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Online learning tutorials for essential college skills.
iStudy would like to acknowledge Paula Ford for revising the content of this tutorial.
There are several reasons to become active in peer tutoring - reasons for both the tutor and the student. Here are a few of the most helpful aspects peer tutoring can offer:
- In American culture, as well as several others, there is a natural tendency to learn from the same age-group. Many people feel more comfortable working with and asking questions of others in their same peer group because there is less of a power dynamic; the distinction between teacher and student is less pronounced.
- Peer tutoring allows both the tutor and the student to better understand information. As the tutor and student work through assignments and practice the concepts, both individuals gain a broader and deeper understanding of the material.
- The tutor learns not only how to ask useful questions, but also develops social listening skills that are a sought-after ability in the professional world.
Goals and Objectives
The main goal of this tutorial is to introduce learners to essential peer tutoring techniques. Upon completion of this tutorial, you will be able to:
- Identify good environments for holding peer tutoring sessions.
- Identify elements necessary to build a good rapport with a student.
- Identify important elements of the role of a tutor.
- Demonstrate understanding of basic listening skills a tutor should use in any peer tutoring situation.
- Demonstrate understanding of basic questioning skills a tutor should use in any peer tutoring situation.
- Demonstrate understanding of basic feedback techniques a tutor should use in any peer tutoring situation.
Information about peer tutoring in this tutorial is divided into several sections. The recommended sequence is as follows:
- Establishing the environment
- Building rapport
- Activity 1: What would you do to help a student in a tutoring session?
- Activity 2: Building Rapport with a Student
- Establishing proper body language
- Approaching the work
- Listening, questioning, and responding
- Activity 3: Effective Strategies for Listening, Questioning, and Responding
After you read through the information and tips about peer tutoring and completed the activities, you should be ready to try this short role playing game (Note: Opens in a new window or tab).
Note: All external links in this tutorial will open in a new window or tab.
Information about Peer Tutoring - Establishing the Environment
Before peer tutoring starts, it is important to establish a neutral and casual environment for the tutoring session. This should be a space where both the tutor and student feel comfortable to ask questions and explore ideas. Also, make sure the location is quiet and free from distractions. Finally, make sure to have the assignment sheets available for reference and extra paper for scratch work.
Information about Peer Tutoring - Building Rapport
When you have a good rapport with someone, you look forward to meeting with them. You feel free to talk openly with them about a variety of subjects and you appreciate their thoughts and ideas, as well. Establishing a good rapport between the student and the tutor is essential in peer tutoring. Because the peer tutoring session is not intended as a traditional teacher-student relationship, but rather as a conversational dialogue, it is important that both parties are engaged in the process. Always keep in mind that a conversation needs two speakers. Both the tutor and the student need to feel free to ask questions and reflect on ideas.
Rapport is the "glue" that makes the tutor/student relationship productive. Therefore, an important aspect of the tutorial experience is that you, as a tutor, are able to 'read' your student and make him or her feel at ease in the situation. Being aware of body language - both your own and your student's - and understanding the subtext of your student's verbal responses will help make sure that both you and your student are engaged.
Begin by introducing yourself. The initial greeting and chit-chat is when you can connect with your fellow student and begin to establish a rapport which will determine the direction the session will take. This is where you begin to get acquainted with the student. Find out if this is her or his first visit. If it is, describe what to expect. If students are uncomfortable or apprehensive, try to put them at ease through conversation, but also through body language. A good acronym to remember about body language when beginning to build a rapport is LOOSER. Each letter of the word will help you remember the six points listed below.
- L: Lean in towards the student; approach the student.
- O: Offer hospitality (a handshake, a soft drink, to hang up coat).
- O: Open posture, legs not crossed, arms not crossed.
- S: Smile, nod.
- E: Eye contact.
- R: Relax.
If your student continues to be tense in spite of your efforts to help her or him feel more comfortable and establish a rapport, you might try getting her or him to relax by modeling a relaxed but attentive posture. Try mirroring the student's stance, then gradually uncross your arms and legs. It's human nature for the student to mirror you. At the same time, you need to be aware of your own body language - just as it's natural for the student to mirror you, it's also natural for you to mirror the student!
Activity 1: What would you do to help a student in a tutoring session?
Think about this situation and answer the question below.
When starting a tutoring session, it is important to help the student feel comfortable. Some of the things you might have suggested doing in your answer would be to:
- make eye contact with the student.
- introduce yourself.
- shake hands with the students.
- smile and act friendly.
- offer to take the student's coat.
- look for ways to make the student physically comfortable; for instance, offer her or him a comfortable chair to sit in.
- find a general topic to chat about.
- find out if this is the student's first visit for tutoring.
- let the student know you are interested by listening carefully and responding attentatively to what she or he says.
