Evidence for Learning: Peer tutoring

Peer tutoring

A summary of the research evidence on peer tutoring in the Australasian context.

The Teaching & Learning Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of peer tutoring 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 peer tutoring. 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 peer tutoring interventions that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.

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

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.

However, the systematic review and meta-analysis by Shenderovich, Thurston and Miller (2015), which includes Australian data, examined the effects of cross-age tutoring for kindergarten and primary students. Inclusion criteria for the studies included those with a randomised controlled trial (RCT) design and reliable measures of academic outcomes; interventions needed to last at least 12 weeks. Cross-age tutoring showed small significant effects for tutees on the composite measure of reading (g=0.18, 95 per cent CI: 0.08, 0.27, N=8251), decoding skills (g=0.29, 95 per cent CI: 0.13, 0.44, N=7081), and reading comprehension (g=0.11, 95 per cent CI: 0.01, 0.21, N=6945). No significant effects were detected for other reading sub-skills or for mathematics. The authors note that study limitations, lack of cost information, heterogeneity of effects, and the relatively small number of studies that have used an RCT design means that the evidence base is not as strong as it could be.

The thesis by Acosta (2012) cites Australian data from a 2000 paper that presented findings from an RCT of structured and unstructured peer-to-peer learning. The Brisbane-based study found a significant difference, post-intervention, between the comprehension scores of intervention and control groups. More generally, the systematic review found peer learning to have a positive effect on academic achievement. However, a large variability in the results was found between zero difference in academic achievement and a positive effect on academic achievement.

Fenwick and Cooper (2012) examined the ideas and practices of teachers in three Victorian primary schools situated in low socio-economic contexts with respect to standards-based curriculum reform in Australia. While the article discussed peer teaching as a strategy that can enhance teaching practice, it made no links between academic achievement and the implementation of the strategy.

Willis, Bland, Manka and Craft (2012) examined the perceptions of secondary students involved in cross-age tutoring. The authors gathered student perspectives and analysed these thematically. They observed changes in students’ social relationships, problem-solving skills, and engagement with literacy, but change in academic achievement as a result of the intervention was not measured.

Acosta, M. (2012). Effects of Cooperative Learning on Academic Achievement of Primary Pupils: A systematic review (Masters thesis, Leiden University, The Netherlands). Retrieved from https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/19444

Fenwick, L., & Cooper, M. (2012). Prevailing Pedagogies for Classes in Low SES Contexts and the Implications for Standards-Based Reform in Australia. The Australian Educational Researcher, 39(3), 349 – 361.

Shenderovich, Y., Thurston, A., & Miller, S. (2015). Cross-age tutoring in kindergarten and elementary school settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Educational Research, 76, 190 – 210.

Willis, P., Bland, R., Manka, L., & Craft, C. (2012). The ABC of Peer Mentoring – What Secondary Students Have to Say about Cross-Age Peer Mentoring in a Regional Australian School. Educational Research and Evaluation, 18(2), 173 – 185.

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Peer tutoring; peer assisted learning; peer teaching; peer instruction; peer help; peer buddy; peer involvement; reciprocal tutoring; reciprocal teaching.