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Peer tutoring has developed out of a need to accommodate all children, regardless of their disabilities within the mainstream classroom, i.e. inclusion philosophies of education. The philosophy underlying inclusive education is that schools have a responsibility to meet the needs of all children and that teachers should be able to adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of all children. (Jenkinson, 1997). Peer tutoring is largely based on the work of Keith Topping and colleagues. Topping and Ely (1998) define peer tutoring as "the acquisition of knowledge and skill through active helping and supporting among status equals or matched companions" (p.1). It has been developed as an inclusive methodology in schools to meet the diverse needs of pupils. Currently in Ireland there is an onus on every school to differentiate according to the varying needs of their pupils and cultivate an inclusive atmosphere. It is against this backdrop that collaborative teaching methodologies emerged and peer tutoring been one such methodology. The emphasis is on changing the system to meet pupils' diverse learning needs and not changing the pupils to fit into the system. ( Westwood, Ferguson 1995, Thomson et al., 2003). Peer tutoring also allows for active learning, pupil engagement and the pupil is central to the whole process. The primary school curriculum (1999) states that "------ the child should be an active agent in his or her own learning" Primary School Curriculum Introduction, (1999:14). According to Fiona King, research shows that pupils who are actively involved in their own learning provide greater academic achievements. Peer tutoring also lends itself to meta-cognitive learning. Meta-cognitive learning is thinking about how we learn and the strategies we use for learning. "The Learning Support Guidelines (2000) place a high priority on enhancing classroom-based practice through the provision of alternative groupings and shared teaching approaches in pupil's classroom." (King, F, p.21) Fiona King, special education in irish classrooms , 2006.
Peer tutoring is a system whereby a more able student, i.e. tutor assists a less able student, i.e. tutee. The idea being that the tutee is enabled through the process and advances towards parity with the tutor in instruction terms. A Vygotskian perspective underpins the programme, i.e. an approach which assumes that learners gain mastery and develop cognitive skills
through interaction with others and their environment (Kozulin 1998). It is highly effective from an academic and social point of view. (Topping, 1988; Butler,1999) An intensive period of training must take place before peer tutoring begins. Both parties need re-assurance that they are operating in a safe, structured environment. It is important that both tutor and tutee benefit from the methods being used. A big challenge lies in the pairings of the pupils. King (2006) highlights the importance of appropriate pairings to maximise learning for all involved. For the purpose of this study the micra t results were used to pair the 5th and 6th class. The students were split into two groups based on their micra t results. The students at the top of each group were paired together and the second student in each group paired together etc. By pairing the pupils in this manner the gap between the tutor and tutee isn't too wide thereby maximising the chances of the tutee achieving a degree of parity with the tutor on completion of the programme.
Why do we Peer tutor?
Peer tutoring is acknowledged in the primary curriculum support programme as effective for all pupils, not just those with learning difficulties. It is an effective use of everyone's time and resources. It is an enjoyable experience for students and highly motivational. It also promotes reading accuracy and fluency. More competent learners scaffold weaker ones and help their progression through the zone of proximal development, i.e. the difference between
a learner's performance unaided and that when assisted by an adult or more competent peer. Research has shown that peer collaboration can facilitate improved competence when the peer tutor is more advanced. (Tudge 1992; Tudge and Winterhoff 1993; Kalkowski 1995; Beasley, 1997). Peer tutoring facilitates the learning of sight words and comprehension strategies and has been shown to improve the reading fluency and accuracy of pupils with learning difficulties. (Fuchs, Mathes and Simmons 1997) (King and Gilliland, ILSA Learn, vol 31, 2009. Peer tutoring is also an inclusive approach to supporting reading. It has a built in system of revision of sight words which supports the consolidation of learning. The generalisation of skills is facilitated through peer tutoring by pupils applying learned skills in different contexts. According to the primary school curriculum introduction (1999) this is the ultimate test of learning. King & Gilliland, ILSA journal Learn vol.31
All research on peer tutoring recommends the use of a motivational system. For the purpose of this study we decided to use star cards. The tutor awards the star to the tutee and vice-versa. Stars are awarded for co-operation and on task behaviour. On achieving a certain number of stars a reward was achieved. The reward we used was on completion of the whole programme and achieving full star cards each week, the whole class celebrated with a video, drinks and treats.
Prior to embarking on the programme a cohort of pupils were chosen for testing. The test chosen was the Neale Analysis as it tests, accuracy, rate and fluency. The students were chosen on the basis
of the micra T results and the ones chosen had scores ranging from the middle of the class to the bottom of it.
Table 1: Results prior to embarking on the programme and after completion of the programme.
P = percentile
S = stanine
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P= S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
P = S =
We decided to use mainsails readers for the purpose of the programme. Strategy training is very important and teachers need to train pupils for peer tutoring.
Students were trained in four particular strategies to implement during the programme. They are as follows:
Tutors were asked to listen to the tutee attempt difficult words and to supply the word if the tutee was struggling.
