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What are some advantages and disadvantages of peer tutoring?

Updated February 21, 2017

In recent years peer tutoring has become more prevalent in both elementary and high school as well as postsecondary institutions. While many of these peer tutoring programs are extremely successful, some are not. Close examination of the possible advantages and disadvantages of these programs will lead to better planning and increased likelihood of success.

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Advantage: Inexpensive Extra Help for Students

At-risk students frequently need more intense one-on-one attention than their classroom teachers can provide. This is especially true for students with attention deficit disorder (ADD). A peer tutor in the classroom can help the special-needs student remain focused on the work by providing additional explanation and clarification during the teacher's instruction, when it is most needed. Peer tutors also do not usually receive monetary payment for their services. This is especially beneficial for families who cannot afford the expense of home tutoring.

Advantage: Tutors Benefit As Well

Tutors also reap benefits. As teachers know, anyone can achieve a much deeper understanding of material by teaching it to someone else. The tutor develops an increased knowledge of the material, especially when in the same grade as the student receiving the help. When tutors are drawn from classes several grades higher than the students with whom they work, and are tutoring material they already know well, they still develop increased self-confidence and improved organizational and thinking skills.

Disadvantage: Scheduling Difficulties

Despite the clear advantages to peer tutoring, the logistics of scheduling a formal program can pose a challenge. Schools implementing peer tutoring programs need to consider when and where the tutoring will take place. if the tutor works only with the lower-achieving students and does so in the classroom, these students may be stigmatised socially. The tutoring may disturb the other students, or the students being tutored may be distracted by those not being tutored. Staging the tutoring sessions in another location presents additional problems. Both tutors and students will miss new classwork while the tutoring takes place. If tutoring is scheduled during lunchtime or recess, students may perceive it as a form of punishment.

Disadvantage: Staff Supervision Challenges

For a peer-tutoring program to be most effective, the tutors need to be specially selected, trained and monitored by a staff member. It may be difficult to recruit staff volunteers for this position if the school does not have the budget to pay for it. Because peer tutoring depends upon interpersonal relationships, students in need must be carefully matched with tutors by someone who knows both students. The tutor must be reliable and committed to the success of the student in need, or the program could lead to additional frustrations for the special-needs student.

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About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

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