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Peer-led Team learning (PLTL) is a method commonly used in undergraduate science courses where students who have completed the course and done well are recruited to become peer-leaders to the students the following year.  These peer-leaders then interact with current students promoting critical thinking through group problem solving.  This method has gained significant momentum in general chemistry courses at the undergraduate level. “Retention and Reform: An Evaluation of Peer-Led Team Learning” is a study focused on the benefits of PLTL in Introductory Chemistry classes at Kennesaw State University. The study found that classes taught using PLTL had higher percentages of students taking the final exam as well as passing the class. The author also found that minority groups had a larger positive benefit from this method of learning.

This article addresses the difficulty in isolating causes behind improved learning. The author used identical professors to teach PLTL and non-PLTL classes, compared SAT scores for incoming courses, discussed the distribution of points for grading with regards to both types of classes, and even possible differences in motivation to come to class. However he could not control differences in class time distribution (two 75 minute courses vs. three 50 minute courses) as well as if the same impact could have occurred by having the students work problems during the course moving away from straight lecture based learning.

The author does provide sufficient support for reform and movement away from lecture based learning toward a learning method with increased engagement but questions whether these increases will translate into increased retention in the sciences when students return to lecture based learning. The article concludes by saying that while PLTL has increased the number of students passing the chemistry course, research needs to be done regarding what aspects of PLTL contribute to this increase. He leaves us with two of many possible explanations:  Is it changes in self-concept – in how the student views themselves?

Are the students working in the zone of proximal development –extending what the student can learn on their own through adult/peer assistance?

What do you think?

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