Peer Tutoring












Class: EDUC 0500


Date: APRIL, 2002

Definition          ………………………………………………….. 3                                            Description and Approach ………………………………………..4

Research and Theory ……………………………………………11

Reference ………………………………………………………...19



            Peer tutoring can be described most commonly as an instructional system in which students teach other students. There are many definitions that are often used to describe this subject matter. Damon and Phelps when on and refer peer tutoring as “an approach in which one child instructs another child in material on which the first is an expert and the second is a novice” (1989, p. 11). Sometimes this definition from Damon and Phelps is not always consistent. Since not all tutors and tutees are paired as expert and novice. On these other occasions peers are sometimes randomly assigned as same-age classmates or same-aged low achievers. With various definitions things can be confusing. In some instances the term peer tutoring often includes both cross-age and same-age tutoring. A definition from Gaustad tries to be more specific. Gaustad (1993) description states, “Peer tutoring occurs when tutor and tutee are the same age. In cross-age tutoring, the tutor is older than the tutee. However, sometimes the term peer tutoring is used to include both types” (p. 1). Robert Thomas definition on peer tutoring is another definition on this topic that is widely acceptable. His definition stipulates that peer tutoring is “the process by which a competent pupil, with minimal training and with a teacher's guidance, helps one or more students at the same grade level learn a skill or concept” (“Cross-age and Peer tutoring,” 1993).

Description and Approach

In peer tutoring, students are paired in twos. This pairing provides them with opportunities to talk about ideas and listen to their peers. This peering also enables teachers to interact more closely with students. The interaction provides opportunities for students to exchange ideas and hence develops their ability to communicate and reason. Placing students in pairs to work together can empower students to become more independent in their own learning. Peer tutoring can be used as an effective teaching strategy because according to Gaustad, because “tutor can adapt instruction to the learner's pace, learning style, and level of understanding” (p.2). Comment and correction are immediate in this strategy. Basic misunderstanding can be “quickly identified and corrected, practice provided, and more difficult material introduced as soon as the student is ready” (p.2). 

O'Donnell, wrote in 1999 that in peer tutoring, “The nature of the dialogue is quite different from what typically occurs in classroom interactions” (p. 72). A typical teacher would find it quite difficult to replace these detailed dialogues that are tailored to meet the need of a specific student. Peer tutoring utilizes a strategy in which students can provide extensive help to each other. The center of the tutoring process lies in the shared discourses. It is here in these particular discourses that tutors implement their many tutorial strategies. These educational strategies ease student learning and ultimately account for the advantages that one-on-one tutoring has over other learning methods. One-on-one tutoring provides favorable conditions for a student to become an active, self-regulated learner. O'Donnell’s research have shown that educational researchers have regularly called for environments that would foster students to be “inquisitive, self-motivated, and in charge of rectifying their own knowledge deficits” (p.73).  In the peer tutoring approach, the tutor is responsible for “identifying the student error, diagnosing the cause of the error, and shepherding the student through a correct solution path” (O'Donnell p.73).

In addition to the aforementioned benefits Slavin (1980) found in his studies that “peer tutoring can be integrated into the classroom organization” (p.252). Here the integration is in the task. Under this format student learning pairs are of significant interest because “they most explicitly manipulate the reward and task dimensions of classroom organization” (Slavin p.252). The normal educational structure has competition at its core. Competitions are traditionally along the lines of good grades, approvals, and other rewards that are given to the students who rank at the top of their classes. On the other hand Slavin stressed, peer tutoring has a reward structure where “cooperation is at its core” (p. 252).

The design of a tutoring program is governed by its goals. Included in these goals are age group targeted, subject area to be studied, and by the availability of human, physical, and financial resources. Setting specific goals are important so that individual progress can be measured and examined. Lippitt (1976) wrote that frequent assessment of student progress gives “teacher feedback on the effectiveness of lessons and encourages both tutor and tutee” (p.157). Guidelines are necessary in the selection process for selecting and matching tutors and tutees. Some examples of tutee selection guidelines could include test scores, and teacher judgment. Tutors may be examined for desired attitudes or degrees of academic capability.

In addition tutors may be offered introductory training to follow carefully structured materials. Or on the other hand tutor may be offered broad training that enables them to make more independent decisions. Broad training is desirable when tutor progress is the overriding objective.

Two structured systems for peer tutoring are the Pair Reading Method and Cued Spelling method. The aim of these programs is to efficiently scaffold the interactive learning process and also enable student to self-manage learning and the development of a greater meta-cognitive awareness. Jane Burnette found that peer tutoring is popularly used as “an effective method of teaching reading” (“Student Groupings for Reading Instruction,” 1999).

The pair tutoring method is one method that is used to teach reading. The pair reading method consists of many steps, the following is a step-by-step approach of how this method works as suggested by Topping (1998).

