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This review provides information about an active learning approach called Interteaching.
Several sections present (1) an explanation of interteaching, its origins, and its components; (2) what the empirical research, in both the laboratory and classroom applications, demonstrates about interteaching’s effectiveness to improve students’ preparation, performance, and engagement; (3) a more informal presentation of direct observations of interteaching’s use in psychology classes that the author and several colleagues have taught, as well as the implications of our practices for understanding interteaching’s effectiveness; and (4) a set of recommendations, based on evidence from research, about practices that will maximize interteaching’s objectives and outcomes in undergraduate classes. Readers may prefer to concentrate on some sections more than others, or to sample the sections separately and out of order.
Interteaching offers an approach to teaching that emphasizes self-directed learning, contingent, frequent feedback that encourages consistent preparation and analytical, deep learning by students, and relies strongly on reciprocal and cooperative peer tutoring to foster student engagement and improve learning. The interteaching method was developed by psychologists and has been used most extensively in psychology courses, although broader applications are emerging in the literature. Evidence supports the benefits of the interteaching approach, but also reveals some inconsistencies in its use that make conclusions about some of its components hard to quantify. Like other alternative pedagogies involving active learning in the classroom, interteaching requires an instructor’s careful preparation, adequate time for planning and implementation, and patience in establishing “new normal” procedures for teaching and learning.
The Development of Interteaching
Based on their own analysis of the strengths and limitations of earlier teaching methods based on behavioral analysis, Boyce and Hineline (2002) developed a relatively new, more flexible, multi-component method of instruction, named Interteaching. They described interteaching (p. 220) as “a mutually probing, mutually informing conversation between two people. It lasts 30 to 40 min[utes], and deals with main points in a specified selection of material (textbook or articles). A preparation guide is provided… in advance… [and] may be ultimately used for studying, often provid[ing] the outline for supplementary notes” [added by the student in class or later in review of written tutorial outcomes]. Boyce and Hineline further emphasize that “time [in class] should be used for discussing the questions, not reading, and that the guide should be used as a prompt for conversation” (p.220). Interteaching is structured around the following central components (adapted from Wheaton, O’Connell & Yapa, 2017):
- Guided self-directed learning
- Student-paced small-group (usually pairs) peer tutorial discussions
- The instructor as facilitator and guide, intervening in peer discussions to clarify complex, sometimes misunderstood concepts and to offer personal interaction and feedback to individual students as they work in class
- Sets of study questions to guide students in preparation for the tutorials, which precede lectures
- Instructor-designed clarifying lectures based on feedback forms (records) that the students generate at the end of class discussions to identify areas of difficulty or incomplete understanding in their peer tutorials
Because of its intentional flexibility, the method of interteaching is not rigidly standardized in a rapidly growing body of applications described in the literature. Nevertheless, there are a number of features of the interteaching model that researchers and users of the method agree are vital to its integrity and success.
First, the preparatory guide prep guide is most effective when the number of questions is limited, usually to 10-12 (e.g., Querol, Rosales, & Soldner, 2015), and covers approximately 10 to 15 pages of material (Saville et al., 2011, although this number seems variable in actual practice). Boyce and Hineline (2002) recommended that questions range from simpler definitional types to more complex application and synthesis questions (based on the principle of shaping outlined by Skinner, 1968;1999; see Saville et al., 2011). Many instructors will recognize this progression of complexity of questions as commensurate with Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Domain, moving by stages from Knowing to Comprehension, to Application, Synthesis, Integration, Evaluation, and Creativity (Bloom, 1956). The careful design of the prep guide is essential, including decisions related to course learning objectives, discussion topics best suited to achieve the objectives, and the time needed for discussion for students working in class to complete the peer tutoring response in writing (Querol et al., 2015). The prep guide is distributed at least several days in advance, either in hard copy, or more commonly, on a course web site.
Second, the distribution of some kind of course credit (“participation points”) is used to support the students’ discussion of prep guides, sometimes called the interteach session (Sturmey, Dalfen, & Fienup, 2015). Simply put, students who are not prepared for the interteach session are encouraged to learn from others but will not receive credit for that day’s discussion (Boyce & Hineline, 2002). Many instructors who use this method agree that the formation of the discussion groups is quite important to the success of the process. Students are either randomly paired with another classmate, or are explicitly invited to work with someone they do not know or have not yet worked with before. This procedure for forming discussion pairs is considered valuable because, according to Boyce and Hineline (2002), whereas many would be concerned about the tendency for the best prepared students to prefer to work together, a more serious risk is that the weaker students choose to work together. The formation of pairs (at most groups of three or four, perhaps in a large class setting) that involve different partners throughout the semester forms a “collectivist learning environment where students feel free to share opinions and thoughts about material and feel less discouraged about public scrutiny” (Brown et al., 2014, p. 133).
