Methods for evaluating and monitoring the effectiveness of peer-assisted learning programs are discussed as well, followed by a summary of the literature review.
Background and Overview.
The growing body of scholarly evidence concerning peer tutoring has been consistent in emphasizing the powerful effects that children can exert on the academic and interpersonal development of their classmates and/or other students (Ehly & Topping, 1998). For example, Bloom (1984) reported early on that one-on-one tutoring by a fully skilled peer was more effective than both conventional (i.e., teachers' lecturing) and mastery learning (i.e., student- regulated) methods of teaching. Across several replications of academic content and student age levels, Bloom (1984) reported that peer tutoring programs produced effect sizes on the order of 2 standard deviations above the mean of the control group (i.e., students receiving conventional lecture-based instruction), compared with 1.3 standard deviations for mastery learning (effect sizes larger than.25 of 1 standard deviation were described as educationally significant) (Ehly & Topping, 1998). Likewise, Slavin (1990) even enthuses that, "One-to-one tutoring is the most effective form of instruction known" (emphasis added) (p. 44). Besides these benefits to the tutee, peer tutoring programs have been shown to provide improved academic outcomes when they are used on a same-age, cross-age, and class-wide basis; moreover, many empirical investigations have documented that mutual benefits accrue from the systematic use of peer tutoring programs wherein children who serve as tutors frequently achieve academic gains comparable to those who receive tutorial assistance (Ehly & Topping, 1998).
Generally speaking, peer tutoring programs create alternative teaching arrangements in which students act as instructional agents for one another (Harper, Maheady, & Mallete, 1994). Peer tutoring also provides opportunities for students to discuss content and processes of reading, and the studies to date suggest that specific methods can enhance students ability to monitor their processes and that the social context plays a major role in supporting students understanding of these strategies (Afflerbach, Baumann, Duffy-Hester, Hoffman, McCarthey & Ro, 2000). The potential advantages of peer tutoring programs include providing a framework that allows the teacher to customize instruction to the needs of individual students and to provide a higher number of instructional trials in one-on-one or small group teaching formats (Fister et al., 2001).
This model assigns some of the main sub-processes into one of five categories. The first of these again includes organizational or structural features of the learning interaction, such as the need and press inherent in peer-assisted learning toward increased time on task (t.o.t.) and time engaged with task (t.e.t.), the need for both helper and helped to elaborate goals and plans, the individualization of learning and immediacy of feedback possible within the one-on-one situation, and the sheer excitement and variety of a different kind of learning interaction. To help determine what specific type of peer-tutoring is involved, Falchikov provides the algorithm in Figure __ below.
Figure ____. Varieties of peer tutoring.
Source: Falchikov, 2001, p. 8.
From a cognitive perspective, peer-assisted learning alternatives involve both conflict and challenge; they also involve support and scaffolding from the more competent other participant, within the so-called "Zone of Proximal Development" of both the tutor and the tutee (Harrison, 2001, p. 157). According to this author, "The cognitive demands upon the helper in terms of detecting, diagnosing, and correcting errors and misconceptions is substantial - and herein lies much of the cognitive exercise and benefit for the helper" (Harrison, 2001, p. 157).
Peer-assisted learning also places heavy demands upon the communication skills of both helper and helped, but in so doing these initiatives also serve to develop those skills. For all participants, they might never have truly grasped a concept until they had to explain it to another, embodying and crystallizing thought into language. The affective component of peer-assisted learning can also prove very powerful. A trusting relationship with a peer who does not occupy a position of authority might well facilitate self-disclosure of ignorance and misconception, thereby enabling subsequent diagnosis and correction (Harrison, 2001). Likewise, modeling of enthusiasm and competence and the simple possibility of a successful outcome by the tutor can influence the self-confidence of the tutee, while a sense of loyalty and accountability to each other might provide the motivation needed to keep the two participants focused and on-task (Harrison, 2001). Previous research that has sought to identify why and how peer-tutoring is effective have pointed to the role of specific interactions in promoting learning during tutoring and other peer-directed small group learning (Adelgais, King & Staffieri, 1998).
