Peer and cross-age tutors have long been utilized in the school setting. These student helpers, referred to as peer tutors, cross-age tutors or student classroom aides, provide effective academic support in many areas including the following:
components of a successful high school peer tutor program
- support for students whose academic skills are not at grade level
- pre-special ed referral interventions to students struggling academically
- extra assistance to students learning English as a second language
- support for students with disabilities towards meeting their IEP goals
- facilitation of small group projects and discussions within the classroom setting
I am frequently asked for tips, strategies and advice from other educators about how to create a successful middle school, high school or college tutoring program. As a result of research in the field regarding best practices and the benefits of peer tutors and my experience coordinating peer tutoring programs, I have found four key components to be critical to program success:
1. A Well-Planned & Organized Program Design
Will tutors work with students one-on-one or in the classroom as student aides?
Will tutors be volunteers, have a tutoring class on their schedule or be paid?
components of a successful high school peer tutoring program
There are many successful models for utilizing middle school, high school and college peer tutors. Tutors may work one-on-one with students outside of the classroom in a tutoring lab, library or learning center. Peer tutors can also work within the classroom setting providing one-on-one support, facilitating small group learning, or monitoring the room to assist students during independent work.
You will need to decide if your peer tutors and student classroom aides will be volunteers, if they will be enrolled in a tutoring or T.A. class earning units, or if they will be paid. Often students are required to perform a number of community service hours as a part of their educational program. Serving as a peer or cross-age tutor can be an enjoyable and highly rewarding way for students to obtain service hours. Student tutors can volunteer to work during unscheduled periods or before or after school to earn service credit/volunteer hours. A schedule of times when tutors and tutees are available will need to be developed. While the volunteer model requires somewhat less paperwork and monitoring on the part of the program facilitator, the drawback to this model is that because student tutors are volunteering their time, it is sometimes difficult to plan on their consistent attendance.
Another model frequently used, particularly at the high school level, is to enroll student tutors in a class for which they receive credits. This allows for dedicated time each day or week for peer tutors/classroom aides to work with students. Student tutors feel an increased sense of accountability when they know that they are going to receive a grade and course credit for their efforts. Additionally, a tutoring placement can be established and maintained for the entire semester or school year which allows for great consistency and the opportunity for the tutor and his or her students to form a relationship of mutual respect. Tutors can work at their own school site with peers or can be assigned to a nearby school to perform their tutoring duties with younger students. A credentialed teacher is always present in the room and available to provide specific guidance to tutors about activities to be completed and students who require assistance. It is important to establish and maintain clear policies for keeping accurate tutor attendance records, assigning grades if applicable, and to develop clear rules regarding transportation if tutors will be working at a nearby school site.
Schools may wish to utilize peer tutors or cross-age tutors outside of class time such as before school, after school, or during lunch. A credentialed teacher or another school staff member (counselor, instructional aide, librarian, college and career tech, etc.) should be present to provide supervision, handle emergency situations and answer questions or concerns that arise. This type of program could be structured as a service learning project, could be used to provide additional help to after school tutoring already scheduled on campus or can be incorporated into a tutoring club or specific content area club (math club, science club, etc.).
Lastly, a model often utilized at the college level is to employ peer tutors to staff a student tutoring center.
2. Administrative Support
Have you discussed your program ideas with your program administrator or supervisor?
Have you developed some general guidelines about how and where to place tutors?
components of a successful high school peer tutoring program
Administrative support is necessary before starting any new program in your school to ensure that you have similar expectations and visions for creating and implementing your peer tutoring or student aide program. Your administrator can help to identify possible funding sources for your program and assist in developing clear and consistent procedures. In general, I have found administrators to be extremely supportive of peer assisted learning as it is a cost effective, well-researched and proven method for providing students with additional academic support and has benefits to both tutees and tutors. Having trained tutors available provides another intervention option for students requiring extra support.
3. Careful Selection of Student Tutors
What selection criteria must students meet to serve as peer tutors?
Do you have guidelines in place to ensure selection of quality student tutors?
What standards will you use to select quality high school peer tutors?
Careful selection of peer tutors and student classroom aides pays off! Just one inconsistent or unmotivated student tutor requires a great deal of extra time on the part of the program facilitator and can hurt the overall credibility and effectiveness of the program. The following are suggested requirements for acceptance into the program as a middle school, high school or college peer tutor or classroom aide:
factors to consider when selecting high school peer tutors and classroom aides
- Bs or better if working with same-aged peers
- Cs or better if working with younger students as long as the peer tutor is confident with the academic material that he or she will be presenting
- A responsible attitude toward school and positive study habits
- A history of regular school attendance and appropriate school behavior
- A recommendation from one teacher who knows the student
- Clearance from the discipline office, an administrator, school counselor or other school official indicating no serious behavioral or attendance concerns
- Parent permission to participate for middle school or high school peer tutors
School counselors, office staff, administrators and other teachers can help in recruiting peer tutors and student classroom aides by encouraging qualified students to participate. A student who is friendly, responsible, has a desire to help others and is regarded as a positive role model is the ideal candidate. I have also found that having a peer tutoring or student classroom aide program available, provides opportunities for students who are considering teaching as a possible career to "test the waters" and gain valuable experience to assist them in deciding upon a future career path.
4. Quality Training and On-going Support
What materials or curriculum will you use to prepare your tutors?
What type of on-going support and training will your tutors receive?
How frequently will you meet with student tutors during the school year?
What materials will you use to train your high school peer tutors?
The research is very clear that providing comprehensive peer tutoring training is a critical component to program success and provides program participants with necessary skills and information. In fact, tutors who received training were far more effective and their students achieved significantly greater gains in achievement than tutors who did not receive adequate training (Staub & Hunt, 1993). Basic tutoring techniques, tips for establishing positive rapport with students, instruction on how to provide feedback, and prompting and questioning strategies are important topics to include in a tutor and classroom aide training curriculum. A training frequency schedule which I have found to be extremely effective consists of conducting one, half-day training at the beginning of the school year before peer tutors and student classroom aides are placed with students and then scheduling one, 90-minute follow-up training each quarter thereafter. Peer tutors and student classroom aides should receive on-going supervision and support from a credentialed teacher or highly qualified educational paraprofessional during any contact with students and teachers should provide tutors with specific instructions as to what academic material should be covered with students. Follow-up training sessions and regular contact with the tutoring program facilitator will enable middle school, high school and college peer tutors and classroom aides to provide great benefit to students and teachers.
In conclusion, whether you are a sixth grade teacher looking to recruit an eighth grade student to work in your ESL class or an administrator developing a peer assisted learning program for your school district, you are sure to find peer tutors and student classroom aides to be an extremely valuable asset. With careful planning and quality tutor/aide training, supervision, and support your program will become an important resource in your school community.
If you are in need of a practical and easy-to-use peer tutoring training curriculum, please check out Building Student Success: A Training Workbook for Tutors & Instructional Aides. The research and preparation have been completed for you to save time and to ensure that your peer tutors, cross-age tutors and classroom aides are prepared and ready to work effectively with students. I would love to hear your questions, comments and insights so feel free to contact me at email@example.com. I wish you much success with your program!