Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below looks at factors that make for effective peer toutoring. It is from Chapter 4 – Collaborative Small Group Work and Peer Tutoring, in the book, Effective Teaching: Evidence and Practice, by A Daniel Muijs and David Reynolds. Published by SAGE Publications Ltd, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Road, London EC1Y 1SP, © 2018 Daniel Muijs and David Reynolds. www.sagepublishing.com All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning
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Peer tutoring, where pupils help each other to learn, is another method that has been found to be very effective. Typically, one pupil takes on the role of tutor and the other the role of tutee, though these roles will often be swapped later, so that all pupils have the opportunity to act in both roles. While traditionally it has been common to use pupils of higher ability as tutors and pupils of lower ability as tutees, it has become increasingly clear that a lot of the most effective tutoring involves pupils of similar abilities, but where the ‘tutor’ has previously gained knowledge of a particular aspect of the curriculum and is only more knowledgeable in this particular area.
The main differences with peer tutoring are that pupils take on specific roles as either tutor or tutee, and that the groups are usually smaller, typically pupils working one-to-one (Topping, 2005).
There is a lot of evidence on the effectiveness of peer tutoring, from studies in a range of countries (e.g. the USA: Kamps et al., 2008; Powell, 1997; the UK: Fitz-Gibbon, 1988; Topping, 2005; Germany: Grosse and Bachman, 2000; Australia: Topping et al., 2006). A key advantage of peer tutoring is that learners of similar ages may identify more easily with one another, and possibly understand each other’s ways of thinking more clearly than adults. As with cooperative small group work, there is the advantage of talk as a way of developing thinking, especially for the tutors who will need to have a good understanding of whatever they are trying to explain and be able to put this into words.
As is the case for collaborative small group work, peer tutoring needs to be carefully structured and prepared (and there are a number of structured programmes in existence), with attention paid to aspects like context (the specific class and learners involved), clear objectives, who the participants will be and how they will be prepared for the activity, what training is needed for the pupils and possibly for teachers or classroom assistants, and what resources and materials are necessary to make the activity successful.
A number of things that are necessary for effective peer tutoring are:
- Good preparation and training of tutors. This training will need to include teaching strategies (e.g. how to set up a specific task, how to explain something clearly) and use of praise (when and when not to praise). It is a good idea to give tutors some practice with one another before getting them to work with tutees. It can be helpful for teachers to demonstrate peer tutoring to the class by two teachers taking on the roles of tutor and tutee. Tutees need to be prepared to accept tutoring from peers and not to get defensive or angry when they make mistakes.
- A careful selection of activities for peer tutoring. Peer tutoring works best as an addition to and not a replacement of classroom teaching. Helping tutees develop skills they are struggling with that have been previously taught to the whole class is a particularly effective way of using peer tutoring. The materials selected must be well understood by peer tutors, and must be well defined and clear. Open-ended tasks do not lend themselves to peer tutoring as well as to collaborative small group work.
- A careful selection of tutors and tutees. While tutors and tutees don’t need to differ in ability, they do need to have different levels of overall knowledge of the area that is being tutored. Pre-testing can be used to make sure this is the case. In many cases, cross-age tutoring is used, where an older pupil (typically around two years older) will tutor a younger pupil. This has a number of advantages. There will not be a perceived status or ability difference between tutor and tutee, as differences will be attributed to age. The difference in knowledge is also likely to be clear. However, there are examples of effective peer tutoring with pupils of the same age group, though if that strategy is used, it is recommended that all pupils in a class get the opportunity to be both tutors and tutees.
- Proper preparation of the space and any materials. Tutors and tutees need a space where they can work one-to-one without too much disturbance, which can often be a problem in schools. They may also be helped by having some materials prepared beforehand, such as flash cards with questions and answers on them. It is best for the teacher to take a lead role in preparing these materials, especially with younger pupils.
Peer tutoring is a well-supported method, that deserves greater use in our schools and classrooms, and, if implemented well, can be an important part of the teacher’s arsenal of strategies.
Fitz-Gibbon, C.T. (1988) Peer Tutoring as a Teaching Strategy. Educational Management and Administration, 16(3), 217-29.
Grossen, M. and Bachman, K. (2000) Learning to Collaborate in a Peer-tutoring Situation: Who Learns? What is Learned? European Journal of Psychology of Education, 15(4), 491-508.
Kamps, D., Greenwood, C., Arreaga-Mayer, C., Veerkamp, B., Utley, C., Tapia, Y., Bowman-Perrott, L., and Bannister, H. (2008) The Efficacy of Class Wide Peer Tutoring in Middle Schools. Education and Treatment of Children, 31(2), 119.
Powell, A.M. (1997) Peer Tutoring and Mentoring Services for Disadvantaged Secondary School Students. Sacramento, CA: California Research Bureau, 4(2), 1-10.
Topping, K.J. (2005) Trends in Peer Learning. Educational Psychologist, 25(6), 631-45.
Topping, K., Nel, C., and Van Kraayenoord, C. (2006) Enhancing Reading in Different Worlds: South Africa and Australia. The Reading Teacher, 60(3), 300-2.