Selecting Material. At this stage the tutee selects reading material that are of high interest. These reading materials can be selected from school, the community library, or home. Because paired reading is a kind of supported or assisted reading, tutees are encouraged to choose material above their own readability level. While at the same time below the level of the tutor.

Contact Time. Tutor and tutee then setup a trial period of at least 15 minutes per day, and at least three times per week for about 8 weeks. Some of this time should be in regular scheduled class time. This consistency enables the pair to become fluent in the method, and is enough time to see some progress in the tutee's reading ability.

Position and Discussion. Locating a quiet and comfortable place is advantageous. It is important that both members of the pair can see the book and be comfortable. Pairs are encouraged to discus the book, to develop shared interest, and to ensure the tutee really comprehend the content.

Correction. A very simple and universally appropriate correction procedure is recommended. In the event that a tutee says a word incorrectly, the tutor just informs the tutee of the correct way to say the word. Then the tutee is allowed to repeat the incorrect word correctly, and the pair carries on. Saying "No!" and giving any prompts is prohibited.

Pause. In spite of this, tutors do not jump in and correct the word directly. The recommended procedure is that tutors pause and give the tutee 4 seconds for tutee to self-correct. Tutees will not learn to self-correct if not given the opportunity to practice this.

Praise. An important step in this program is praise. It is essential. Tutors must look and sound pleased when saying positive things. Praise is particularly required for excellent reading of difficult words, getting all the words in a sentence correctly and putting incorrect words just before the tutor does.

Reading Together. Tutors support tutees through tough text by reading together. Here, both the tutor and the tutee read all the words out loud together, with the tutor increasing or decreasing the speed of his or her voice to match that of the tutee, giving a good example of competent reading. The tutee must read every word and errors are corrected as described above.

Signaling for Reading Alone. In the event that an easier part of the material is reached, the tutee may wish to read a little without support. The pair needs to agree on a way for the tutee to signal for the tutor to stop reading together. Examples of such signal could be a knock, a sign, or a squeeze. After a signal is issue by the tutee, the tutor stops reading out loud immediately, and praises the tutee for being so confident.

Return to Reading Together. At some point the tutee will make a mistake that the tutee cannot self-correct within 4 seconds. Only then, the tutor applies the usual correction procedure and joins back in reading together.

The Paired Reading Cycle. The process continues like this between the pair, switching from reading together to reading alone. This is done to give the tutee just as much help as is needed at any moment. It is important that the tutees do not grow out of reading together. Tutees should always be ready to use it as they move on to increasingly difficult books.

            The cue spelling method is a second example of a structured method in peer tutoring. The basic structure of the cued spelling technique comprises of 10 steps, 4 points to remember, and 2 reviews. Keith Topping approach to this method is adopted below.

The 10 Steps.

Step 1: This method begins when the tutee chooses high interest target words. The pair checks the spelling of the word and put a master version in their cued spelling diary.

Step 2: A copy of this word is added to the top of a piece of paper on which subsequent attempts are to be made.

 Step 3: The pair then read the word out loud simultaneously. Followed by the tutee reading the word aloud and alone. Emphasis should be placed on correctness of the tutee, making sure that tutee competent and precise in the reading of their words.

Step 4: The tutee then chooses cues to enable him or her to remember the written arrangement of the word.

 Step 5: These cues are not limited to, but may include phonic sounds, letter names, and syllables. Tutees are encouraged to consider and choose cues that fit well with their own cognitive structures. After an agreement is made on the cues to be used the tutor and the tutee says the cues out loud simultaneously.

Step 6: The tutee then says the cues out loud as the tutor write the word down on scrap paper to this dictation.

Step 7: Then, the tutor says the cues out loud as the tutee writes the word.

Step 8: The tutee says the cues and writes the word at the same time.

Step 9: Then, the tutor makes the tutee write the word as fast as possible.

 Step 10: The tutee again reads the word aloud as a reminder of the useful context and purpose of the exercise.

 The four points cover portions of the method relevant to its practical application, they are:

1. At every attempt at writing a target word, the tutor is required to cover previous attempts on the work paper. This is done to avoid the prospect of direct copying.

2. Every time there is a written attempt on a target word, the tutee checks the attempt. In the event that there is an error, this is the sole instance that the tutor is aloud to get involved.

3. If tutees have written a word incorrectly, they are encouraged to cross it out very forcefully to assist its removal from their memory.

4. At an incorrect effort, the correction procedure is that the pair return to the step preceding the one at which the error was made. Tutors are also required to praise at various occasions that are specified quite clearly.

