Benefits of training for peer tutors

iStock_000020536048XSmallResearchers at Vanderbilt University examined how training in help-giving strategies affects students’ peer tutoring behavior and learning in reading. Past research has shown that students must be taught how to interact effectively during tutoring or collaborative group work. Without careful guidance, able students simply give answers to less-able students. This study focused on specific strategies students can use to help their partners figure out the correct responses on their own. Previous research in math classes has demonstrated that training students to work in this way leads to increased learning.

Lynn S. Fuchs, Douglas Fuchs, Sarah Kazdan and Shelley Allen randomly assigned students in 15 second-, third-, and fourth-grade classes to collaborative reading activities with or without training. Students were paired forthree reading activities: reading aloud, determining main ideas, and making predictions.

Strategy Training

Training to provide help in paired reading begins with deciding when your partner needs help. Paired reading was taught and practiced for two weeks. Then teachers showed videotapes of students working together and led students in discussions of the best ways to help your partner read. Videotapes demonstrated various helping strategies that students practiced with a partner and then discussed with the teacher. Students re p resenting high, medium and low readers in each class were tested on reading comprehension tests before and after the experiment.

The research was carried out under natural conditions in regular classrooms over a period of 21 weeks. Teachers conducted the training with all the students in their existing classes.


Across grade levels, strategy training led to a higher frequency and variety of helping behaviors. But despite the responsiveness of students at every grade level, older fourth-grade students demonstrated greater ability to provide effective help to their partners during reading. Because all the students in experimental classes tutored as well as were tutored, researchers were not able to determine if the reading gains were due to giving help or receiving it.

Fourth-graders who learned effective helping strategies improved more in reading comprehension than students who did not receive training. This was true for all students regardless of initial reading level. Second- and third-graders corrected only 60 percent of the errors their partners made, in comparison to 86 percent corrected by fourth-graders. In contrast to fourth-graders, second- and third-grade students without strategy training made greater progress in reading than trained students. Younger students who interrupted less frequently and simply provided answers enabled their partners to read more material during a tutoring session.

Fuchs et al. conclude that primary students benefit more from peer reading that promotes intensive, uninterrupted reading practice. They speculate that for these students, simpler help supported the sustained practice that appears to be more successful in improving primary reading skills such as fluency and decoding.

From this study, these researchers suggest that primary students may benefit more from paired reading that promotes intensive, uninterrupted practice, while intermediate students should be trained in more elaborate tutoring strategies that lead to overt strategic reading behavior and enhanced reading comprehension.

“Effects of Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies in Reading With and Without Training in Elaborated Help Giving” The Elementary School Journal Volume 99, Number 3, January 1999 pp. 201-220.

Published in ERN April 1999 Volume 12 Number 4

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