What is it?
Peer tutoring includes a range of approaches in which learners work in pairs or small groups to provide each other with explicit teaching support. In cross-age tutoring, an older learner takes the tutoring role and is paired with a younger tutee or tutees. Peer assisted learning is a structured approach for mathematics and reading with sessions of 25-35 minutes two or three times a week. In reciprocal peer tutoring, learners alternate between the role of tutor and tutee. The common characteristic is that learners take on responsibility for aspects of teaching and for evaluating their success. Peer assessment involves the peer tutor providing feedback to children relating to their performance and can have different forms such as reinforcing or correcting aspects of learning.
How effective is it?
Overall, the introduction of peer tutoring approaches appears to have a positive impact on learning, with an average positive effect of approximately five additional months’ progress. Studies have identified benefits for both tutors and tutees, and for a wide range of age groups. Though all types of students appear to benefit from peer tutoring, there is some evidence that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and low attaining students make the biggest gains.
Peer tutoring appears to be particularly effective when students are provided with support to ensure that the quality of peer interaction is high, for example by providing questioning frames. In cross-age peer tutoring some studies have found that a two year age gap is effective and that intensive blocks of tutoring are more effective, relative to longer programs.
Peer tutoring appears to be less effective when the approach replaces normal teaching, rather than supplementing or enhancing it, suggesting that peer tutoring is most effectively used to consolidate learning, rather than to introduce new material.
While a large range of interventions can be classified as peer tutoring, there remains a lack of Australasian-based research that links these to academic outcomes. The few relevant studies have mainly examined attitudes and self-concepts or relate to university-level peer learning. International studies using Australian data have shown a slight positive impact of peer tutoring.
How secure is the evidence?
Peer tutoring has been extensively studied and a majority of studies show moderate to high average effects. High-quality reviews have explored the impact of peer tutoring at both primary and secondary level, and in a variety of subjects.
Though overall the evidence base related to peer tutoring is relatively consistent, some recent studies of peer tutoring have found lower average effects, suggesting that monitoring the implementation and impact of peer tutoring is valuable.
What are the costs?
The direct costs of running peer tutoring in schools are low, as few additional materials are required ($18-$36 per student per year). Professional development and additional support for staff is recommended, particularly in the early stages of setting up a program. Estimates are about $5,400-$7,200 per class, including professional development, or $280 per student indicating low overall costs.
What should I consider?
Are the activities sufficiently challenging for the tutee to benefit from the tutor’s support?
What support will the tutor receive to ensure that the quality of peer interaction is high?
Training for staff and tutors are essential ingredients for success. How will you organise sufficient time to train both staff and tutors, and to identify improvements as the program progresses?
Is peer tutoring being used to review or consolidate learning, or to introduce new material?
Four to ten week intensive blocks appear to provide maximum impact for both tutors and tutees. Can you arrange for your peer tutoring to follow this structure?