The Evolution of Peer Tutoring Programs: Past, Present, and Future
By Ray Liu and Sherri Bealkowski on Saturday, July 7th
Durham, NC - July 7, 2018 - Peer (student-to-student) tutoring is not a new concept. In the US during the 19th and early 20th centuries, most American students attended a one-room schoolhouse. A single teacher was responsible for teaching reading, arithmetic, history, and geography to six to 40 students in first through eighth grades! It became common practice for teachers to enlist the help of older students to help teach younger ones. This fluid practice of matching older or more advanced students with those needing help became more difficult to implement as the industrial age progressed, cities grew, and education adapted by segregating students into same age, same grade classrooms.
Fast forward to today, and you will find that many school administrators are taking a fresh look at the time-tested practice of peer tutoring. Particularly at high achieving schools, where students are focused on competing for college admissions, it can be difficult to build a culture that strives for learning. Peer tutoring can help students achieve while also fostering collaboration over competition. The benefits school administrators can expect to see include:
- Student tutees get free help from a peer at the same school, who has likely taken the same class with the same teacher
- Student tutors reinforce their own understanding of the subject and are often eligible to receive volunteer hours for their efforts
- Student tutors and tutees often form positive relationships that extend outside the tutoring experience, helping reduce the isolation, stress, and competition many students feel at school today
- The workloads of overburdened teachers are reduced
Many schools have not been able to get a peer tutoring program off the ground due to competing priorities and the time and resources required, even though they recognize the value of peer tutoring.
One approach is to leverage existing resources such as a school's student-led National Honor Society or other service organizations to run peer tutoring programs. While these efforts may be strong for a year or two due to a group of dedicated students, once this group graduates the program often loses steam.
Schools that have implemented peer tutoring programs typically rely on generic tools such as pencil and paper, bulletin/whiteboard signups, or Google Forms and spreadsheets. But without specialized peer tutoring solutions, major obstacles still exist.
Students still have to be manually matched by the peer tutoring program coordinator, usually a busy faculty member. Making these pair matches manually often takes more time than a student who needs immediate help can spare. Ensuring tutor quality can also be a rather extensive process, asking individual teachers about their strong students and then screening or training these potential tutors. In addition, it is difficult to track when tutoring sessions are happening and whether the sessions' objectives have been met, making it almost impossible to evaluate program efficacy.
With the right technology, these problems can be alleviated. Students, parents, and educators are all benefited by a digital solution that:
- Allows students to pick their own matches and easily schedule tutoring sessions
- Enables administrators to oversee all activity
- Provides faculty with insights about their students and their progress
- Ensures ease-of-use and security
- Reduces training and maintenance burden
In addition to these logistical concerns, the primary hurdle in an academic support program is getting students to be comfortable asking for help. Nowadays a software approach is one of the primary ways to do that. With a targeted software platform, a school can achieve the perfect balance between oversight and student independence. Administrators can suggest tutor/tutee matches, while leaving students to sign up for their own sessions. The students take ownership of their academic support, making it easier for them to request help, and the school can continuously monitor the volume and quality of the program.
Our solution, PeerKonnect, is a platform that lets tutees find peer tutors and schedule sessions. It has provided promising results at the high schools which have adopted it so far. By utilizing cloud technology, more students feel comfortable asking for help. Grades are improving, and students feel less stress and isolation thanks to academic success and new relationships with fellow students. On the administrative side, educators also get an intuitive dashboard to effectively manage their peer tutoring program.
With the rise of such cloud solutions, peer tutoring programs are poised to be revolutionized in the next few years. While these cloud solutions might not ever completely replace traditional peer tutoring programs, they can bring major benefits. By applying the same benefits of cloud-based focused software being used in many other areas of K-12 to peer tutoring, surely we can empower schools to help their students by fostering healthier, cooperative learning environments. We all want our kids to learn how to help others and to be open and receptive to being helped.