This year as the Year 13 Dean, I’ve accidentally stumbled into the Peer Tutoring programme. Due to staffing for our weekly wa ako – learning to learn – periods, I’ve ended up running sessions on how to be a peer tutor. While some useful things were covered (how to build a relationship with a younger peer, questioning strategies, and some learning theories) I still feel like I didn’t capitalise on this opportunity, and I wonder how well the school is capitalising on this programme. So I turned to the literature.
Jesse’s Pirini‘s book Peer Tutoring: A Training and Facilitation Guide offered some insight into some of the areas to think about when evaluating the peer tutoring that is already happening at the school. The conclusion of his book brought together the research and claimed the following as the most important in successful peer tutoring:
- Strong, meaningful relationships between educators and students
- promoting student agency through helping students to explore their thinking
- setting goals by imagining a better future and then considering present obstacles
- improving metacognitive competencies through peer interaction (73).
These four areas are reinforced by literature and provide a framework for supporting peer tutors. One of the cautions of approaching peer tutoring without a framework is it will be done the way people assume it should be done. “Often, this ‘natural’ approach reinforces an instrumental test and exam focus” (72). The shift is to make our tutors focus on the learning.
For this they need strong relationships and effective strategies. It was heartening to read about the reinforcement of relationships as the backbone to learning: “higher level thinking relies on basic emotional needs having already been met…A strong tutoring relationship underpins successful tutoring” (7). Pirini also drew on the idea of a tutoring toolbox – a collection of strategies to support student learning. The toolbox contain strategies such as:
- Demonstrate a process of exercise
- Give the student a task to do
- Identify a specific problem
- Determine an initial course of action
- Contextualise a specific task within a bigger picture
- Describe a basic process
- Ask a deep explanatory question
- Assess prior knowledge
- Give specific descriptive framework
These strategies might naturally occur in a classroom, but there’s a danger of assuming that tutors will have picked up on this.
One of the shifts I reflected on from reading the book was making the programme student centred. A case study examined in the book puts forward the idea of a senior student leadership team who administer the programme by matching students and running the publicity. The other shift for me was the importance of training that is robust and ongoing in order for a tutoring programme to be successful. It’s too dangerous to assume, and it’s too easy to miss the learning opportunity here. My hope is we can use some of the book’s ideas to support some developments on what is already a solid foundation.