Third, the instructor is not a passive bystander; the interteach session is not an in-class study or work session. The instructor “migrates” during a session from group to group, to observe the interactions, the depth of engagement with the increasingly complex and integrative questions, and to provide feedback and clarification (Saville et al., 2011). The instructor may find it important to shape or redirect students’ mistaken definitions, statements or interpretations in their explanations, and provide guidance about how to investigate the chosen topics. The instructor notes where frequent problems occur across groups, and may interrupt a session to clarify a problem quickly or to suggest to students that further explication may be provided in a subsequent clarifying lecture. Students will get a chance to evaluate the quality of the instructor’s guidance at the end of an interteach session (Brown et al.,2014).
Fourth, the students’ discussion of responses to the prep guide for the interteach session needs sufficient time to develop the intended deeper levels of cognitive exchange and completion of all of the questions. An instructor should expect the collaborative peer tutoring part of the interteach session to occupy about two-thirds of a class period (Querol et al., 2015). If students finish quickly, it may mean that they have not been engaging at a critical or analytical level with the questions (Boyce & Hineline, 2002). On the other hand, well-prepared students are likely to finish before others. In that case, Boyce and Hineline recommend providing one two extra questions for more participation credit, so students who finish early are rewarded for their preparation.
Fifth, the feedback forms (records) which students complete at the end of an interteach session allow them to give their interpretation and evaluation of the session (a sample is provided at the end of this review). The questions typically included on the feedback form ask students to comment on 1) who their partner was and how well prepared that person was for the collaborative discussion; 2) topics in the discussion that were most difficult to answer; 3) what questions the students would like to see addressed in the instructor’s subsequent clarifying lecture; 4) what interesting or surprising information emerged from their discussions; 5) what their overall rating of the session was, often on a scale of 1 = poor to 10 = excellent; and (perhaps) 6) what questions from the prep guides might be eliminated; (Boyce & Hineline, 2002). One major reason that the feedback forms are important to the instructor is that they give some information, in conjunction with the actual prepared answers during the interteach session, about how well-prepared individual students are for the session, and how much credit they have earned. If late or inadequate preparation become a habit for a student, that student may receive reduced credit, or perhaps none (Boyce & Hineline, 2002). Likewise, since working with a number of different partners is important to the success of the interteach session, students who persist in working with the same partner(s) repeatedly may also receive reduced participation credit.
A second major reason that feedback forms are important to the instructor is that they provide direct accounts of which questions were especially difficult and would benefit from the clarifying lecture to follow. The instructor uses the records to review how successful the interteach session was overall, and reviews all of the forms to assess which discussion topics should be addressed in the subsequent lecture, a lecture that should not be too extensive regarding the number and extent of topics covered. Most authors, based on their own research and practices, recommend about three or four clarifying topics (e.g., Brown et al., 2014; Querol et al., 2015; Sturmey et al., 2015) that can be covered in no more than one-third of the class session. Restricting the number of clarifying topics also has the advantages of allowing the instructor to concentrate on the topics most frequently identified as difficult, and to include outside material that enhances the students’ understanding and increases interest in the lecture and its breadth of coverage.
Finally, another important component of interteaching is the use of frequent tests or other evaluations (probes) to assess the students’ mastery of the material. The probes emphasize material from the prep guides and the assigned materials. (Boyce & Hineline, 2002; Querol et al., 2015). Saville et al., (2011) review evidence that frequent probes are beneficial for several reasons: 1) they give students frequent opportunities to show what they have learned, with rapid feedback about their learning; 2) frequent assessments mean that final grades for the course are not greatly affected by performance on any one probe. Many interteaching advocates suggest allowing students to drop their lowest probe grade (or, if they miss a probe, to have that count as their lowest probe grade); and 3) the outcome of frequent testing may reflect the “testing effect” in which frequent tests or quizzes enhance long-term retention for learned material (partly because of the effects of increased rehearsal) (Roediger & Karpicke, cited by Querol et al., 2015).
Evidence about the Effectiveness of Interteaching
Since Boyce and Hineline introduced interteaching in 2002, a growing number of empirical investigations have examined the effectiveness of the approach. In 2005, for example, Saville, Zinn, and Elliott compared the effectiveness of interteaching to standard lecturing in an undergraduate sample of students. Three groups of students read an article. One group returned a week later for a lecture on the same topic and then a quiz on the article. A second group returned for an interteach session instead of a lecture, and also took a quiz. The third group, the control group, read the article and returned a week later for the quiz. Saville et al. (2005) reported that the interteach group outperformed the other two groups on the quiz.