Segmentation: the breaking of words into smaller units and then blending them together to complete the word.
Pause, prompt and praise (PPP) . This was developed by professor Glynn and his associates in Auckland. It involves the following simple steps:
The child encounters an unfamiliar word, instead of stepping in immediately and supplying the word, the tutor waits a few seconds for the tutee to work it out. If the child is not successful, the tutor prompts the child by suggesting he/she guess the meaning from the passage or look at the initial letter or read on to the end of the sentence etc. If the child still cannot read the word, then the tutor supplies the word. The child is praised for self-correcting while reading.
The programme ran for 4 days a week for 6 weeks. Each session lasted 40 minutes.
Tutoring folders prepared for each pair, labelled with names on the outside.
Two pockets are on the outside of the folder, one green and one red.
The red pocket holds words pupil is currently working on, with plenty of blank flashcards for unknown words.
The green pocket is used for words that have been successfully identified on three consecutive occasions.
2 Pages, one records unknown words and the other records books read.
Word study book
Star cards and stars
Reading steps card
Comprehension steps card
Instructions if partner absent
Graded reading scheme/ Novels
Record book on sheet
Level determined by the instructional level of the tutee, i.e reading with 90-95% accuracy
Explanation (working in pairs, shared reading)
Demonstration ( Model and go through reading steps card)
Strategies (Teacher demonstrates word attack strategies to pupils)
Clarification (pupils ask questions)
Practice (pupils practice in pairs, praise reader)
Monitoring (Teachers circulate to monitor practice sessions)
Coaching and reinforcing (Model again to reinforce)
4 days per week , 6 weeks, 40 minutes per sessions.
Partners take turns reading for about three to five minutes, tutor reads first, modelling fluency and then tutee reads the same piece.
Pupils are reminded to follow the reading steps card in order to follow the correct procedures.
If both pupils are stuck on a word the teacher supplies the word.
New words are recorded on the sheet and flashcards are made.
Words are looked up in the dictionary and written in word study books.
Teachers assist pupils to divide new words into syllables and highlight any known parts.
New words are written on flashcards and dated.
Pupils put words into sentences to show understanding of them. (NB)
When a word is known automatically, a circle is places on the back of the flashcard. On getting 3 circles the flashcard is placed in the red pocket of the folder.
On Thursday of each week the flashcards in the green pockets are collected, placed in an envelope with the pairs names written on it and filed in an expandable box file. The box file contains pockets dated as follows; 1st -8th, 9th-16th etc.
Summative assessment at the end of the programme.
Reading at instructional level, control of task difficulty is enabled - pupils are reading at appropriate levels.
Pupils are taught strategies for reading, which enables them to read independently.
Reading steps cards are provided as a cue to follow these strategies.
Learn skill of reading aloud, with intonation and proper pronunciation. (Advntage over silent reading)
Improvement in reading accuracy and fluency.
Comprehension skills: pupils are encouraged to ask each other questions, make predictions and inferences.
Volume of reading increased as each pupil reads on a daily basis.
Practice of skills that were learned in isolation, i.e. Syllable work, blending, segmenting prefixes, suffixes, word structure
Leadership and explanatory skills enhanced.
Improved self-confidence and motivation (star system of reward)
Active learning: pupils get an understanding of how learning takes place. (metacognition)
More on-task behaviour and less misbehaviour.
Formative assessment: on-going assessment of number of books read, new vocabulary learned and pupils ability to utilise new vocabulary.
Thursday, pupils take out all the flashcards from the appropriate date pocket of the file and all the words are revised. Any unknown words are placed back in the green pocket of the tutoring folder for revision. All known words are dated and placed in the relevant pocket again.
Neale analysis completed before programme begins and after programme completed.
In addition to these benefits, some challenges of peer tutoring have also been documented. A considerable amount of planning time is required to set up peer tutoring. There is also an issue of cost of materials. Beasley, 1997 cited personality clashes within the dyads as a problem. We encouraged the pupils to voice their concerns if there were problems within the dyads and we were willing to change the pairings. Another cited challenge is commitment or attendance problems on thepart of tutees (Kalkowski 1995; Carpenter 1996; Beasley 1997) and
reasons for this vary from context to context. We introduced an extra card with instructions on what to do if your partner is out to counteract this problem.
Conclusion and recommendations
Peer tutoring proved to be a highly successful programme in our school. It is a programme that benefits all students including those with learning difficulties and special educational needs. The use of peer tutoring can make learning more enjoyable for students and it is student led and directed. It gives pupils a sense of ownership over their learning and empowers them to become independent learners and leads to a deepening of their learning. Pupils are empowered to become aware of how they learn which leads to greater academic achievements. Teachers need further training in the implementation of peer tutoring to enable them to successfully use it to improve literacy levels in their schools. There is a need for schools to collaborate with local education centres to learn about the principles of peer tutoring and mechanics of it. Courses need to be provided by Education Centres or PDST on this invaluable method of teaching.