I remember when I first figured out the “power of the pair”. I had walked onto our school library and the noise was way above what I would expect. I asked our librarian how it could be like that and she told me it wasn’t ‘noise’ – that if I listened closely it was ‘learning’. As I looked around the room it was evident. Students were working together to help each other in learn. For me the ‘pair’ is now one of my most powerful tools. I use it in all my foreign language classes and see it increasingly used in other disciplines. Here’s a few reasons why:
It’s not a ‘sit and be still’ classroom -and that means students are no longer viewed as a single learning ‘receptacle’. Be it concepts in the science lab, or reasoning for a development in world affairs their partner is always the first sounding board for that. They have a present and willing person to speak and listen to. We often switch partners, or move to larger groups, during activities but for the start/end of class students know who and where their ‘home partner’ is.
It encourages risk - when they are working on something new – in my class its language but it can be any new concept – it’s the safest way to risk. Students are not embarrassed and can use their partner to work out any problems before being involved in a ‘whole group’ activity. Students know that they can make not fully understand, make mistakes, and clarify with their partner first.
It helps them get to know each other - I set the seating in all of my classes from Grade 9 to 12 and in doing so I take their strengths and challenges into account. But because they are talking and communicating they gradually learn more about someone they may not have talked to before. Class ‘spirit’ is stronger and sometimes even friendships develop – a nice byproduct.
It develops self-reliant learners - perhaps the most relevant outcome is that I am not part of the picture. When students are working with their partner then I become a resource – not the focus. They learn to initially rely on themselves rather than just defaulting to ‘ask the teacher’. In my language class my 4th year students are so used to this that they do activities, review assigned work together and talk casually without prompting or my supervision.
Once a semester I throw caution to the wind and they choose their own partner – but the principles of risk, self-reliance and communication remain. I’m a big fan of the ‘power of the pair’….