Carrabec High School and Carrabec Community School: The Need for a Cross-Age Peer Tutoring Program
The schools being featured today are described by Solomon Heifets as rural schools, each with less than 200 students, located in North Anson, Maine, across the river from an old mill town. More than 70% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, and the high school was identified as a priority school under the No Child Left Behind Act in 2012. Judging by NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Assessment) scores, roughly 50% percent of the entering class of juniors at the high school are reading at least one full grade below grade level.
Heifets, who is the Site Coordinator for the Learning Works AIMS HIGH AmeriCorps grant in MSAD74, collaborated with members of the Franklin County Literacy Volunteers to introduce a cross-age tutoring program into Carrabec Community School. Heifets was responsible for training Carrabec High students in becoming tutors, and also coordinating with a middle school teacher in pairing up the tutors with 6th graders. He also supervised mentoring, and debriefed with students.
Why Cross-Age Peer Tutoring for Improving Reading Skills?
The tutoring program which began in January 2016, was set up to address the literacy skills weakness in the district while at the same time making the most of the school district’s limited resources. Cross-age tutoring was chosen because studies show that the best way to improve reading skills is to teach those skills to someone else.
The Cross-Age Tutoring Model
Heifets describes the relatively new peer tutoring program as an “each one teach one “model. High School students are trained as part of their JMG (Jobs for Maine Graduates) class to mentor sixth graders in reading strategies. After working with the sixth graders for six weeks, they train the sixth graders to mentor first graders in reading strategies. Then, the 6th graders work with the 1st graders for six weeks teaching them to read more fluently and comprehend more easily. At the end of the program, everyone goes home with free reading material. Teachers are involved at every step – High School JMG, 6th grade, and 1st grade – to help train students, facilitate the interactions, and answer questions.
Peer Tutoring Sessions and Scheduling
Tutoring takes place in the 6th grade and 1st grade classrooms, during morning reading block from 8-8:40 am, two days a week.
Tutors begin by checking in with their students, asking how things are going, and getting comfortable. Then tutors spend a couple of minutes reviewing what they did last session, checking to see how much their students remember. Tutors and students then spend 20 minutes reading non-fiction articles from level-appropriate scholastic magazines. Tutors front-load the reading by looking at pictures and making predictions about the article, relating it to personal events in students’ lives, and previewing vocabulary. Tutors let students read as much as they are comfortable, taking turns with students who are particularly uncomfortable with reading on their own, and stopping frequently to check for comprehension. After reading, tutors and students answer a few questions that check for comprehension and again relating the reading to students’ personal lives.
Selecting Peer Tutoring Program Participants
All JMG students, 6th graders, and 1st graders are expected to participate in the tutoring program eventually, but for now it’s based on teacher availability and scheduling needs.
Peer Tutor Training
Students are advised on the importance of literacy education, the philosophy of peer tutoring, and the techniques that work best, implementing these in practice sessions. More specifically, students are asked to reflect on how reading and writing are used in every academic subject, and how it can be the single most influential factor in a students’ success in school and afterwards. Training also includes explaining to tutors how teaching is often the most effective way of learning, how peer relationships allow students to open up in ways they may not feel comfortable doing with their teachers, and how to deal with students who are stubborn or closed off. Tutors are also taught techniques such as shadow reading and choral reading, frontloading, and checking for comprehension, after which they partner up and practice tutoring each other, taking turns playing the role of tutor and tutee.
Measuring Peer Tutoring Program Effectiveness
So far, the new program is perceived to be working great based on student enthusiasm and perceived improvements in reading confidence and ability. Further evaluations will be conducted using test score data.
Peer Tutoring Program Costs & Sponsorship
The program relies on reading materials from Scholastic as well as the Franklin County Literacy Volunteers to cover costs and provide materials.
The biggest challenge was finding time for the teachers in different schools to communicate. Heifets overcame this challenge by being the middle-man and setting up lines of communication and routines that will allow that collaboration more easily in years to come.
Heifet’s advice to k-12 educators that are sometimes overwhelmed by the demands of their day-to-day tasks and apprehensive about “adding more to their plate” when it comes to incorporating strategies like peer tutoring that are outside of their normal routine.
In setting up a program like this for example, school administrators can make it easy by making time to do the relatively short work of building this program into the curriculum of classes like JMG, as well as 6th grade and 1st grade classes. By choosing non-fiction reading material, this can be used to cover that requirement in both 6th and 1st grade English classes, and it simultaneously fulfills JMG community service requirements. For schools without such programs as JMG, this can be built into the non-fiction reading requirements of junior and senior English classes while also allowing students to fulfill their community service requirements.