The 2 Reviews. At the close of each tutoring session, there is a speed review step. At this review the tutor requires the tutee to write all the target words for that particular session as quickly as possible from dictation in random sequence. The tutee then corrects all the words with the master version in the Cued Spelling Diary. Target words that generate an incorrect response at speed review have the 10 steps applied again. Here the choices of selecting different cues are given to the tutee. According to Topping, tutees make only a minor proportion of errors at speed review, and the requirement to reapply the 10 steps is not as onerous as it sounds.

At the end of each week, a mastery review is conducted. The tutee is required to write all the target words for the whole week as fast as possible in random order. The pair is left to negotiate for themselves an error correction method in case another error is noticed. Normally tutor and tutee choose to include failed words in the next week's target words.




Research and Theory

It’s been theories that peer tutoring is very effective because of the role specific interactions contributes. Interactions that are considered effective are “ones that support students’ engagement in higher order cognitive processes” (King 1998, p.135). Such interactions include providing extensive detailed explanations and asking the right questions. In addition to interactions enough time must be provided for the partner to think before he or she answers a question. Added in the mix are helpful communication skills such as listening attentively (King). 

There are many successes of peer tutoring instructional methods. The corner stone of these successes are their “ability for eliciting and combining many elements that are crucial to the learning process” according to Topping (p.28). Students are likely to be quite more active and involved in their own learning. When they work together and learn in pairs their “motivation and attention are greater. Their capacity to contribute, question, and receive feedback is greater and their own learning achievements are more visible to them” (p. 28).

Verbal interaction that is content related is of particular importance when students are paired as tutor and tutee. Its been known that different types of verbal interaction have been found to enhance different kinds of learning (King). Tutoring has emotional as well as cognitive benefits. During the peer tutoring process research have shown that students can learn at their own pace without being compared with faster learners. The extra attention and emotional support may “help fill important psychological needs for children from troubled or single parent families” (Topping p.28).

Peer tutoring works well as a teaching strategy because it provides three essential benefits that are common in a good teaching strategy. The three noted benefits of peer tutoring by Topping are, “the learning of academic skills, the development of social behaviors and classroom discipline, and the enhancement of peer relations” (p.29).

Research has also demonstrated that with proper training, students can successfully tutor other students. It’s been theories that peer tutoring works because it fundamentally utilizes a “constructivist approach that emphasizes discovery learning and views knowledge acquisition as a social activity” (p.73). Piaget was one of the first to evolve a “constructivist theory of cognitive functioning and development from around 1920” (p.73). The main argument for his theory arosed from the weaknesses in the traditional answers put into two stages. The first stage being that “human knowledge is innate” and the second,  “human knowledge is directly shaped by experience” (p.8). These factors innate and experience play important roles in the creation of logical and scientific knowledge. Thus neither of them taken alone or together can completely explain the nature of knowledge skill. According to Piaget, “human beings are capable of extending biological programming to construct cognitive systems that interpret experiences with objects and other persons” (King p.137). Piaget went on to say that the building of cognitive systems takes time and, “It is often the case that the same objective experience will be interpreted and understood differently by two children who are at different points in the process of constructing cognitive systems” (O'Donnell p.8).

From this thought a model is developed to provide the building blocks for the use of peer learning in the classrooms. In it Piaget argues “peer interactions provide rich and necessary contexts for students to revise their current cognitive systems” (p.6). Reflecting on peer responses and viewpoints serves as a foundation for a student to modify his or her cognitive system. Such modifications will in turn, lead students to make new meanings. Permanent modifications to existing cognitive systems are only one of many outcomes to make any significance in a given context. A consistent theme within Piaget's theory is that learning depends on “equilibration, a process involving the reconciliation of conflict between prior and newly experienced beliefs” (O'Donnell p.38).

Vygotsky, another prominent researcher on learning, formulated theories that are somewhat different than Piaget. In Piaget's view, development leads learning. In Vygotsky's view, “learning leads development, through the gradual internalization of intellectual processes that are activated through social interaction” (p.39). Vygotsky's theory “views human development as a sociogenetic process by which children gain mastery over cultural tools and signs in the course of interacting with others in their environments” (O'Donnell p.38). These developments are often more adapted. They help children to understand and use in correct ways the tools and signs that are important in the cultural background into which they have been born. This method of communication between the tutee and tutor a more knowledgeable other is said to “effect development if the interaction occurs within the child's zone of proximal development” (p.38).

Within this zone of proximal development Vygotsky's hypothesized that “higher mental functioning in an individual has its origins in social activity” (p.38). He further added the zone of proximal development "is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (p.38). The partnership with more capable peers imparts knowledge through different ways. Some of these ways includes  “demonstration, leading questions, and by introducing the initial elements of the task's solution” (p. 42).

Vygotsky clearly stressed the individual's active role in development. In collaboration his research shows that the “child can always do more than he can do independently” (p. 42). Some condition can limit a child from doing infinitely more. These limits are believed to set by the “current developmental state of the individual” (p. 42). Vygotsky further describe some restriction that arises from some of these peer partnerships. Some of these restrictions he says can damage intellectual potential. (O'Donnell).

