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How to Implement Peer Tutoring in Your Classroom

by Model Teaching | June 19, 2023.

What is Peer tutoring?

Peer tutoring is a flexible grouping strategy where a student that excels academically is paired with a struggling student to reinforce academic skills or knowledge.

In peer tutoring, students from the same grade level assist and support their peers in learning specific academic subjects or skills. In peer tutoring, one student acts as the tutor or mentor, providing guidance and instruction to another student, the tutee or mentee. During this process, the teacher provides critical support and oversight of both the tutor and tutee, as well as training to the tutor.

Peer Tutoring Strategies

The tutor, who will have a better grasp of the academic content, helps the tutee understand and master the material. Peer tutors will explain concepts, answer questions, provide examples, and offer feedback on assignments or tasks. Tutors often use active learning strategies, such as interactive discussions, collaborative activities, or hands-on demonstrations, to engage the tutee and enhance their understanding.

Peer tutoring offers several benefits for both tutors and tutees. For tutors, it reinforces their own learning as they explain concepts to others and strengthens their communication and leadership skills. Tutees benefit from personalized attention and support, often finding it easier to relate to and learn from their peers. Peer tutoring can foster a positive learning environment, promote academic achievement, and improve self-confidence and social skills for both students.

It is important to establish processes, provide support, and plan when choosing your tutor and tutee and it is important to consider several factors when deciding to use this strategy in your classroom. This blog post will provide you with an essential overview of several critical factors, concepts, and strategies to consider when considering peer tutoring for your students.

What Peer Tutoring Looks Like

What might Peer Tutoring look like in a classroom? It can take many forms, such as:

  • In a math class, one student reteaches the day’s concept to another student in a one-on-one setting. This second reinforcement from a peer often helps the tutee grasp the new concept.
  • In a history class, two students read a textbook chapter together. Often, a struggling reader needs to read and process written material with a peer so they can stop and discuss as questions arise.
  • In a writing class, a peer tutor reads the writing of their tutee and helps them with mechanics and flow, particularly if the tutee is an ELL and needs extra language support.

As you can see, Peer Tutoring can take many forms and be applicable in any content area.

Benefits of Peer Tutoring

Peer tutoring can have many benefits for both the tutor and the tutee. Some of these benefits are summarized in the table below.

ACADEMICALLY SOCIALLY
  • Tutees learn study skills
  • Improved reading fluency and comprehension
  • Increased critical thinking
  • Improved conversational English language skills (for ELL tutees)
  • Improved English writing skills (for ELL tutees)
  • Improved math problem-solving
  • Increased sense of motivation when the tutee wants to be like the tutor
  • Tutees more willing to ask for help from a peer than a teacher
  • It is a more personal learning experience with one-on-one interactions
  • Builds relationships between peers

Peer Tutoring and Cooperative Learning

There may be a misconception that Peer Tutoring is equivalent to cooperative learning or group work. It can undoubtedly be considered one type of cooperative learning strategy, but it has very specific parameters that make it unique. There are several important differences between peer tutoring and cooperative learning, including:

Peer Tutoring:

Structure: Peer tutoring involves a one-on-one interaction between a more knowledgeable student (tutor) and a less knowledgeable student (tutee).

Roles: The tutor takes on the role of the teacher or guide, providing instruction, guidance, and support to the tutee.

Expertise: The tutor is typically more experienced or knowledgeable in the subject matter being taught and shares that expertise with the tutee.

Relationship: Peer tutoring often establishes a hierarchical relationship between the tutor and tutee, where the tutor assumes a more dominant role.
Focus: The focus of peer tutoring is on addressing individual student needs, providing personalized attention, and promoting specific learning goals.

Cooperative Learning:

Structure: Cooperative learning involves small groups of students working together to achieve a common goal or complete a shared task.

Roles: Students within a cooperative learning group work collaboratively, taking on equal roles and responsibilities.

Interdependence: Cooperative learning emphasizes the interdependence among group members, meaning that each student’s success is tied to the success of the entire group.

Social Skills: Cooperative learning aims to develop social skills, such as communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, and academic skills.

Diversity: Cooperative learning encourages students with diverse abilities and backgrounds to work together, fostering peer support and mutual learning.

While both approaches involve student collaboration, peer tutoring focuses on individualized instruction and expertise transfer from a more knowledgeable peer to a less knowledgeable peer. On the other hand, cooperative learning emphasizes group dynamics, shared responsibility, and the development of both academic and social skills.

