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Peer-Assisted Learning

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 


The excerpt below looks at some of the benefits, as well as the

pitfalls, of students teaching each other. As noted, "peer tutoring

is not a universal,

undifferentiated, or instant panacea. It is, however, another technique in

the instructor's repertoire."

The excerpt is from: Teaching Tips for College and University

Instructors: A Practical Guide, by David Royse, University of

Kentucky, Allyn and Bacon publishers.

Copyright 2001 by Allyn & Bacon

A Pearson Education Company, Needham Heights, MA 02494. Reprinted

with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Why Do We Teach?

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


------------------ 1. 023 words ---------------


Teaching Tips for College and University Instructors:

A Practical Guide, by David Royse,

Allyn and Bacon publishers. pp. 88-91


In addition to the use of small groups of three or four students, the

instructor might want to consider paring students for peer tutoring

mentoring, monitoring, or assessment. Peer tutoring is a well documented

technique that produces academic gains and the benefit of one-to-one

instruction without the prohibitive cost. Studies with student from

kindergarten through high school since the early 1980s have shown that

students have learned more in the areas of reading, spelling, vocabulary,

and math in less time using Class Wide Peer Tutoring (CWPT) than conventional

forms of teacher-directed instruction (Arreaga-Myer, Terry, & Greenwood,


Although the literature on peer tutoring in higher education is less

abundant than that in the primary and secondary systems, there is

still sufficient evidence to commend this approach. For instance,in

a study of the effects of reciprocal peer tutoring (RPT), Fantuzzo and

colleagues (1989) found that psychology students who created tests for each

other, administered and scored them, discussed the outcomes, and coached

their partners, showed greater satisfaction, and less stress than students

in two other comparison groups.

Peer tutoring is "learning by teaching" and is a deliberate development on

the notion that "to teach is to learn twice>" Preparing to teach requires

that the tutor not only pays greater attention but also obtains mastery of

the curriculum. In the process of attempting to simplify, clarify, and

develop examples, existing knowledge is organized and integrated in a way

that seems to facilitate storing and applying the information (Topping,

1998). Additionally, being paired with another student provides social

support and alleviates feelings of social isolation. It is a more

democratic, less authoritarian approach to learning.

Greenwood, Carta, and Kamps (1990) have noted these advantages of peer

tutoring: a reduced pupil-teacher ratio that results in quicker

feedback and prompting, more active learning with greater student

ownership of the learning process and better application of knowledge

and skills to new situations. Greater self-disclosure and

opportunities to respond may also result in less anxiety and fear of

making errors.

On the other hand, preparing a class for peer tutoring does require

organizational time from the total available for instruction. Another

potential problem is that not every peer tutor may be motivated or willing

to ensure an evenness of quality of tutors across all pairs. Some students will

not like or be able to get along with matched partners, or may not accept

peer feedback as valid. Additionally, instructors need to be alert for the

potential that unequal power relationships and abusive treatment of some

partners could occur. Finally, if pairs are expected to meet outside of

class, then problems might arise around schedule conflicts, work hours, and

so on.

Using the CWPT approach, students are paired either intentionally (e.g.,

by ability level) or randomly. (Larson and colleagues [1984] found that

students with low verbal ability performed best when paired with

students having high verbal ability. However the latter were not

adversely affected by these

pairings.) Each pair consists of a student in the teacher role (tutor) and

one in the student role. Roles are switched periodically in order for both

students to have responsibility for teaching, assessing the tutee's

progress, and providing feedback.

Pairs are also changed on a weekly basis if one is closely following the

CWPT model. Tutoring occurs simultaneously for all pairs during the scheduled

class time. This provides the instructor with ample opportunities to

monitor and supervise the peer tutor pairs. Weekly assessments are

conducted of material mastered.

Training students about the purpose of peer tutoring is recommended.

Topping and colleagues (1997) expressed the intent this way to students

about to use reciprocal peer tutoring to learn undergraduate economics: "Peer

tutoring is not like 'working with your friends'-it is about learning

to work in a team with people don't already know, staying on task,

systematically managing and being responsible for your own learning,

and developing other

'transferable skills'" (p.99).

Participants also receive full written instructions as well as checklist

for their activities and grading. Pairs are told that peer tutoring

sessions should not be used to work alone, copy lecture notes, or

read the textbook. If anyone is unable to attend a peer session, they

are asked to notify the department office. "Spare" partners are to

form another pair or to join another grouping whenever circumstances

prevent them from working with their regular partners.

Riggio, Whatley, and Neale (1994) paired students on the basis of academic

ability and required the following of psychology undergraduates engaged in

an RPT study:

Pairs made outlines of "important points" they believed would

be covered

on the unit test and held discussions using these outlines.

Prior to every unit exam, each partner created a short test consisting

of at least 10 multiple-choice questions based on the assigned readings

and lecture materials. The correct answers, along with brief written

rationales,were placed on a separate sheet.

During the tutoring session, pairs met and adminiserted tests to each

other under test-like conditions