ERIC Identifier: ED368891
Publication Date: 1994-00-00
Author: Imel, Susan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Peer Tutoring in Adult Basic and Literacy Education. ERIC
Digest No. 146.
Peer tutoring should happen in every class. I learned a lot from helping
Betty. I learned that she is an understanding, loving, quiet, shy person. I
understand her for who she really is. I learned that I liked to teach. By
helping her, I got to learn the meaning or the spelling of a word that I didn't
know before. (Goldgrab 1992, p. 134)
These words of an adult literacy learner provide testimony to the power of
peer tutoring. Yet, adult basic and literacy educators have been slow to adopt
this approach, sticking instead to the more traditional, one-on-one,
individualized approaches to instruction. However, support for more
participatory approaches is growing (Imel, Kerka, and Pritz 1994). Like many
small group learning approaches, peer tutoring can be used to sustain a more
participatory learning environment. Part of the reluctance to adopt peer
tutoring methods may be attributed to lack of information about using this
strategy in adult settings. This ERIC DIGEST provides an overview of peer
tutoring in adult basic and literacy education.
PEER TUTORING: WHAT?
A number of terms, including partner
learning (Dueck 1993) and peer teaching (Whitman 1988), have been used to
describe the concept of peer tutoring. In the adult education literature, the
term peer is sometimes used to describe any adult working with a learner (e.g.,
McLachlan 1990; Pearpoint and Forest 1990) as opposed to learners working
together as peers. As used in this Digest, peer tutoring refers to the process
of having learners help each other on a one-to-one basis (Dueck 1993). Two types
of this kind of peer tutoring are found in adult literacy and basic education:
(1) "near peer" in which one learner is more advanced than the other; and (2)
"co-peer" in which the learners are fairly well matched in skill level (Whitman
Examples of near peer pairings include more academically capable learners
working with those experiencing difficulty. When co-peers are paired, learners
are able to work together as equals and gain a better understanding of the
materials by learning from each other. Although most peer tutoring is done with
pairs of learners, sometimes having learners work in groups of three better
meets the needs of both the learners and the learning task (Dueck 1993).
PEER TUTORING: WHY?
The old adage, "those who teach learn
twice," holds true for peer tutoring and is frequently given as the basis for
using the approach. Although a teacher can anticipate problems, questions, and
concerns, no teacher can learn for another individual. Thus, when peer tutoring
is adapted, learning becomes much more effective because learners are teaching
themselves (Whitman 1988).
Peer tutoring can enhance learning by enabling learners to take
responsibility for reviewing, organizing, and consolidating existing knowledge
and material; understanding its basic structure; filling in the gaps; finding
additional meanings; and reformulating knowledge into new conceptual frameworks
(Dueck 1993; Whitman 1988). In either co-peer or near peer situations, both
learners are likely to understand the material better by applying it in the peer
Goldgrab (1992) describes an adult literacy program in Canada in which peer
tutoring was adapted as a practical solution to helping the teacher deal with
the large size of the class. However, both the teacher and the learners quickly
realized the educational benefits of the approach for adult learners. Although
some learners wanted a more traditional education with the teacher in front of
the class, adults learn most effectively "from their common experiences, by
identifying their own learning needs, taking ownership of their own learning,
and taking an active role in evaluation" (Goldgrab 1992, p. 132).
Peer tutoring can also benefit adult learners by helping them to:
the goal of self-determination as well as develop a tolerance for uncertainty
away from dependence on professional authority toward belief in their own
ability to create knowledge
their communication skills
in the learning situation because of bonds developed with other learners
both their motivation to learn and their self-esteem (Dueck 1993; Goldgrab 1992;
Randels, Carse, and Lease 1992; Schneider 1989; Whitman 1988).
PEER TUTORING: HOW?
Adult literacy programs that are
already using collaborative, participatory methods will find peer tutoring to be
an extension of their overall approach. However, in programs that use more
traditional individualized or large group instruction, both learners and
teachers will find that peer tutoring changes their roles as well as the
When peer tutoring is used, the instructional environment usually becomes
more learner (as opposed to teacher) directed, and the learners have a more
significant role in helping shape the learning (Imel, Kerka, and Pritz 1994).
The teacher becomes a co-learner and facilitator, acting as a guide and a coach.
The teacher is no longer the person with all the answers; instead, the teacher
talks with learners and offers opinions, explores strategies, and helps set
goals (Goldgrab 1992).
