Matching student and school need with the ‘right’ approach & Introduction to the ‘evidence for impact’ blog series
With the new year well underway, schools and early learning settings across Australia are grappling with the past and present impacts of the pandemic, and now, also impacts of the floods in some parts of the East Coast. This challenging context provides an opportunity for instructional leaders to use a strong evidence base to focus upon targeted and manageable actions that support learning and wellbeing.
The impacts of the pandemic (and other disruptions such as floods) on children and young people can be highly variable, with significant differences to be expected across contexts, cohorts and circumstances. Furthermore, there is ongoing potential for additional disruption of learning and development due to isolation requirements for both educators and children who develop Covid-19 or are close contacts of those who do.
This next blog in the series is about tutoring, specifically how to increase its effectiveness through monitoring and adaption.
In several jurisdictions across Australia, funding for tutoring initiatives was extended from 2021 into 2022 to ensure that any learning losses caused by continued interruptions to onsite schooling could be addressed. Appropriately, schools are approaching tutoring many ways, building on existing programs and embarking on new ones, focused on what is best for their students.
Where 2021 was a year of implementation, 2022 presents an opportunity to refine approaches based on experience, a growing research base and emerging best practice. Well-implemented tutoring can be an impactful way of accelerating learning for both primary and secondary school students who need additional support.
What does the research say about tutoring?
The E4L Teaching and Learning Toolkit (the Toolkit) features two tutoring approaches – small group tuition, where a teacher or other trained adult works with up to five students, and one to one tuition. Both approaches have been seen to have a positive impact on learning – on average up to five additional months for one-to-one, and four for small group tuition. This impact, along with the evidence security and average costs of each, is further explored in the Toolkit.
Matching student and school need with the ‘right’ approach
While cost and impact are likely considerations for school leaders exploring tutoring – there are many other considerations that drive decisions in this space such as the individual needs of students, availability and quality of tutors, and mode (online / offline) and scheduling matters.
Whether schools look at small group tuition, one to one tuition, or a combination of both, several factors are important to consider.
The quality of what is delivered is critical
As with all teaching and learning, quality is critical. Using approaches within tutoring that are evidence-based, supported by high-quality feedback, and are targeted at an appropriate level for the individual student, will give the student the best chance to improve. In addition, anything covered in a tutoring session should be explicitly linked to what is happening in classroom teaching so that students can easily transition between classroom learning and tutoring support.
Short, regular sessions (about 30 minutes, three to five times a week) over a set period of time (six to twelve weeks) appear to result in optimum impact. There are some differences here depending on the tutoring approach, and the age of the student. Small group tutoring may be more impactful with slightly longer sessions (between 30 and 60 minutes) but should still occur at least three times a week. Secondary students may also benefit from slightly longer sessions, whereas 30 minutes appears to be optimum for those in primary schools. For anyone overseeing tutoring within a school, it is important to capture dosage as you monitor the implementation of an approach as this is one indicator of fidelity.
Monitoring and adapting tutoring approaches
Monitoring the implementation of any approach or program is critical as it provides insights which may lead to improvements to the approach. If learning goals are not being achieved, it is important to first consider whether the approach is being implemented as intended, rather than redesigning it only to find out the problem was that it was not implemented as designed. In relation to tutoring, a common implementation issue is that students do not receive the intended dosage of tutoring sessions per week. Schools should prioritise the monitoring of both implementation outcomes (whether the plan is being implemented as intended) and final outcomes (usually student learning outcomes), which together will determine any adaptations that are required.
The following diagram, extracted from E4L’s guide for Implementing and monitoring tutoring initiatives, contains some reflection questions to help identify implementation and final outcomes. The guide also contains examples of implementation outcomes and final outcomes for primary and for secondary schools (below is an example for secondary schools).
Monitoring and adapting tutoring approaches in practice
Debra Hosking, Assistant Principal of Broadmeadows Public School reflects on how her school has monitored and adapted their approach to tutoring:
Considerations for school leaders
- Ongoing professional development opportunities for staff delivering tutoring should be specific to the tutoring approach you are implementing, and the needs of the students involved (e.g. professional development for teachers and tutors in specific approaches to improve oral language or number fluency, or around responding to trauma).
- Monitoring tutoring approaches across the school will enable you to identify the impact of different approaches on individuals and groups of students (e.g. recording daily attendance at tutoring sessions will help you to understand if students who attend more regularly progress more quickly, or not).
- Use the data you collect to refine and improve your approach at pre-determined intervals (e.g. monthly reviews with staff to explore data and explore optimal timing of sessions, or the re-grouping students if required) – making too many changes to your approach, or changing too often, can add difficultly to understanding impact, and be challenging for staff and students engaged in tutoring.
Considerations for instructional leaders
- Ensure that the content of tutoring session aligns with what is happening in the classroom – and that these links are explicitly made for students of all ages (e.g. tutors and teachers articulating to students how the content, or skills, relate).
- Assess students to pinpoint exactly what support is required and, if using small group tuition, group students accordingly and match them to a tutor with expert knowledge where possible (e.g. utilise teacher judgement alongside assessments to make accurate judgements so that students receive specific support during tutoring).
- Regularly review how students are progressing in partnership with their tutor and teachers (e.g. through weekly scheduled check-ins).
Tutoring is an effective practice, but it requires thoughtful implementation and ongoing monitoring, adaptation and support to ensure students reap the maximum benefit.