How Peer Tutoring Fits in with Cooperative Learning

Peer Tutoring Cooperative Learning Again, peer tutoring is one form of cooperative learning. In a typical classroom, the teacher should use various instructional strategies, including many opportunities for cooperative learning. Other examples of cooperative learning might include science lab groups, partners studying for an exam, jigsaw groups, or think-pair-share discussions, among many others. Each of these has its unique benefits and can be selected based on the purpose of the class.

Considerations When Choosing Tutors

Once a teacher has carefully selected the tutees that will benefit from peer tutoring, equal consideration must be given to selecting the tutors. Here are some qualities to take into consideration.

  • A willingness to help. Peer tutors should be those students who go out of their way to help others.
  • An outgoing and friendly personality. Tutors will probably have to initiate most of the conversations during a peer tutoring session, so these should be students who aren’t afraid to speak up.
  • A sense of tact. Peer tutors must correct their tutee at times, so they need to find appropriate ways to do so.
  • Good attendance record. A student who is frequently absent will not be able to help their partner on a consistent basis.
  • Supportive families. Parents should be on the same page and be willing for their child to participate in peer tutoring.

The Peer Tutoring Strategies

Strategies Table

Paragraph Shrinking

What is Paragraph Shrinking?
Researchers at Vanderbilt University originally developed the Paragraph Shrinking strategy as one of several Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS). Paragraph shrinking involves taking a whole paragraph and shrinking it down to the most important idea through interactions between a “coach” and a “player”.

How does it help?
This is a great peer tutoring strategy because it puts both students in equal roles. Even the tutee, who usually receives the extra help, gets a turn as the coach. It is a great way to build reading fluency, comprehension, and confidence. This strategy works best when the entire class has practiced the skill of paragraph shrinking beforehand.

What does it look like in the classroom?
Peer tutoring partners take turns being the “coach” and the “player.” The player goes first and reads aloud for 5 minutes (or whatever length of time you designate). After each paragraph, they pause their reading and give an oral summary of the paragraph. Their summary should include the main idea and any supporting details. The coach can then offer assistance if the player struggles to summarize the paragraph or leaves off something important. After 5 minutes, they switch roles and go through the process again. They can use a worksheet like the one shown here as a written report of their work together so you can better monitor progress.

Paired Reading

What is Paired Reading?
Paired reading is when two students are paired together for an oral reading task. The pairs either read along together or take turns reading to each other.

How does it help?
Paired reading is a great peer tutoring strategy used to build reading fluency. The more students read aloud, the better and more fluent they become. When it comes to ELL students in particular, by pairing a fluent reader with a less fluent ELL, the ELL has the opportunity to listen to and follow along with an example of fluent reading. They also have the chance to practice their oral reading in an informal, non-threatening situation.

What does it look like in the classroom?
For paired reading, the tutor and tutee each need a copy of the same book or text so they can follow along. They can take turns reading to each other, perhaps alternating paragraphs or pages. Another option is to read simultaneously, with the tutor aware he or she will likely need to slow the natural reading pace. Additionally, tutors should be trained to offer frequent feedback on errors and praise on success. The Cue Card resource shown here is an example of feedback ideas you can provide to your tutor.

Cooperative Writing

What is Cooperative Writing?
Cooperative Writing as a peer tutoring strategy is simply when 2 students are paired up for a writing task to provide support to one another.

How does it help?
Cooperative Writing is a great support strategy as it is an opportunity for stronger writers to help their peers who might struggle with writing. Students can share ideas and collaborate verbally on the writing before drafting, which takes some of the pressure off of the more struggling writer. It also helps to build the confidence of both students, encourages the growth of social skills, and helps to improve the sense of classroom community.
What does it look like in the classroom?

During Cooperative Writing, the teacher assigns writing tasks to two students, and they take turns completing a writing task. The teacher may often provide some specific instructions like “Discuss in pairs _____ and then take turns responding to the prompt___.” Students then record their writing and check each other’s work. The student can then receive additional support in grammar or vocabulary usage from his or her writing buddy.

Peer Revising and Editing

What is Peer Revising and Editing?
Peer Revising is when a fellow classmate examines the writing of another student and checks to see if the writing makes sense, addresses the prompt, and is well organized. Revising might also include looking for varied sentence beginnings and lengths, ensuring the writer does not overuse a word, or evaluating the writer’s use of descriptive language. Peer Editing is when the peer is specifically examining the writing for accurate writing conventions, including spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.

