Peer to Peer Learning and Libraries: A Recipe for Success

Peer to Peer Learning is shared knowledge learning that is not done by an instructor or another person of authority. It is all about people on the same level teaching each other what they know. 

Peer to Peer learning is not a new concept and can date back to Aristotle’s use of archons, student leaders and as an organized theory by Andrew Bell in 1795. It was later implemented into French and English schools in the late 19th century. Over the last 30 to 40 years, it has been increasingly popular in K-12 public schools. (Saga Briggs, (2013) How Peer Teaching Improves Student Learning and 10 Ways to Encourage It, opencolleges.edu) In Trends in Peer Learning, Keith J. Topping reviews the development of peer to peer learning from 1981-2006. He states that,

“types and definitions of peer learning are explored, together with questions of implementation integrity and consequent effectiveness and cost‐effectiveness. Benefits to helpers are now emphasized at least as much as benefits to those helped. In this previously under-theorized area, an integrated theoretical model of peer learning is now available. Peer learning has been extended in types and forms, in curriculum areas and in contexts of application beyond school. Engagement in helping now often encompasses all community members, including those with special needs. Social and emotional gains now attract as much interest as cognitive gains.” (Keith J. Topping (2005) Trends in Peer Learning, Educational Psychology, 25:6, 631-645, DOI: 10.1080/01443410500345172

As stated by Mr. Topping, peer learning has extended beyond the classroom. This is true for many libraries throughout Berks County. As Youth Service providers, we have seen a shift in the way we do programs. Our teens are using their talents and the things that they have learned to take the lead and are able to co-facilitate or run programs for their peers. 

At the Reading Public Library-Teen Loft, we have a Girls Who Code club. Our last club ran for two-and-a-half months. One of our teens is great with technology. He knows so much about coding and other computer technologies and is willing to share his knowledge. At our last club, he presented past projects he worked on from Scratch, JavaScript, and a website he built. While the girls were working on their own projects, he was there to jump in, answer questions, and troubleshoot. That was invaluable to me because when I was not able to answer a question, he was there to help resolve the issue. If both of us could not answer the question(s), he would take the time to research it. Now the class of 2018 has graduated and they want to come back to mentor girls who will take part in our spring 2019 club. 

At the Boyertown Community Library, Lisa Rand, Youth Service Coordinator, has a number of programs that use this model. In fall of 2018, a 9th grade Boy Scout earned his volunteering hours by planning and facilitating a 4-week beginners coding class. He says, “this experience was rewarding in several ways. I truly had fun designing and planning the lesson content. While teaching the lessons, I felt appreciated by the younger students as they learned new skills in programming. It was a great learning experience for me discovering how to juggle the needs of several students working at different paces. This opportunity allowed me to develop closer ties with the local library. I would gladly provide similar services again”. 

At the Reading Public Library-Northeast Branch, the Anime Club gets together to discuss anime and art. Angelique Krohn, Youth Program Coordinator says, “The kids build better relationships when they’re teaching each other, rather than listening to me, and feel invested. They know more about the topic. 

You are never too young to share what you know. At Spring Township Library, Youth Service Coordinator Candance Donato facilitates Leggo’s to Eggo’s and Legos Club. These young builders share ideas, collaborate, and work on their social skills. “[Peer to Peer Learning] is important because this is how the real world works,” Candace says. 

Noel Christman, Director of the Oley Valley Community Library hosts, STEAM Saturday, which is a parent-supervised program that offers makerspace free time for early elementary school-aged children. “The kids choose to make their own [log cabins] or make it in a group. They brainstorm together on materials needed as well as how to construct their log cabin,” Noel says. They also provide an adult writing class that is completely designed and run by the adult patrons. 

We as professionals can also benefit from peer learning as exemplified by Youth Service Coordinators Jacki Mae Clark, Muhlenberg Community Library, Andrea Hunter, Mifflin Community Library, and Meghan Golden, West Lawn-Wyomissing Hills Library

Jacki Mae Clark participates in Teen Reading Lounge, an award-winning, non-traditional book club for teens ages 12-18 that is supported by Pennsylvania Humanities Council. “I communicate with other libraries that have this program in order to better comprehend how to communicate the humanities to my teens who are involved. It would be silly to reinvent the wheel instead of asking another peer.” Jacki says. 

Andrea and Meghan run a successful after hours tween/teen program; Unlock the Library. Because they are friends and share similar goals and priorities when it comes to youth programming, it is a perfect fit. Andrea says, “We love working together and wanted to create a program that drew teens into the library and found that structured events were not yielding any attendance. When we changed the format to loosely based activities, the teens responded and attendance has been positive and consistent. Could we try these programs solo? Yes, but I feel we have things to offer individually and as a team through our own unique personalities and skill sets. The kids sense how well we get along and that we enjoy being with them and this has added to the success of the program as well.” I think that peer to peer learning benefits the child, as well as enhances my programming. We should never become so comfortable as professionals that we stop learning from others or refuse to accept new teaching techniques.”

These libraries have demonstrated that peer learning is invaluable no matter the age range. 

Peer to Peer Learning makes people feel needed and empowered. It is a rewarding experience. Attendees feel welcome and a part of their community. 

  • “Children spend so much of their time being taught by authority figures. It seems prudent to give them a chance to flip the narrative and get a chance to teach both each other and adults. Different teaching styles can more effectively communicate with each other while fostering social engagement.” ~Alison Lashinsky, RPL-Southeast Branch Youth Service Coordinator 
  • “It helps kids to get more confident and learn to reach out to others for help.” ~Christine Weida, Sinking Spring Public Library, Children and Teens Librarian 
  • “It is important to offer because everyone learns differently. Not everyone works well in a classroom setting, and hands-on activities are great with kids with ADHD as well. Sharing your knowledge, no matter how young you are is an asset among your peers.” ~Noel Christman, Director of the Oley Valley Community Library 

For teens, in particular, I believe that the benefits are endless. Teens feel like they have a voice. Their ideas and talents are being recognized at a critical time when they are discovering who they are and their place in the world. They learn critical social skills that help them put down the phone, stop texting or checking social media, and interact with people face to face in a safe environment. We do not have to be the experts. We use community partners all the time. We need to recognize that our teens are a part of the community as well. They have many gifts that they can share. If you take the time to get to know them, you will be pleasantly surprised. 

About Ashly Roman

Hi, I'm Ashly. I've been the Teen Loft Supervisor for 14 of 16 of my years at the Reading Public Library located in Reading, PA. I love working with teens and am glad that I am in a position where I can make a difference in their life no matter how big or small.
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