ at the middle of the day… we do independent reading and work in differentiated math and science groups. Ben’s got students that have demonstrated high content mastery (and are either emerging or strong in student leadership) teaching other students the biology content one-to-one. I’ve never seen tutoring groups and collaborative partner work go so well in our hallways before.” I was so intrigued I asked Ben to write a little something about it. Here’s his letter:
I want the 9th graders in my biology classroom who are achieving at the highest levels to feel empowered to be great leaders and teammates. Sometimes scholars who consistently get an A on every assessment can develop a disconnect from the scholars who are really struggling to master objectives every day. In the past I have encouraged peer tutoring and have had countless conversations, with varying levels of success, about why the achievement of every scholar in the room matters. After getting some mediocre interim assessment scores back, I made the decision to try something new. What if I trained a group of scholars to be tutors in the same way our teachers are trained? What if I built a culture of support by teaching scholars the soft skills and social skills they need to help each other, and then unleashed them on the grade?
I chose 10 scholars who have been scoring highly on tests, but have a wide range of soft skills. I rolled out my idea to them and also told them their new name. This group of ten mild mannered scholars will henceforth be referred to as The Biohazard. Before they ever tutored anybody, I spent a week training them. On the first day we read the No Opt Out portion of Teach Like a Champion and talked about why it is important to have high expectations for every scholar in the grade. On the second day, we talked about positivity and read Right is Right. In order to practice the concepts we learned, the scholars taught each other the Macarena. Amidst the laughter and silliness scholars gave each other excellent feedback on their dance moves and made sure they only accepted perfect dance moves.
At the end of the week, the scholars finally got their hands on some Biology. After two days of remastering the tutoring or ‘hazardous’ materials the scholars hit the ground running with other scholars. So far, I have been delighted by the results I have seen from the Biohazard and the way the rest of the grade begs to be in their tutoring sessions. Next week, each Biohazard is picking a junior Biohazard to train after school. While the content mastery is exciting, the best part of it for me is scholars who previously thought their test scores were the only ones that matter are beginning to believe in the growth and potential of their teammates.”