Do you encourage students who’ve mastered material to help those who are stuck? Me too until I realized it’s better for students to ask peers for help than to wait for them to offer it. Better for those who are stuck, because sooner or later they’ll need to be assertive like this—especially in college and the workplace. And better for the helpers, since they may feel resentful—toward you and, in turn, their classmates—when you put the onus on them to offer help. (Sure, most will oblige, but often begrudgingly. By contrast, students are almost always willing to drop everything to help a classmate who approaches them directly.)
Of course, just because you expect students to ask each other for help doesn’t mean they’ll do it. A lot of kids are shy in general or concerned about appearing “dumb” to their peers. So at first you may need to facilitate the process. A great way to do this is to look over students’ shoulders and identify a question that a student is struggling with and that a classmate has answered correctly. Then ask the struggling student if he/she would like some help. Naturally most students will say “yes,” thinking you’re the one who will be helping them, and will be taken aback at first when you say, “Great, Tanya is an expert on this, so why don’t you ask her?” But for many students, just knowing there’s a specific student who can help is all it takes for them to approach that student.
Other students, however, may still be reluctant to reach out to a peer, so don’t leave them hanging. Help them ask for help by modeling it for them. And after a little bit of “hand-holding,” students will start being assertive with each other in ways that will not only serve them well in your classroom but in future academic and work settings too.