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Using Peer Tutors to Help Students with Disabilities

Using Peer Tutors to Help Students with Disabilities

This article features special education teacher Sylvia Liddle who is also the coordinator of a peer tutoring program designed to assist the special needs students of Payson High School, Utah. The peer tutoring program caters to students with autism and other disabilities. In this post, Ms. Liddle explains how the program is implemented.

Background

According to Liddle, the program has been around for at least 10 years:

When I started teaching here in 2009, I inherited the peer tutoring program that other teachers before me had started and continued. Each of us along the way made modifications and adaptations to the program.

The program was created to provide an opportunity for students with severe disabilities to have access to and be successful in general education classes with their peers without disabilities. With guidance and support from a peer tutor they are able to complete assignments in classes that would otherwise be beyond their capabilities”.

Program Overview

The program serves students who are unable to function independently in a general education classroom due to intellectual and/or physical disabilities. These students receive assistance from peer tutors who are mainly general education students that register for the program. Liddle adds, “Although we have a few [peer tutors] who don’t work out, most of them intentionally register for the class and are interested in serving their peers with disabilities. Some of them have mild disabilities themselves, and I have found that they are usually very understanding and patient with these students.”

Peer Tutoring Sessions

Peer tutors go out to general education classes to help tutees with assignments given in those classes. The tutors also help out during Ms. Liddle’s core classes (math and reading) while she and the adult technicians work with each student individually on their IEP goals. Liddle also dedicates one class period each day for her students to complete homework from other classes. During this time, she makes use of the peer tutors to help her students with unfinished homework. For those who don’t have homework to complete, peer tutors are available to assist these students with various life skills tasks.

Ms. Liddle describes typical peer tutoring sessions:

“In the general education classroom, the peer tutor sits beside the student, keeps he/she focused on the tasks at hand, explains assignments, reads for the student if the student is unable to read well enough to complete what needs to be done, and monitors the student as he/she completes the task. Peer tutors are required to fill out a daily log, detailing what they have done and what needs to still be completed, so the student can receive help in our classroom or at home. In my classroom, peer tutors help the students find games related to the subject, such as math or reading on the iPads or play subject-related board games or card games or do other activities with them when they are not working with the adults on their IEP goals.”

Peer tutor Training

At the beginning of the school year, tutors receive a disclosure document that explains their role and its importance to their peers with disabilities. During this time (and as the year progresses), they also receive instructions on how to work with the particular student assigned to them.

peer tutoring practitioner sylvia liddle-01Program Outcomes

In response to the question of how the peer tutoring program has impacted both tutors and tutees, Ms. Liddle states the following:

My students enjoy having someone their own age help them, and they consider them as friends. They like having friends who are not just other students with disabilities. The peer tutors find out that these students are just like they are, and often invite them to do things with them, such as eat lunch, go to a dance or other school activity, or go and get food or a drink with them. My students look up to their peer tutors and often come close to idolizing them.

Ensuring Program Success

Tutors are required to log their tutoring session activities. They are also required to have their performances rated on a peer tutor participation sheet by the teachers in charge of the classrooms where they tutor. Peer tutors turn in these sheets at the end of the class period to earn points for the day.

Liddle adds, “The peer tutor log and the participation sheet each make up half of their possible score for the day. If I find that students are not doing their job as peer tutors, I ask the counseling office to take them off my rolls and give them another class.”

Peer Tutoring Program Challenges

Ms. Liddle says recruiting peer tutors can be difficult:

It is a challenge to have the right number of peer tutors for each period of the day. At the beginning of each school year / semester, I give the counseling office the minimum and maximum number of peer tutors for each class, so they can place interested students where they are most needed. Sometimes it is hard to find enough peer tutors, so we try to recruit them as they come from the junior highs. On the day they visit in the spring, we have a table with information and current peer tutors sitting there to tell about their positive experiences with the program.”

Measuring Program Success

Liddle explains that the success of the peer tutoring program is judged by the feedback received from program participants: “If my students feel happy and successful in their general education classes, and if the teachers are happy with the performance of the peer tutors, the program is working on that end. If the peer tutors are enjoying their experience and tell others about it, then it is working on that end”.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we asked how the program benefits students with autism. “Children with autism are often socially backward, so associations with general education students improves their social skills”, explains Liddle.


The Peer Tutoring Resource Center thanks special education teacher and peer tutoring program coordinator, Sylvia Liddle for making this article feature possible and taking the time to share information about Payson High School’s peer tutoring program for students with disabilities.

Do you incorporate peer tutoring strategies in your teaching of students with disabilities? We welcome your remarks in the comments section below.  If you’re interested in having your program featured, contact us here. For help with peer tutoring program implementation and receiving assistance from fellow educators please visit the discussion forum.

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