How does it help?
Revising and editing serve to polish a piece of writing, getting it ready for its final publication. Peer revising and editing are great strategies to use in class because they promote a sense of community and collaboration among students. By having a student revise or edit another student’s writing, the student will learn from her peer, and that is sometimes easier to take than having a teacher make a multitude of corrections.

What does it look like in the classroom?
Peer revising and editing should be a back-and-forth conversation between the tutor (editor) and the tutee (writer). It might involve the writer reading his or her piece aloud to the peer revisor, and then the revisor giving feedback orally directly to the writer. This strategy works best when the tutor has a checklist, so they know exactly what they are looking for! You can provide students with peer revising or peer editing checklists to help keep them on task for a successful tutoring session.

Rally Coach

What is Rally Coach?
Rally Coach is a cooperative learning structure developed by the Kagan Publishing Company. Rally Coach works best with procedural learning when students need to follow specific steps to complete a task or solve a problem. Students operate as players and coaches when utilizing this strategy.

How does it help?
This strategy works well because tutors or coaches are scaffolding the tutee’s or player’s existing knowledge. They coach gives the player prompts to help the player reach the next step on his or her own. Between that and frequent positive feedback, the player’s confidence builds, becoming more willing to try the work independently.

What does it look like in the classroom?
In Rally Coach, students are either the coach (tutor) or the player (tutee). The coach observes while the player solves a problem, discussing their thought process. If the player struggles, the coach can intervene and offer a tip. If the player is doing well, the coach should praise the player frequently. Students can switch roles, or you can have your tutor always remain in the coach role. You can give students a worksheet of problems to solve as they practice this strategy.

Model Building

What is Model Building?
Model building is another math strategy that utilizes manipulatives to help students solve problems. This strategy involves thoughtful planning on the part of the tutor to examine the problems and think about what tools can be used to make the learning concrete and serve as a visual aid for the tutee.

How does it help?
Model building is effective because it takes abstract math concepts and turns them into a concrete, visual learning experience. This visual aid is often all that is needed to make the learning click for your students.

What does it look like in the classroom?
With model building, the tutor should know ahead of time what types of problems they are working on and have an idea of what manipulatives will be helpful. For example, if students are learning how to calculate the area of a rectangle, simple grid paper and colored pencils for shading would be a great tool. If they are learning multiplication, having a large pile of counters to place in equal groups would be helpful.

Progress Monitoring
As with any new strategy you implement as a classroom teacher, you want to monitor the outcomes to determine its level of effectiveness.
Regular progress monitoring lets you quickly see when something is ineffective and you need to make changes or try a completely different strategy.

The most important thing to remember with peer tutoring is that you want to see progress made. It is better to observe steady progress than to expect a specific level of achievement by a certain date or after a certain number of peer tutoring sessions.

While ultimately, the progress monitoring is your responsibility, tutors and tutees can certainly play an important role. Therefore, we will discuss each of their roles in greater detail.

The Tutor’s Role in Progress Monitoring

  1. Completing a Peer Tutoring Log for each session
  2. Completing a self-reflection every few sessions
  3. Meeting with the teacher as needed to discuss their logs and reflections

The Tutee’s Role in Progress Monitoring

  1. Maintaining a positive and cooperative attitude during each tutoring session.
  2. Completing the Peer Tutee Self-Reflection
  3. Meeting with the teacher as needed to discuss their progress and reflections

The Teacher’s Role in Progress Monitoring

  1. Training each peer tutor on the most appropriate strategies to use
  2. Meeting with tutors regularly to ensure they are preparing for each session and to review their self-reflections
  3. Meeting with tutees regularly to ensure they are making progress and are comfortable partnering with their tutor
  4. Troubleshooting as necessary when tutees are not making adequate progress or when tutor/tutee partnerships are not a good fit
  5. Tracking data to ensure academic progress is being made

As you have learned in this article, there are numerous benefits to a well-planned peer tutoring program. However, it is essential to remember that tutoring is only one piece of the instructional puzzle and should not be used as the primary method of instruction for your students.

With careful selection of candidates, thorough training of tutors, specific goal setting, appropriate strategy selection, and constant progress monitoring, peer tutoring can be an excellent way to increase the academic skills of your students.

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