Peer Tutoring


Benard (1990) describes the value of peer tutoring:

"Peer resource programs, whether they be cooperative learning groups or one-on-one peer tutoring, are most effective when each person involved experiences both the helper and the helpee role (Riessman, 1990). In fact, most studies find the tutor receives the most gains! Diane Hedin's review of students as teachers summarized the literature as 'replete with anecdotes of alienated, troublesome youth conducting themselves in a serious and dignified manner while teaching younger students.' She describes this phenomenon as follows: 'The experience of being needed, valued, and respected by another person produced a new view of self as a worthwhile human being' (1987, p.43). Moreover, the research of Roger Mills and his colleagues lends support to the hypothesis that the key to positive change for 'at-risk' youth is changing how they perceive themselves (1988). Programs that label youth 'at-risk,' etc., only further stigmatize and discourage positive outcomes....

From an educational reform perspective, perhaps the most compelling reason for peer programs can be based on the hundreds of evaluations of cooperative learning programs as well as on the peer tutoring and cross-age peer tutoring approaches that have found both positive academic and social development gains in youth (Johnson and Johnson, 1983; Johnson, et al., 1981; Glasser, 1986; Slavin, 1986; Graves, 1990; Fantuzzo, et al., 1989; Greenwood, et al., 1989). Furthermore, according to a Stanford University study, peer tutoring is consistently more cost-effective than computer-assisted instruction, reduction of class size, or increased instructional time for raising both reading and mathematics achievement of both tutors and tutees (Levin, 1984). According to Damon and Phelps' review, in cooperative learning groups academic gains have been especially significant in the areas of math, reading, and science--the three crucial areas of learning that have failed to engage an increasingly large number of youth (1989, p. 152). The Johnsons summarize the findings on achievement gains as follows: 'Currently, there is no type of task on which cooperative efforts are less effective than are competitive or individualistic efforts, and on most tasks (and especially the more important learning tasks such as concept attainment, verbal problem-solving, categorization, spatial problem-solving, retention and memory, motor, guessing-judging-predicting), cooperative efforts are more effective in promoting achievement" (1983, p. 146).

According to Damon and Phelps, peer learning approaches that focus on peer collaboration (an intense cooperative approach) to solve a problem are especially effective in fostering creativity, experimentation, problem-solving skills and the learning of deep concepts, a 'discovery learning' approach especially effective in science education. These are the critical thinking skills that report after report and commission upon commission warn us are not being learned in schools and yet are a necessity for meeting our future workforce needs. Findings from their two-year study showed, 'Gains were made with virtually no instruction from adults other than the initial instructions to work together toward correct solutions. Feedback on right and wrong answers was given only by a programmed computer. The children managed their own interactions, invented their own problem-solving procedures, and discovered their own solutions' (1989, p. 151). Furthermore, they concluded, 'Our emerging picture shows peer collaboration creating an atmosphere of social stimulation and support (p. 153)--the two environmental attributes essential for healthy development to occur (see discussion in Benard, January 1989, p. 9)."

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