Peer tutoring is an intervention in which students work in pairs to master academic skills or content. Peer tutoring can involve partners who are the same age or different ages (cross-age). Cross-age peer tutoring involves older students serving as tutors for younger, lower-functioning students. Cross-age tutoring occurs, for example, when students in a high school child development class spend regularly scheduled time each week reading with struggling students in a fourth grade class. In this instance, the tutors might be expected to gain less from the content being tutored but may be expected to gain more in social responsibility or understanding of learning as a process. In same-age tutoring, in which students of the same age tutor each other, more skilled students may be paired with less skilled students. In this case, students with stronger skills may provide the first responses, providing a model for the less skilled partner. In other cases, the teacher may decide to pair students of similar ability and have them alternate tutoring roles, which is sometimes referred to as reciprocal peer tutoring. Class-wide Peer Tutoring (CWPT) occurs when the teacher creates highly structured tutoring materials for use during the tutoring session. Peer tutoring is differentiated from tutoring between adults, such as community volunteers, and students. It is also distinguished from cooperative learning, in which students work collaboratively in groups.

Clearly, peer tutoring is a general term that encompasses many tutoring models. All methods are designed to increase practice, responding, and feedback for students, and they often result in increased student motivation and achievement. These models differ, however, in how tutoring pairs are assigned, how tutoring content is developed, and how extensively the tutoring is employed. For example, in cross-age tutoring the expert tutor is typically the older student, while in reciprocal peer tutoring and CWPT the paired students are the same age and can take turns assuming the expert role. In cross-age and reciprocal tutoring, the student tutor is typically responsible for learning the content and then teaching the information to the tutee, while in CWPT the teacher is more responsible.

The instructional components of the peer tutoring model include: (a) explicit teaching of students in how to be tutoring experts, (b) purposeful partner assignment, (c) careful preparation of tutoring materials, (d) highly structured tutoring procedures that include specific feedback for tutors to provide tutees, (e) expert role reversal, and (f) active teacher monitoring. Also, some type of systematic performance is typically included. Explicit teaching of students in how to be tutoring experts can include modeling examples and non-examples of appropriate tutoring interactions, posting tutoring guidelines as reminders for students, giving feedback on how well students are meeting expectations for tutoring, and re-teaching procedures as necessary. Partner assignment can be based on student academic skills, tutoring activity content, and/or interpersonal relationships between students. Preparing tutoring materials carefully is necessary to ensure success in the tutoring experience and may include differentiation of materials. Materials typically include highly structured tutoring procedures that indicate how tutors can determine if a response is correct and how to respond to both correct and incorrect responses. Finally, teachers actively monitor peer tutoring and may give feedback to students both on content and procedures.

Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) is one peer tutoring activity that has been researched for grades kindergarten through 12. This tutoring program is designed to help students improve in reading and other academic skill areas. The steps to the program for reading are: (a) predicting, (b) partner reading, (c) retelling, and (d) summarizing. In this program, the stronger reader is the expert tutor. Students begin by making a prediction about the passage they are about to read. They then take turns reading the same passage with the stronger reader going first. Then the stronger reader prompts the weaker reader to retell the passage and then summarize the information with the following steps: (a) “Name the who or what the passage is about,” (b) “Tell the most important thing about the who or what,” and (c) “Say the main idea in 10 words or less.” A modified version of this peer tutoring model has also been used in mathematics.

Another example is peer tutoring with differentiated instructional materials targeted toward classrooms with students of different learning needs. Differentiation of materials can include: (a) differential practice time, (b) embedded strategic information, and (c) increasing levels of difficulty. Differential practice time allows for students to have as much time needed to master a concept before proceeding to the next skill set. Embedded strategic information can include specific strategies for improving memory or comprehension of important concepts, such a mnemonic strategies or comprehension questioning. Increasing levels of difficulty might include varying levels of supports that can be provided to students on an as needed basis. For example, students can begin with identification formats (in which they are asked to identify the correct response from an array) and advance to production formats (in which they produce the correct response independently) or to answering tutor questions under prompted or non-prompted conditions.

Peer tutoring models were applied systematically as early as 1789, but they gained popularity in toward the end of the twentieth century, with accumulating research evidence in support of the practice. Learning gains commonly observed in peer tutoring programs are generally attributed to increased active academic engagement and opportunities to respond on the part of students, particularly in contrast to models in which all instruction is delivered by the teacher or by independent seat work. Peer tutoring has been studied in many academic areas, including science and social studies, in addition to skill areas such as reading and spelling. Peer tutoring has also been effectively implemented in classrooms that include students with diverse learning needs, such as students with disabilities and students for whom English is a second language.

Academic gains have been consistently observed in peer tutoring programs, with treatment effects in the medium to high range for both tutors and tutees. Effects have also been observed for students acting as tutors in the role of expert. Social benefits of peer tutoring, including improved self-esteem and self-efficacy, improved attitude toward school, and improved interpersonal functioning, are commonly reported anecdotally. Research support for these more general outcomes has been inconsistent, although students commonly improve in their attitude toward the content being tutored and in their attitude toward their tutoring partner. Teachers who have implemented peer tutoring typically respond favorably to the practice.


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