Peer Tutoring: A Potentially Powerful Way to Help Struggling Students

By | First Published: | Last Updated: 22 November, 2019

Do you have students who struggle, or who haven’t quite mastered what you have taught them in class? Peer tutoring is a potentially powerful way to help them, but only if done the right way.

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What Is Peer Tutoring?

Peer tutoring involves one student (the tutor) helping another student (the tutee) to master something that they have not yet learned in class.


The Benefits of Peer Tutoring

Peer tutoring helps students to succeed when regular classroom instruction has not. Yet, it is not the only way to help such students. What is unique about peer tutoring is that:

  • Any teacher can implement it in any school
  • It costs nothing
  • It helps the tutors as well as the tutees
  • You don’t have to rely on volunteers who may not show up

Peer tutoring allows tutees to receive:

  • Individual instruction matched to their specific needs
  • Guided practice, with prompting as needed
  • Immediate feedback, so they can refine their understanding as needed

However, research has shown that it also helps the students acting as tutors to deepen their own understanding. It seems having to teach someone else forces you to clarify things in your own mind.

We learn more when we are asked to teach it.
John Hattie


Peer Tutoring is Part of a Parcel of Teaching Strategies

Peer tutoring works, but not in a vacuum.

It does not replace whole-class instruction or individual work. Instead, it offers you a way of helping students when these two things have not been enough for them to master the material at hand.

 


What Do the Tutors Actually Do?

The tutor can use a wide range of strategies, including:

  • Telling the tutee things they need to know
  • Explaining things their tutee needs to understand
  • Demonstrating things the tutee must be able to do
  • Setting practice questions for the tutee to do
  • Providing feedback on their tutee’s responses
  • Clarifying any misunderstandings that may become apparent

 


5 Keys to Doubling the Impact of Peer Tutoring

Research shows that by including 3 or more of the following, you will have a much larger impact on your students’ results.

  1. Teacher-formed pairings. This allows you to ensure that tutors have the adequate levels of mastery and that the two students are likely to work well together
  2. Structured interventions, where students are clear about what the tutee must achieve, what you expect them to do and how you expect them to do it
  3. Personalized curricula, matched to students’ current levels of mastery and understanding
  4. Assessment of the tutee’s new level of mastery, as opposed to no assessment or normative assessment
  5. Earned Rewards, where both students earn some form of reward if the tutee demonstrates they have mastered the material

 

A Note on Earned Rewards

The exact nature of the earned rewards depends upon how often you use peer tutoring.

When you first introduce it, you may give a tangible reward (e.g. lolly) to every student who was part of a pair where the tutee showed they had mastered the material.

If you then only use peer tutoring occasionally, you may want to continue with handing out rewards this way.

If you use it regularly, a symbolic or token reward can work quite well. For example, each student earns a point. At the end of the week, the 4 students with the most points earn a tangible reward, such as a lolly.

Obviously, you must be mindful of allergies, health and other things when handing out lollies. In my own classroom, I tend to only hand out a total of 4-6 per week. And, if a student has already had one that day, they must choose a student who hasn’t had one to give it to.

shaun killian drawing

SHAUN KILLIAN
(MEd., MLead.)

Shaun Killian (me) is an experienced and passionate teacher, as well as a past school principal. After a heart transplant and having both my legs amputated, I am not yet capable of returning to work. Yet, my passion for helping students succeed has led me to use my time to research teaching and associated practices. I then share what I find in practical ways through this website. The greatest compliment I have ever received from a past student was I never left any student behind. That is mission of most teachers and I hope you find the information on this site useful.

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