In 2006, Saville, Zinn, Neef, Van Norman, and Ferreri replicated the 2005 results and extended their use of interteaching into an actual classroom situation. In one of their series of studies, two groups of undergraduate students experienced lecturing and interteaching in a counterbalanced order. Students in both sections took weekly quizzes. Students in the interteaching part of the course performed better on quizzes than after they (the same students) had attended lectures. In a second study, Sayville et al. (2006) used interteaching in a graduate level human development course. In this case, counterbalancing consisted of employing standard lecture or interteaching methods that alternated week by week. Students took weekly quizzes. On average, students performed better on quizzes during interteaching weeks than during lecture weeks (Saville et al., 2006).
In their original article Boyce and Hineline (2002) suggested that some students might benefit more from interteaching sessions than others. A number of more recent studies have investigated this question. Sturmey et al. (2015) for example, have suggested that some students may already have developed their own effective study methods because of strong self-management or time-management skills for contingencies outside of class, whereas others may not have developed these skills to a high degree. Saville, Pope, Truelove, and Williams (2012) demonstrated these differences in a study that used interteaching techniques in a class that included students of high, moderate, and low Grade-Point Averages (GPA’s). However, High GPA-students scored only 1.5% better during interteaching portions (M = nearly 87%) than during lecture classes (M = about 85%). The difference between interteaching and lecture was larger for moderate-GPA and low-GPA students – about 4% (82% vs 77% means for the moderate-GPA group and 74% vs 70% means for the low-GPA group).
Not all studies of the interteaching approach have reported advantages for interteaching. For example, Zayak and Paulk (2014) found no difference in their objective measures of knowledge (exam scores) for standard lecture compared to interteaching sessions in a six-week summer course in behavior modification (19 students, with alternating sessions of lecture and interteaching). But some reported effects have been large enough to be notable. In particular, Saville et al. (2014) randomly assigned 134 undergraduate students to a lecture, interteaching, or control condition (students worked on anagrams) in an experimental study involving tests of long-term memory retention. All students completed quizzes on three occasions after teaching. For interteaching, lecture, and control conditions, respectively, the combined mean quiz scores were 87%, 73%, and 35% (p < .01). Even when quizzes were considered separately, the interteaching session maintained a 14%-point advantage over lectures, which was maintained from week to week (Saville et al., 2014).
In addition to experimentally controlled designs with objective data, there have been mounting published reports of self-report or quasi-experimental designs that report benefits of the interteaching approach, in terms of student preparation, student performance, and student preference. Several recent reviews provide overlapping and thorough comparison of the research related to interteaching effectiveness. Querol et al., in particular, provide a useful summary table of interteaching research current to 2015, with the inclusion of information about participants chosen, setting (lab or classroom), experimental design, dependent variables and outcome variables assessed or compared, academic discipline of the study, and social validity (how well the participants themselves see the importance and benefit of the intervention tested).
In summary, the consensus of the research is that, in most cases, interteaching improves academic performance over a traditional lecture format (e.g., Arntzen & Hoium, 2010; Saville et al., 2005; Saville et al., 2006), high academic achievement in the form of homework, class participation (Filipiak et al., 2010; Rehfeldt et al., 2010; Saville et al., 2012), performance on probe tests (quizzes) (Arntzen & Hoium, 2010; Filipiak et al., 2010; Scoboria & Pascual-Leone, 2009), end-of-semester exam scores (Saville et al., 2012; Saville & Zinn, 2009; Saville et al., 2006), and long-term recognition memory (Saville et al., 2014).
