ERIC Identifier: ED289949
Publication Date: 1987-12-00
Author: Webb, Michael
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
Peer Helping Relationships in Urban Schools. ERIC Digest.
Young people help each other in many ways. Beginning in childhood, as
they play together, children learn important lessons such as sharing,
communicating, and cooperating. Now, research has shown that students can
benefit from structured in-school helping relationships in which peers assume
formal roles as tutors.
Although peer tutoring was standard practice in schools as early as the
nineteenth century, there was little mention of it in educational literature
until the 1960s when several factors made it newly attractive as a practice,
particularly in urban areas.
The passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 provided
impetus for the creation of peer tutoring programs and practices designed to
improve the academic performance of student populations such as limited English
proficient students and low achieving students. In addition, American education
shifted toward learning relationships involving small groups and teaching
methods most appropriate for the individual student.
Desegregation efforts also sought to increase interracial understanding
through diverse, structured peer relationships. Finally, a growing number of
research studies demonstrated the positive outcomes of peer tutoring on student
More recently, in-school peer helping relationships have been viewed as a
vehicle for diversifying and redefining the role of the classroom teacher, as a
response to personnel and resource limitations, and to facilitate learning
through the powerful influence of peer relationships.
Peer tutoring consist of students teaching other students, of the same or a
different age, on a one-to-one basis, or one tutor working with two or three
students simultaneously. Peer tutoring is a cooperative undertaking in which
students share not only the answers but the process used to reach answers.
Students generally identify more easily with peer helpers than with adult
authority figures. Modeling is an important dimension of peer tutoring, and
while teachers may more flawlessly demonstrate cognitive skills than tutors,
tutors often provoke higher efficacy, because students believe greater efforts
may result in achievement equal to a tutor's, while matching a teacher's ability
is impossible. Further, students being tutored benefit from receiving immediate
feedback and clarification of information they don't understand.
As a result of their efforts to help others, tutors reinforce their own
knowledge and skills, which in turn builds their self-confidence and
self-esteem. Peer tutors also develop a sense of responsibility as a result of
helping students to learn. Finally, explaining the subject matter to others
often helps tutors better understand it themselves.
Both tutors and students being tutored have also reported improved attitudes
toward school as a result of their participation.
The use of peer tutors in the classroom can make teachers more flexible and
enable them to better target their efforts toward individual students. They can
introduce learning activities that could not be accommodated within their
regular teaching load. Peer tutors, by assuming responsibility for the
reinforcement of what has been covered in class by the teacher, or for remedial
instruction, can free teachers for new roles as coordinators and facilitators
instead of their functioning solely as dispensers of knowledge.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the peer tutoring
relationship. Students in effective programs consistently reach higher levels of
academic achievement than students in conventional learning, or mastery learning
While there is some evidence suggesting that benefits are greatest for
students who have previously demonstrated difficulty in relating to their peers
and students who lack experience in working cooperatively with others, neither
the nature of the child being tutored nor the characteristics of the tutor seem
to matter as much as the sense of "mutual reward," some of which may be
intrinsic to the tutoring process. Cross-age tutoring may be especially
effective with those students whose cultural tradition includes an emphasis on
the responsibility of older children for their younger siblings. Others have
postulated that while mixed race/ethnic pairings may result in more positive
interethnic/racial relationships, a culture shared by two students of similar
backgrounds may also contribute to the beneficial outcomes of peer tutoring.
Peer tutoring programs have been incorporated into the regular classroom
structure and as separate programs that take place in a laboratory, resource
room, or tutoring center. The subject matter to be covered and the objectives of
the program often determine the facilities and organization used. It has been
shown, in addition, that teacher planning, training, and management are critical
and continuing factors in successful program implementation. Finally, effective
programs include a feedback component to allow for ongoing evaluation and
The following steps in developing a tutoring program can both help facilitate
its implementation and deflect possible opposition because of misunderstandings:
--Establish a planning group to collect suggestions, and prepare written
plans and a budget. --Assess student needs through faculty discussion and a
review of student records. --Develop measurable program goals and objectives
consistent with the educational and social goals of the school. --Determine
facility, material, equipment, and personnel requirements. --Formally present a
draft plan to school authorities for review, and a revised plan to teachers,
parents, district administrators and other stakeholders. --Conduct an
orientation for students, faculty, and program staff to review tutor recruitment
and selection; training; matching and assigning students; and coordination of
routine tasks. --Conduct ongoing evaluation following implementation.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ashley, W., J. Jones, G. Zahniser, and L. Inks. PEER TUTORING: A GUIDE TO
PROGRAM DESIGN. Research and Development Series No. 260. Columbus: Ohio State
University Center for Research in Vocational Education, 1986. ED 268 372.
Bloom, B. "The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective
One-to-One Tutoring." EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 41 (1984): 4-17.
Cohen, P. "Outcomes of Tutoring." AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL 19
Crushon, I. PEER TUTORING: A STRATEGY FOR BUILDING ON CULTURAL STRENGTHS.
DOCUMENTATION AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE IN URBAN SCHOOLS, 1977. ED 228 367.
Schunk, D., A. Hanson, and P. Cox. PEER MODELS: EFFECTS ON CHILDREN'S
ACHIEVEMENT BEHAVIORS. Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, Washington, D.C., August 1986. ED 178 372.
Strain, P. (Ed.). THE UTILIZATION OF CLASSROOM PEERS AS BEHAVIOR CHANGE
AGENTS. New York: Plenum Press. 1981.
Wagner, L. PEER TEACHING: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES. Connecticut: Greenwood