In this article, Catherine Birch, a 7th and 8th grade personalized learning teacher and instructional coach at Beverly Hills Intermediate in Pasadena, Tx shares her peer tutoring practices.
Why Birch took to peer tutoring
I initially adopted peer tutoring because my students learn in a personalized environment, and they have diverse needs. They are also learning at different points in the curriculum depending on what content they have or have not mastered. Peer tutors allowed students to work in groups to resolve points of confusion while I focused on intensive, individual student needs. As I continued to utilize the tutors, I saw massive growth in students' communication skills, questioning strategies, and self-directed learning behaviors.
A glimpse into how the peer tutoring program is structured
Any student can have the opportunity to engage in peer tutoring. Depending on the situation, I may assign a student expert to a group of struggling students, or students may come to me and ask if they may tutor one another.
Tutoring sessions usually take place during self-directed learning time when students are learning course content at their own pace.
Peer tutors are selected by demonstrating mastery on course content and have volunteered to be available to teach others. Tutees are students who have not yet mastered content and need guidance.
Tutoring sessions usually involve a small group of students working together toward mastering a common objective. Groups are assigned an expert that works through the activity with the group. The tutor's job is to facilitate the session, keep time, ask probing questions, prompt students to refer to their notes or resources in the learning platform, or even ask for assistance from the teacher. These sessions are mostly pre-planned, but they can be spontaneous depending upon the needs and dynamic of the class.
Tutors are always provided with an answer key (including worked out practice problems for math) and a summary of the objectives that should be mastered by the end of the session. I also review with the tutors what success will look like for each session and model potential probing questions and highlight helpful resources/learning strategies to share with tutees.
I usually hold peer tutoring sessions during the school day, so students are able to be present. I also offer incentives (for example: treats, Bear Bucks - our school incentive that students can earn to purchase items at our spirit store) to tutors and tutees for following norms, procedures, and mastering content assessments.
In response to the notion that peer tutoring may not be beneficial to tutors, particularly gifted students
Students who are gifted can benefit in many ways from teaching their peers. Not only are they learning the material in a deeper way, but they are developing communication, collaboration, and inquiry skills that will pay dividends in their futures.
Measuring peer tutoring program success
Observational data tells me that my students are becoming more self-directed, developing habits of success, communicating better, deepening their questioning strategies, and are creating a tight knit community of learners that they can depend on.
Tips for getting stakeholders on board when starting a new program
I would start by documenting your success and lessons learned and sharing that with your community! Take pictures, videos, interview students, create a newsletter! I think the idea of peer tutoring can be abstract, so having something concrete to associate it with can help stakeholders feel more comfortable with trying something out of the box.
I utilize peer tutors for all subjects, and I think it can be suited for any academic setting.
About Catherine Birch
Catherine Birch provides instructional support to students and teachers at Beverly Hills Intermediate School in Pasadena, Texas. She began teaching with Summit Learning journey three years ago when she made the leap into personalized learning. Birch has continued to lead the change in Pasadena ISD and was selected as a Summit Learning Spotlight teacher in the spring of 2018. She discovered the power of education while teaching English in Spain after graduating from Texas State University in 2011. During that time, she realized that changing the world starts with changing your community. She recently earned an M.Ed. in Digital Learning and Leading from Lamar University. Birch is highly passionate about the idea that high-poverty and high-achieving schools can exist and has dedicated her professional life to making this dream a reality in Texas and beyond.