Implications of Personal Observations and Informal Interviews with Instructors Who Have Used Interteaching in Psychology Classes
In the preparation of this review, my own reading of the literature, as well as Informal interviews with colleagues, have revealed that Interteaching’s intended flexibility in its application of behavior analysis techniques to an active learning approach has also opened it to wide variability in its applications. For instance, at The College of Wooster there are a number of the psychology department faculty who have used interteaching in a variety of intermediate- and advanced-level courses. Our conversations suggest that we are not uniform in use of all of the interteaching components, the amount of course time in a semester in which interteaching is included, or the comparisons we make, if any, to more traditional teaching methods. In most of the literature, and among my colleagues, the interteaching approach does consistently involve several major components from Bryce and Hineline’s (2002) original set: preparation guides, peer interteaching in class, instructor intervention during interteach discussions, feedback forms, clarifying lectures, and frequent assessments. Some kind of participation credit is almost always given, with immediate (or close-following) feedback to students, sometimes by email the same day. But most of us use interteaching for part of semester, may have students form pairs or groups of three or four, seek different versions of feedback (and sometimes none), use more lecturing than the model suggests, and, overall, tailor interteaching to our uses by combining it with other forms of active learning in the classroom. Some colleagues object to the jargon of interteaching (although the terms are deliberately designed to reflect a behavior analytic approach and the language of self-directed learning and contingencies between behavior and outcomes), and prefer to refer to “preparation guides” as “study questions”, “records” as “feedback forms”, “clarifying lectures” as “follow-up lectures”, and “quality points” as “bonus points”. Although there are sound theoretical arguments, rooted in the principles of behavior analysis, for the terms Bryce and Hineline suggested, few instructors actually elaborate enough on behavior analytic (operant) principles to make the distinctions in terminology apparent to students.
The implications of these variations in the use of interteaching methods is that, observationally as well as in consideration of published literature, it is difficult to compare uses of interteaching across a large number of studies that apply the method in inconsistent ways. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to assess the effectiveness of individual components of the interteaching method, or to compare their effectiveness with each other. Indeed, some recent research that has attempted to isolate certain components has shown that they are not all equally effective. For example, as described above, use of Quality Points does not enhance student preparation or exam performance (Saville & Zinn, 2009). There are also some reports that students do not always prefer interteaching methods, as in the study mentioned above (Rosales et al.,2018) in which students preferred traditional lectures to the interteaching format. Saville (2015) has suggested that one reason for such findings is that students often do not really understand the theoretical foundations or particular goals of the interteaching approach, because instructors do not spend enough time making them explicit. As with many alternative teaching strategies, there may be a necessary “build-up time” (Saville, 2013) for both instructors and students before the techniques can show consistent and long-term efficacy; short-term studies may not reflect this developmental process of teaching and learning.
Despite some inconsistencies in the use of interteaching, my colleagues report several perceived benefits: 1) students are better prepared for class discussions when they complete the guiding questions in advance of the class and clarifying lecture; 2) instructors favor the ability to move about a class, interact individually with students as they engage in peer tutoring, and give prompt feedback as students work in class, address misunderstandings immediately, and assess which of the topics or issues are of greatest difficulty and need most assistance in the subsequent clarifying lecture. Pairing students with new interteach partners for each session can also show benefits. Peer accountability increases preparation for class discussions, and having students get to know each other better in a class can yield unexpected positive experiences (such as the comment on a feedback form that I recently received: “I never knew it could be so interesting to work with a stranger.”). Some, but not all, of my colleagues perceive at least some higher level of engagement in class discussions with the interteaching techniques, and most emphasize that preparation for a course that involves interteaching is highly time- and labor-intensive, although those of us who have used the approach in the same class several times note that preparation becomes easier with successive uses.
Recommendations for Interteaching
Based on the reviews of empirical studies of interteaching, and on the practical experiences of instructors who have used interteaching regularly and refined their practices (e.g., Saville, 2013; 2015), a number of recommendations for successful implementation of interteaching have emerged:
- Use the preparation guides to promote learning in advance of class, in a self- regulated way by students. This means that prep guides must be made available several days (at least) before the class discussion of the questions. They can be posted on a web-based teaching system, for example. Good design of the prep guides cannot be underestimated. Many experienced interteaching instructors recommend the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a guide, working from relatively simple questions requiring knowledge (definitions, vocabulary, visual representations, outlines) to comprehension (evidence of understanding not just memorizing), to application (being able to apply concepts to new examples or situations, making up one’s own examples in a different context), to analysis (comparing, contrasting, considering complexity and “if-then” reasoning, beyond searching for “one right answer or explanation”), to synthesis (drawing ideas from across subtopics, sources, points of view, to integrate evidence and arguments in a coherent, logical and evidence-based summary that can be explained to someone else clearly). It is also helpful to move from simple questions with comparatively easy and straightforward answers to more nuanced and complex questions, to reward students for early success that sustains motivation to work on harder questions and concepts.
