Peer tutoring is as old as the Greeks. From ancient times until more recently, peer tutoring has been viewed as the passing down of instruction from more knowledgeable or competent students to less competent ones. Today, scholarly research recognizes that the gains of peer tutoring amount to more than the transfer of knowledge from tutor to tutee; rather, tutoring is a complex partnership with cognitive and social benefits -- and some frustrations. Without undervaluing the role of the traditional classroom teacher, peers can meet the needs of students where a teacher cannot.
Studying with someone their own age typically makes students feel more comfortable and relaxed. They don’t feel as intimidated with a peer as they might with a teacher, and may be less hesitant to ask questions. Peer tutors can share their own struggles with subject material, such as explaining the difficulties they encountered with a particular math problem or historical concept and what strategies they used to overcome it. This helps the learner feel like she is on the same level and that if the tutor did it, she can do it too.
Peer tutoring leads to greater comprehension of academic material for the tutee, according to studies conducted by Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the journal "Higher Education." In these studies, students who received peer tutoring attained higher achievements in a variety of subjects in both elementary school and higher education. Not only that, but students tutored by peers demonstrated an improved attitude in the classroom toward the subject matter.
Organizing a peer tutoring activity can be a large undertaking for a teacher. Teachers have to decide how to pair up students and how the pairs should structure their time together. Teachers also have to consider how much training they wish to give tutors. Furthermore, not all students thrive in an instructional role, and some students may feel frustrated that their tutors are not able to help them. Teachers need to monitor and evaluate each tutoring pair regularly to ensure they are making progress.
Tutors can receive benefits from instructing their peers, too. According to the old adage, “to teach is to learn twice,” students enhance their own understanding of material through tutoring. In a study of two groups of students published in "Higher Education," one who simply read information and another who had to read it and then teach it to others, the latter group performed better on a test of the material.
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