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Current Research: Is Peer Tutoring Effective?

Despite the continued popularity of college student peer tutoring, there exists little comprehensive research on its effectiveness and benefits. What research does exist, however, has found that peer tutoring is highly cost-effective (Levin, Glass, and Meister, 1987, in Lidren, Meier, and Brigham, 1991) and usually results in substantial gains for participants, both academically and socially (Cohen and Kulik, 1981).

Although it is often assumed that peer tutoring primarily benefits those who are tutored, Goodlad and Hirst (1989, p. 57) point out that both the recipient and the tutor make significant gains. For the tutor, benefits result from reinforcing existing knowledge of fundamental concepts and gaining a better understanding of a field of study. In addition, tutors develop a sense of personal efficacy, gain insight into the teaching/learning process, and discover meaningful applications of the subject matter. For recipients of tutoring, the advantages include individualized instruction, more contact time with a teacher (tutor), the opportunity to discuss material and ask questions in a non-threatening and supportive setting, and interaction and bonding with peers (Goodlad & Hirst, 1989; Lawson, 1989; Schmidt & Moust, 1995).

One explanation for the success of many peer tutoring programs may lie in the social and cognitive congruence between the tutor and the recipient (Schmidt & Moust, 1995). 'Social congruence' refers to the ability of the tutor to "seek an informal relationship with the students and display an attitude of personal interest and caring" (p. 709). 'Cognitive congruence' is "the ability to express oneself in the language of the students, using the concepts they use and explaining things in ways easily grasped by students," in addition to a "sensitivity concerning the difficulties that students may come across while dealing with a problem or with the content relative to the problem" (p. 709).

These advantages experienced by young persons in teaching each other, however, are not sufficient to ensure a successful tutoring relationship. Tutors must also possess knowledge about the subject and have a sense of how to best facilitate interactions with their students. Tutors who receive training in these two critical areas are often more successful in teaching other students than are untrained tutors (Fitch, 1992; Mann, 1992).

In addition, it should be noted that the majority of peer-tutoring programs for students are intended to complement, not substitute for, regular classroom instruction. Topping (1998, p. 46) cautions that tutoring should never be a substitute for professional teaching. Damon and Phelps (1989) describe an ideal learning atmosphere as a rich blend of peer and adult instructional strategies.

History of Peer Tutoring in the United States
Varieties of Peer Tutoring
Current Research: Is Peer Tutoring Effective?
Examples of Successful Programs
Peer Tutoring at Reed College
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