Evidence for Learning: One to one tuition

One to one tuition

A summary of the research evidence on one to one tuition in the Australasian context.

The Teaching & Learning Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of one to one tuition on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.

This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on one to one tuition. In contrast to the Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by school leaders, teachers and students. This information is valuable for school leaders and teachers interested in finding out more about particular examples of one to one tuition interventions that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.

This Australasian Research Summary was generated by Melbourne Graduate School of Education in 2016. 

One to one tuition refers to students being individually assisted in their learning by a tutor. The tutor may be a teacher, teaching aide or another individual with more developed knowledge and expertise. This approach is used both as a remedial intervention strategy (to assist students who are falling behind) and as an accelerated intervention strategy (to further improve the learning outcomes of average or advanced students). The principle advantage of one to one tutoring is that it allows interventions to be tailored to the specific needs of each child. Its benefits may also extend beyond educational improvements, with students often creating a strong bond with their tutor, gaining confidence, emotional support and access to cultural capital’ (Dumenden, 2011).

While there is a large body of research assessing interventions that use a one to one approach, very few studies consider if the one-to-one aspect is integral to the intervention’s success. Waldie, Austin, Hattie and Fairbrass (2014) found a one to one intervention significantly improved the literacy skills of students with dyslexia. Even though they argued that the one to one aspect was integral to the intervention’s success, this assertion was not tested. Relatedly, Thorton, Quinane, Galluzzo and Taylor (2010) found a significant improvement in students’ numeracy skills following a one to one mathematics intervention. While they largely attributed the intervention’s success to individualised instruction, this claim was not assessed. Furthermore, they acknowledged that most of the participating schools would not be able to sustain the program, due to the high costs of employing teachers to work individually with students. Kohnen and Nickels (2010) discussed best practice for educators assisting students with spelling and concluded that targeted and tailored interventions in a one to one context were the most effective.

Furthermore, Scull and Bianco (2008) argued that teacher-student interactions were integral to reading recovery, a literacy intervention where students work one on one with a tutor. They asserted that the intervention’s success largely depends on the teacher’s capacity to engage students and adapt programs to their specific and changing needs.

The biggest barrier to implementing one to one interventions is the high cost involved in paying tutors. Across two papers, Dawkins, Ritz and Louden (2009a, 2009b) examined the efficacy and sustainability of a one to one tutoring program that used pre-service teachers to tutor Year 1 students who were struggling with reading. The program was effective in improving students’ literacy skills and was affordable because it utilised volunteer pre-service teachers.

In his study of private tutoring in Perth, Davis (2013) found that both tutors and parents believed private tuition was a necessary response to the failures of mainstream education. Furthermore, they felt that one to one tuition was more flexible and personable, and led to better learning outcomes. Children reportedly enjoyed the tutorials and expressed satisfaction in mastering new skills. Like Watson (2008), however, the study highlighted that private tutoring is mainly accessed by the wealthy.

Not all researchers agree that one to one tuition is necessary, with a number of them advocating the use of small groups instead. Serry and Oberklaid (2015) argued that small groups are just as effective, and in some instances more effective, than one to one interventions. Furthermore, running interventions in small groups reduces cost whilst increasing access. Relatedly, Scull (2016) examined three literacy programs aimed at improving the literacy outcomes of Indigenous students and did not consider the one to one element to be a significant factor in determining program success. Furthermore, high-cost, government-sponsored interventions involving private tutoring of low SES students that test poorly in literacy and numeracy have not been adequately shown to be effective in improving learning outcomes (Watson, 2008).

Forsey (2013) studied if tutoring in the final years of secondary school improved opportunities for tertiary education and found that while participants enjoyed tutoring, most of them did not believe it had improved their final grades. However, many of them felt their tutor had been able to provide them with emotional support’ and motivation.

Davis, J. (2013). Educational legitimation and parental aspiration: Private tutoring in Perth, Western Australia (Doctoral thesis, University of Western Australia, Australia). Retrieved from https://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/en/publications/educational-legitimation-and-parental-aspiration-private-tutoring

Dawkins, S., Ritz, M. ‑E., & Louden, W. (2009a). Learning by Doing: Preservice Teachers as Reading Tutors. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 34(2), 40 – 49.

Dawkins, S., Ritz, M. ‑E., & Louden, W. (2009b). Evaluating the practicability and sustainability of a reading intervention programme, using preservice teachers as trained volunteers. Australian Journal of Language & Literacy,32(2), 136 – 147.

Dumenden, I. E. (2011). Agency as the Acquisition of Capital: the role of one-on-one tutoring and mentoring in changing a refugee student’s educational trajectory. European Educational Research Journal, 10(4), 472 – 483.

Forsey, M. (2013). But Did It Help You Get to University? A Qualitative Study of Supplementary Education in Western Australia. In Aurini, J., S.

Kohnen, S., & Nickels, L. (2010). Teaching Children with Developmental Spelling Difficulties in a One-on-One Context. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 34(1), 36 – 60.

Scull, J. (2016). Effective literacy teaching for Indigenous students: principles from evidence-based practices. Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, 39(1), 54 – 63.

Scull, J. A., & Bianco, J. L. (2008). Successful Engagement in an Early Literacy Intervention. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 8(2), 123 – 150.

Serry, T. A., & Oberklaid, F. (2015). Children with reading problems: Missed opportunities to make a difference. Australian Journal of Education, 59(1), 22 – 34.

Thornton, S., Quinane, M., Galluzzo, G., & Taylor, D. (2010, 3 – 7 July). One-on-One Numeracy Intervention: A Pilot Project in Low SES Communities. Paper presented at the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, Fremantle, Western Australia. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED520972

Waldie, K. E., Austin, J., Hattie, J. A., & Fairbrass, M. (2014). SPELD NZ remedial intervention for dyslexia. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 49(1), 21 – 36.

Watson, L. (2008, 30 November – 4 December). Private expectations and public schooling: the growth of private tutoring in Australia. Paper Presented at the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) National Conference, Brisbane, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/2008/wat08692.pdf

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One on/​to one tuition; one on/​to one tutoring programs; one on/​to one teaching; volunteer tutoring; reading recovery; early literacy tutoring programs; 1 on/​to/​: 1 tutoring; supplementary education; private tuition.