In this edition of our peer tutoring program spotlight, we’re featuring The Learning Together Company. We reached out to learn more about their program and compiled the responses we received in the sections below.
I’m Joann Cassell, Vice President of Product Development for Learning Together. I am the editor for several teams of educators and curriculum specialists who write and update our programs. I also tutored for eight years in an adult tutoring version of Reading Together, our third-grade literacy program.
Overview of Learning Together
For nearly two decades, Learning Together has been a leader in developing and supporting peer-based reading and math interventions for struggling students. We have reading and math interventions for students from second grade through high school.
Our interventions pair two struggling students in a rigorous, structured and research-based peer learning partnership. Working together, both tutor and tutee repair academic deficits, achieve proficiency and build social and emotional skills vital for lifelong learning.
Since 2013, we also have partnered with Gallup® to combine our expertise in social and emotional development with their groundbreaking work in strengths education. Our common goal is to help all students live strengths-based lives with meaningful work, close relationships and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Our Strengths Academy programs are used school-wide, as well as in conjunction with peer teaching through our BLAST middle and high school programs.
We provide on-site and remote training and coaching for all of our programs.
Peer Tutoring Model
Students selected as tutor or tutees may be at-risk because they are on the bubble or falling behind academically, are ELL/ESOL, on IEPs, have behavioral difficulties and/or are shy or acting out.
Learning Together uses the power of peer relationships to engage these struggling students in productive, caring one-on-one partnerships. Using best practices from classroom studies, brain research and developmental psychology, the “learn by teaching” methodology integrated into our reading and math programs benefits both tutors and tutees.
Tutorials are designed around structured interactions, with step-by-step lesson plans that consistently reinforce strategies for intentional thinking and active engagement. Students are exposed to all language arts — reading, writing, speaking and listening — in every reading or math lesson. Students have multiple opportunities to practice academic skills and vocabulary as their teacher monitors progress and lends support.
While lessons are scripted, tutors aren’t just reading from a script. They receive direct instruction from a trained teacher before every lesson, so they understand the higher-order thinking skills they are introducing. They role-play each lesson, completing all reading or math activities. The teacher monitors and troubleshoots through tutorials, bringing tutors together afterward for debriefing and additional direct instruction.
Program Participants and Tutoring Sessions
Each school or district targets the band of students they want to impact. Learning Together provides selection and paring rubrics and will consult to select students at the appropriate level for each program. Generally, tutors and tutees are a year behind grade level; tutors are generally a grade or two above their tutees. Classroom teachers also may be involved in the student selection process and are kept informed about student progress throughout.
Our elementary programs are being run before, during and after school, generally one or two tutorials a week.
Most of our secondary programs are run as full credit-bearing classes for students who need extra time to master academic content. Once tutors are fully trained, a typical week in a secondary program might look like:
Monday: Tutors prep with their teacher for the upcoming lesson, while tutees review the previous lesson with optional PLUS activities
Wednesday: Tutor prep and PLUS
Friday: “Check Your Understanding” review or quiz
Tutoring sessions vary by program. Tutors practice and role play each lesson with their teacher before each tutorial. Typically, tutors begin each lesson with a warm-up chat and review the previous lesson before introducing the new reading text or math concepts. Tutors use their guidebooks under the supervision of the teacher/facilitator, and then end the lesson with a post-reading activity or check for understanding. Tutors debrief with their teacher for 15 minutes after each lesson.
Tutor training and preparation is the key to the success of our programs. Leadership Academy is an intensive tutor training module that is completed before tutorials begin. With 10 hours of direct instruction from their teacher, tutors learn the nuts and bolts of delivering the academic program, but just as important, they practice the leadership and interpersonal skills they need to become effective mentors and role models. Leadership development continues throughout Learning Together as tutors prepare as a group and debrief after each lesson for feedback, problem solving and celebrating success.
Tutees prepare to join the learning partnership in Scholars Institute, direct instruction that also builds skills that transfer to the classroom: self-awareness; self-evaluation; goal setting and writing; note-taking; and time management and organization. This is considered optional in the elementary programs as it requires a second teacher to facilitate.
Teachers facilitating the program receive a detailed handbook and learn to use it during a half-day on-site product demonstration. Ongoing coaching and support is provided.
We recommend that parents be invited to an orientation session before the program begins; they are kept updated through take-home letters (elementary programs) and periodic progress forms. Facilitating teachers are encouraged to hold one or more open tutorials so that parents and other teachers can see the students at work.
Bringing Learning Together To Your School / District: First Steps
Learning Together will assign a consultant to work with the school or district to select the appropriate level reading or math program and target students based on needs. We then create a custom proposal for teacher training and materials.
Time it takes To Get a Program Up and Running
A product demonstration must be held for facilitating teachers and program materials must be delivered; both require the minimum of two business weeks. Learning Together programs are all-inclusive ― the school or non-profit receives everything needed for a successful implementation.
Peer Tutoring Program Set-up Challenges & Solutions
Every now and then, we run into an educator who simply refuses to believe that peer teaching works, especially with tutors who themselves need extra time and support. How can at-risk students have such a big impact when they don’t have a teaching degree? Teachers need to buy into the idea that for some students, it’s easier to ask for help from someone who has been in your shoes than to ask for help in front of the class. Again, the answer often is to have them observe a tutorial and listen to a debriefing. We also can provide results from comparable districts.
Bringing Stakeholders On Board
Stakeholder buy-in is essential — and what works best is to show them peer tutoring in action. In many cases, we can arrange a site visit to a program or a conversation with a program facilitator. Check out our website for parents, students and teachers sharing their thoughts.
Schools and districts use their initial criteria to evaluate their implementations. Tutees generally gain 1 to 1.5 grade levels in reading or math, while the results for tutors are even more significant. Schools also report higher levels of engagement as measured by improved attendance, participation in the classroom and fewer behavioral referrals.
Our first curriculum, Reading Together Grade Two, was based on a program called “Yachad” or “Together” which was developed by Hebrew University to help immigrant students assimilate into Israeli schools. Yachad was adapted for US schools by the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
The Peer Tutoring Resource Center wishes to thank Joann Cassell for taking time to explain the Learning Together peer mediated instructional strategy.