Researchers have singled out six conditions that may be needed for successfully transmitting knowledge through peer tutoring. The six are: (1) “The tutor must provide relevant help” which is (2) “appropriately elaborated,” (3) “timely,” and (4) “understandable to the target student;” (5) “the tutor must provide an opportunity for the tutee to use the new information;” and (6) the tutee must “take advantage of that opportunity” (King p.137).

Peer tutoring is a discourse patterns that is successful in the learning process. Findings from the theoretical basis of peer tutoring models show that there are practical supports for their successes. Discussion focuses on ways in which these “discourse patterns promote interactive cognitive activity as well as the metacognitive processes needed to regulate that activity” (King p.137). Peer learning provides chances for learners to interact with each other in verbal and nonverbal ways. Interaction can take a variety of forms such as “providing physical assistance with a task, physically or verbally guiding another's performance of a skill, providing verbal or gestural cues or hints for solving a problem, and mutual discussion about the topic or activity being pursued” (O'Donnell 88).

 From a Vygotskian perspective on learning, there are social contexts that provide a learning arena for the development. Some development includes individuals’ cognitive abilities. In this analysis, learning is socially formed during dealings and activity with others. During such dealings, “individuals engage in the exchange of ideas, information, perspectives, attitudes, and opinions” (p. 88). The interaction also provides opportunities for tutees to model their patterns of reasoning, thinking strategies, and problem solving skills on those of their tutors.

Under closer examination, the interaction between individuals reveals specific ways in which learning is mediated by the discourse itself. In general, different types of “interaction facilitate different kinds of learning” (King p.138). Several researchers have documented this relation between the level of discourse within a collaborating pair and the level of learning of the individuals. In numerous studies of peer interaction and learning, Webb often discovered that “giving detailed elaborate explanations to others in the group is a strong predictor of achievement” (O'Donnell p. 88). Other researchers have found similar positive learning effects for giving explanation.

It has been well documented that one-on-one tutoring is an effective method of instruction. Reported outcome sizes have ranged from “0.4 to 2.3 standard deviation units when tutored students are compared to classroom instruction or other control groups” (O'Donnell p.67).

Studies whose primary focus was peer tutoring, have generally revealed positive results (McLaughlin 1989). Math skills that are addressed in the research by McLaughlin include ratio, proportion, and perspective taking, among others. For his research McLaughlin study inner city middle school children and finds that their is a “positive effect among low-achieving inner-city youth” (“School Involvement in Maryland”). The tutees begin to believe they are “more in control of what happens to them”, McLaughlin reported. Teachers in this study who use tutoring to promote learning also had positive things to report. Among other things, they found that there were “higher achievement scores for the peer-tutoring group on a unit and the student exhibit a more positive attitude toward the study of mathematics”.



Advantages and Disadvantages

The case for peer tutoring has been made repeatedly and conclusively in developmental theory and research. I agree with these repeated studies that have shown that peer interaction is conducive, perhaps even essential, to a host of important advantages. The primary reason that I see instituting a tutoring program is the potential for academic improvement by tutees. Other advantages include children's understanding of fairness, their self-esteem, their civility toward sharing and kindness. Also, their mastery of expression, their acquisition of role-taking and communication skills, and their development of creative and critical thinking

Another reward is that peer tutoring can be used as a means to enhance the teaching-learning process in the classroom. I also thinks that the socials skills used in peer tutoring prepare students for life after school in the workplace and in communities. Classroom-based peer learning activities are an important aspect of preparation for life after formal schooling ends. In addition to the above-mentioned advantages, peer tutoring is a high effective strategy in teaching that can be very cost effective.

On the other hand there are many items that I may regarded as a disadvantages to the implementation of peer tutoring. Virtually all schooling, in this country and elsewhere, is structured around the traditional belief that knowledge is best transmitted from adult to child in linear fashion. Thus breaking tradition and changing minds will be a very difficult.

Some teachers may lack the skill to train their students properly to be tutors.  Concern about possible disruptive behavior in tutoring pairs and questions about the quality of instruction offered by students may foster skeptics. Implement peer tutoring in an entire class may be very time consuming since time and effort is needed to train tutors. Time consuming and overwhelming I might add, especially to a first year teacher like myself. Simply putting two students together will not result in successful tutoring. Untrained tutors may resort to threats of punishment and scornful put-downs, which can be costly in today’s litigious environment. Tutors need training to master effective tutorial and communication skills.

Potential problem is that student tutors may not completely understand the material to be taught. Another drawback of peer tutoring is that tutees, often labeled as less capable than tutors, may resist being tutored by classmates.



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