Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Important Role of Peers in Engaging Adolescents...

I've been doing some reading lately about the important role that peers fill in creating engaging learning spaces.  John Hattie is a New Zealand education researcher who has written several books, including Visible Learning for Teachers.  Although the text is really geared at the education sector, the content is rich learning for coaches because much of the work we do with adolescents is aim to create engaging learning around sport.

Hattie's research would put the significance effect of d=0.52 for Peer Influences on achievement, meaning that peers have a significant effect on learning.  Peers influence learning in a number of ways.  They help to create a positive space for learning.  We've seen this lots; it just takes one or two key kids to model active engagement and the whole group is there.  Positive contagion works.  Its important to know who the key kids are.  In addition, kids can create a sense of belonging with one another.  This is invaluable - as coaches we can set the groundwork for it to happen, but it really takes kids to create the belonging.

Kids can be great at giving feedback to each other but Hattie would point out that for peer feedback to be effective, kids need a pretty clear idea of the intended learning outcome - when they know exactly what the piece of the double pole technique should look like, then providing feedback helps the other child as well as reinforcing the understanding of the skill.  Kids do so much more though to support learning.  They provide social comparisons and emotional support for peers.  They help their peers gain a reputation of success.  Kids build others' reputations by talking to their peers and about their peers with other kids.

Adolescent athletes also provide caring and support for their peers.  They can help coaches by easing conflict that leads to resolution.  Kids can help their peers by providing some cognitive restructuring of understandings.  These understandings can be technical, tactical, or social.  Kids model deliberate practice and rehearsal.  All of these things lead to increased learning opportunities and ultimately enhance achievement of themselves and their peers.

Hattie's research also points out that the single greatest predictor of success in learning is whether a child/youth has made a friend in the first month of joining a program.  This points to the importance of attending to athlete friendships by coaches.  Making sure that newcomers are welcome and that everyone has someone who they connect with.

Sometimes as coaches its easy to put our jobs in a box and think its all about the technical part of sport or about the competition performance of the athletes we work with.  But it is super important to remember when we are working with adolescents, we are working with complex social organisms who are plugged into their peers.  Great coaches are not only aware of this, but also work with this reality to engage their athletes in learning.

Tomorrow (Feb 25) is Pink Shirt Day in Canada.  A day to promote respectful, caring, and supportive learning environments.  Lets do our part as coaches and engage peers to optimize engagement through positive, caring, and supportive interactions.  Peers make a huge difference in creating the type of coaching environment we have with our programs.  Lets think about how we can optimize kids to help other kids in sport.


Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

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