Because peer tutoring changes the nature of the teaching/learning
transaction, learners should be prepared to assume their new roles as peer
tutors. Whether working in co-peer or near peer tutoring situations, learners
need to be alerted to the importance of social skills in successful learning
partnerships. Reminding adult learners of the connection between peer tutoring
and the social skills that many already possess can help learners communicate
more effectively, express support for each other, clarify their thinking, and
understand their underlying feelings. Practice in encouraging, restating,
clarifying, validating, and summarizing can help them assume their role as a
peer tutor (Dueck 1993).
In implementing peer tutoring in adult basic and literacy
education programs, the teacher's main role is to help the learners establish
individual learning programs and then contact their peers for assistance
(Goldgrab 1992). Teachers and learners can effectively set the stage for the
introduction of peer tutoring by:
learner strengths and weaknesses in order to match learners effectively. Adult
learners can participate in this process by indicating what things they can do
well and with which areas they would like assistance.
which learners might work well together and providing opportunities for work
with different peers at separate times. Again, adults can be asked with which
learners they might enjoy working. Also, the teacher may observe that some
learners have preestablished relationships that could be used to build peer
learners prepare and discuss lists of what they want in a "perfect" learning
partner. These lists may help learners understand that no one individual may
possess all the desired characteristics. The lists might also help learners with
the task of identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.
for open discussion about ways in which people learn so that learners recognize
that, although they may have preferred styles, there are benefits to learning in
other styles. Asking adults to identify situations in which they were
particularly successful learners and why can initiate a discussion on learning
activities that enable learners to have practice teaching each other and then
reflecting on these experiences. Part of the reflection can include responding
to such questions as "The best thing that happened today was...;" "One thing
that didn't go too well was...;" and "Something I'd like to change is..." By
answering these questions, learners can think about changes they would like to
make and develop a regular habit of reflecting on and learning from their peer
tutoring experiences (adapted from Dueck 1993).
PEER TUTORING: ADULT LEARNERS' PERSPECTIVE
brainstorming session, adult literacy students experienced in peer tutoring
listed the following ideas about what is necessary for success:
1. Peer tutoring should be encouraged in a class where the teacher is
comfortable using it.
2. Everyone should give positive feedback.
3. An attitude of equal treatment should exist among co-learners.
4. The learners should be willing to work together.
5. The structure of the program is an evolutionary process.
6. Both the teacher and the adult students learn from one another.
7. The teacher must be committed to encouraging peer tutoring and using it.
8. Trusting the teacher and the other learners is important.
9. The teacher should understand the limits of the learners and not push.
(Goldgrab 1992, p. 136)
Using the peer tutoring approach in adult basic and literacy education has
much to recommend it. Like any other method, it must be used appropriately and
learners must be prepared for it.
Dueck, G. PICTURE PEER PARTNER LEARNING:
STUDENTS LEARNING FROM AND WITH EACH OTHER. INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES SERIES NO. 10. Saskatoon: Saskatchewan Professional Development Unit, 1993. (ED 360 308)
Goldgrab, S. "Peer Tutoring in the Classroom." In VOICES FROM THE LITERACY
FIELD, edited by J. A. Draper and M. C. Taylor. Toronto, Ontario: Culture
Concepts, 1992. (ED 355 343)
Imel, S.; Kerka, S; and Pritz, S. MORE THAN THE SUM OF THE PARTS: USING SMALL GROUP LEARNING IN ADULT BASIC AND LITERACY EDUCATION. Columbus: Center on Education and Training for Employment, College of Education, The Ohio State University, 1994.
McLachlan, C. "Supporting and Developing Adult Learning. Peer Tutoring: An
Approach to Learning for Adult Literacy Students." ADULTS LEARNING 2, no. 4
(December 1990): 110-112.
Pearpoint, J., and Forest, M. "Beat the Street: An Urban Literacy Program."
CONVERGENCE 23, no. 1 (1990): 71-84.
Randels, J.; Carse, W.; and Lease, J. E. "Peer-Tutor Training: A Model for
Business Schools." JOURNAL OF BUSINESS AND TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION 6, no. 3
(July 1992): 337-353.
Schneider, H. M. "The Peer Approach to Adult Learning." EQUITY AND EXCELLENCE
24, no. 3 (Fall 1989): 63-66.
Whitman, N. A. PEER TEACHING: TO TEACH IS TO LEARN TWICE. ASHE-ERIC HIGHER
EDUCATION REPORT NO. 4, 1988. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher
Education, George Washington University and Association for the Study of Higher
Education, 1988. (ED 305 016)