- Consider what is adequate TIME for interteaching sessions – it takes time to discuss and compare answers in class, and to prepare good arguments and summaries to present and hand in. Instructors may underestimate the time needed, even for well-prepared students, to finish the prep guide questions. Students who finish too quickly may not be deeply engaged in the questions and their discussion of them (Saville, 2013). The role of the instructor in moving around the class and guideing peer teaching during the interteaching discussions is therefore very important to the students’ successful mastery of complex material. Some students, on the other hand, may be very well prepared, and finish sooner than other pairs. Instructors can prepare extra questions in that case, although too many discussion questions (more than 10 or 12) become aversive in students’ experience. One suggestion, based on my own and others’ experience, is to add “Bonus Questions” to prep guides, and encourage students to work on them if they finish early, or on their own later. Some of these Bonus Questions on prep guides often appear as Bonus Questions on this reviewer’s actual exams. This has worked well, and rewards students for self-motivation in the prep guides that allow them time to learn even more and receive recognition for it.
- In two recent informal sources, Saville (2013; 2015) has urged that instructors not “stray too far” from the original interteaching premises. For example, use clarifying lectures after a class, not before, but do not abandon them altogether, since Saville, Cox, O’Brien, and Vanderveldt (2011) have demonstrated that students who have received clarifying lectures perform better than students who do not. Because there are good theoretical and conceptual reasons for the behavior analytic approach at the foundation of interteaching, it is best to stay with the original model until you can decide which components best suit your particular purposes (Saville, 2015).
- Saville also suggests (as mentioned briefly above) that instructors take time to tell students why they are using interteaching methods, citing specific reasons, such as to improve learning, engagement, and teamwork, and to address these objectives not just at the beginning of a semester but frequently during the course. Students often resist new teaching methods, and can be encouraged to engage with interteaching’s objectives if they understand the reasoning and can see the actual evidence behind them.
- In implementing interteaching techniques, consider time constraints for the instructor as well as the students, and have persistence to develop an interteaching approach gradually. Count on substantial time to develop course materials, and implement the approach slowly, or in stages. For example (Saville, 2015), preparing for a course during the preceding summer, or “phasing in” interteaching in a course over several subsequent semesters by using it in one or two units and expanding gradually, are judicious approaches.
- In addition to making preparation guides a reasonable length, the clarifying lectures that follow each interteach session should also be well-contained. Querol et al. (2015) recommend no more than three or four lecture items; more leads to a creeping effect as lecturing begins to take up more than a desirable amount of class time (about one-third). Clarifying lectures can focus on the most frequently-identified difficulties, with an offer that other questions could be addressed in office hours. Saville (2013) notes that the better that students understand you will be covering a limited number of items in class, the more they are likely to prepare answers themselves and discuss them more deeply in class.
Interteaching is an approach that emphasizes active student learning, cooperative peer tutoring, class preparedness, instructor facilitation, frequent assessments of mastery, application of behavior analytic principles (e.g., reinforcement, shaping, contingency-setting), and immediacy of feedback in the learning process (Querol et al., 2015). Despite some limitations in the scope of empirical support for interteaching, it has been demonstrated to improve student performance and to increase student preparation, interest, and engagement in the learning process (Dunn, Saville, Baker, & Merak, 2013; Querol et al., 2015; Saville, Cox, et al.,2011). As with other approaches that have moved away from traditional lecture to more active teaching and learning environments, interteaching shares the strength of encouraging student-regulation and student-motivated processes of learning, and use of class time to explore analytical investigations of complex material, critical evaluation of concepts and evidence, and discussion-based learning that overtly relies on student preparation and participation. Interteaching does not yet have evidence to show that it transfers as a general set of skills to other courses or disciplines, nor does it have longitudinal evidence to show that it results in “life-long learning” – a long-term generalization of skills of critical acumen or deep processing that is immediately and spontaneously self-directed. In these ways, interteaching resembles other active-learning strategies (such as Flipped Classroom), but does not appear to have distinct advantages over those other active-learning methods. Interteaching is therefore one approach with persuasive evidence that it can be a teaching intervention worth considering to help students develop self-directed learning, improve student engagement, and enhance learning outcomes.
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Sample Record (Feedback Form)
Psychology 218 – Animal Cognition
Peer Teaching Assignment for Chapter 11: “WILD COMMUNICATION”
INTERTEACHING FEEDBACK FORM
Please answer the questions below candidly. Only I will see your answers.
1. Who was your interteaching partner?
2. Please rate your partner’s preparation and the reasons for your rating:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Woefully Prepared Brilliantly Prepared
3. How long did you need to complete this task?
4. Was the amount of time sufficient to complete the task?
5. Which concepts were the most difficult to master and why?
6. Which concepts would you like to see addressed in a clarifying lecture?
7. What is some interesting and/or surprising information you learned in this session?
8. Overall, how would you rate this interteaching session?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Not Useful or Productive Very Useful and productive