Some of the peer interactions that have been identified as being effective are those that support students' engagement in higher order cognitive processes; such interactions include:
Providing elaborated explanations;
Asking appropriate questions (question asking during tutoring has also been found to facilitate learning when the questions are ones that require higher order cognitive processes);
Providing sufficient time for the partner to think before being expected to respond to a question; and,
Using supportive communication skills such as listening attentively to a partner's response and giving feedback and encouragement (Adelgais et al., 1998).
Figure ____ below highlights mechanisms through which both tutor and tutee might gain improved academic outcomes:
Figure ____. Theoretical model of peer-assisted learning.
Source: Harrison, 2001, p. 158.
The following rationales in Table ____ below are identified by Falchikov (2001) for using some same-level peer-tutoring techniques that require little preparation.
Rationales for using some same-level peer-tutoring techniques which require little preparation
Cooperative note-taking pairs
To help improve students' note-taking skills
To encourage students to engage with new material
To strengthen collegial relationships
To increase participant confidence
To foster individual growth in participants
To increase level of performance in large classes
To investigate the effects of a group contingency procedure on academic performance
Think-pair-share and Think-pair-square
To encourage students to discuss responses to questions
To encourage participation
To improve academic achievement
To encourage modeling of effective practice
To provide opportunities for cooperation
To improve social outcomes
To develop relatively low-level cognitive skills such as learning definitions, memorizing concepts or vocabulary building
Source: Falchikov, 2001, p. 15.
Rationales for using some cross-level peer-tutoring techniques within an institution.
Supplemental Instruction (SI) system whereby 2nd year students act as 'leaders' to help 1st year students in 'at risk' courses
To support students and help reduce drop-out and failure
To encourage cooperative learning
To help students master course content
The relationship between a less experienced person and a more experienced partner who guides and supports the less experienced in a variety of contexts (e.g. higher education; pre-tertiary education; business)
To provide guidance, advice, feedback and support to the less experienced mentee
To improve overall academic performance
To encourage mentee personal growth
Proctoring or Keller's Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) system whereby an experienced undergraduate helps a beginner, often under the guidance of an academic
To help a beginner undergraduate to achieve mastery in a particular area
To help beginners become part of the academic culture
To help proctors develop leadership, team building and communication skills
Students counseling students
To provide counseling support to freshmen
To help freshmen adapt to the new educational environment
To improve freshmen's practical problem-solving and study skills
Source: Falchikov, 2001, p. 38.
Rationales for using some group peer-tutoring techniques.
Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning (RPQ)
To help students comprehend and remember the content of lectures, training sessions, etc.
To facilitate encoding and retrieval of information
Structured Academic Controversy (SAC)
To use disagreement and conflict to aid learning
To increase motivation and involvement of students
The Jigsaw Classroom
To aid integration of children from different ethnic backgrounds and to improve self-esteem and liking for school of minority-group children
To improve pre-service teacher preparation through co-operative learning
To improve students' academic and social learning
To help cope with differing needs and expectations of international students
To strengthen students comfort level with and skills in teamwork
Source: Falchikov, 2001, p. 61.
Traditional procedures used to improve the implementation of peer-tutoring reading program initiatives have been based on direct observation and feedback from consultants; such consultants have provided feedback that has improved the quality of such program implementation in a number of ways.
Recommendations provided by a consultant are contextually specific and appropriate to the needs of the teacher, based on observational and quantitative data;
Consultant are capable of diagnosing and prescribing changes in the teacher's implementation of the peer-tutoring program, using students' pre- and post-peer-tutoring progress information;
consultant can model and show the teacher how to use these same methods and student progress data as a basis for making decisions about program changes and improvements (Arreaga-Mayer, Gavin & Greenwood et al., 2001).
Based on such consultant's assessments, advice, and feedback to teachers, there has frequently been measurable improvements achieved in program quality and student progress (Arreaga-Mayer et al., 2001). Because resources are by definition scarce, though,…