Activity 2: Building Rapport with a Student
Take the quiz below to check what you have learned so far.
Information about Peer Tutoring - Establishing Proper Body Language
When establishing a rapport and working with a student, your body language is just as important as your verbal language. Check the list below for some tips on body language. These tips will help you be aware of the messages you are sending, as well as the messages the students are sending. Remember to consciously "read" the students, so you can help them feel more comfortable without forgetting to pay attention to the messages you are sending with your own body language.
Tips for Establishing Proper Body Language:
- Limit arm-folding. Folded arms communicate distance and create a barrier. Though you may simply fold your arms as a relaxed way to stand or to keep yourself warm, the gesture can be distancing to others no matter what the intention.
- Limit hands-on-hips. Hands-on-hips can be a threatening or confrontational gesture.
- Avoid finger-pointing. This gesture is traditionally a reprimand, an accusation, a way of targeting the culprit. Instead, gesture to students with an open, upturned palm. (see reference 1)
- Show animation. Try to use your hands while you speak. Making hand motions increases the chances that people will pay attention to you. Hand movements can also help clarify your points.
- Pay attention. One of the key aspects of good body language is paying attention to someone, and also looking like you are paying attention. Nodding your head occasionally and making positive remarks will let someone know that you are interested in what they are saying. If appropriate, take notes.
- Make eye contact. Looking someone in the eye is an easy way to let them know that you are paying attention and feel confident. Because this look is traditionally challenging, try not to meet the eyes for too long. Maintain contact for as long as you feel is necessary, and then look somewhere else.
- Keep your body relaxed. Tension spreads through people. When someone is nervous and tense, other people have that same sense of urgency. Take deep breaths and let yourself relax. Try to let arms hang loose and keep your shoulders and head in a relaxed and straight position.
- Break the invisible wall. People often keep a sphere of personal space around themselves. Stepping into this space for a minute will help gain confidence. Touching a hand, shoulder or shaking hands are all signs of confidence and strength (see reference 2). However, in some cultures, it would be considered very rude to touch a person's hands or shoulder. Be aware of this!
- Facial expressions. Your facial expressions play a big part in projecting a good impression, so be sure to look interested by maintaining good eye contact, smiling and nodding appropriately while you listen.
- Unconscious gestures. Be wary of actions like fidgeting in your seat, shaking your legs under the table, biting your nails, touching your hair, fiddling with your ring or earrings or constantly glancing at your watch. Not only are these gestures distracting, they also give the impression that you are nervous, not confident, uninterested, or in a hurry to get the session over with (see reference 3).
- Smile! Smiling adds warmth and an aura of confidence. Others will be more receptive if you remember to check your expression.
- Lean in. The angle of your body gives an indication to others about what's going through your head. Leaning in says, "tell me more." Leaning away signals you've heard enough.
- Remember posture. Your posture is just as important as your grandmother always said it was. Sit or stand erect if you want to be seen as alert and enthusiastic. When you slump in your chair or lean on the wall, you look tired. No one wants to do business with someone who has no energy (see reference 4).
Information about Peer Tutoring - Approaching the Work
As you "read" your student and begin to establish a genuine rapport, you also need to begin to approach the material in question. However, it is important to keep a few ideas in mind as you start.
- Remember that you are a tutor, not a teacher. It is not your role to instruct, but rather to investigate the material with a peer. You do not need to be an expert to be a tutor. A tutor needs simply to be informed and open to exploring information.
- You are not there to correct. A tutor is there to listen, to ask questions, to offer feedback and to facilitate a dialogue about a given subject.
- You should not hold the pen. This means that the student should do the work.
So, as a tutor, the two roles you want to avoid are: (see reference 5)
- Don't be the teacher.
- Don't be the author.
Information about Peer Tutoring - Listening, Questioning, and Responding
As a tutor, one of your more important roles is to be an effective listener. A good tutor is able to listen to the concerns of the student and reflect those back. If the tutor cannot listen to the needs and questions of the student, then the conversational aspect of the session degrades into an instructional teacher-student relationship.
Tips for Effective Listening:
- Resist assuming you know what students are going to say. Let the students completely finish speaking before you answer. Speakers appreciate having the chance to say everything they would like to say without being interrupted. When you interrupt, it looks like you aren't listening, even if you really are.
- Listen carefully through distractions, such as other students in the hallway. Give your full attention on the person who is speaking. Don't look out the window or at what else is going on in the room.
- Make sure your mind is focused. It can be easy to let your mind wander if you think you know what the person is going to say next, but you might be wrong! If you feel your mind wandering, change the position of your body and concentrate on the student's words.
- Avoid emotional involvement. Listen as objectively as possible. Begin listening to others from a neutral, open-minded state. This allows you to really concentrate and focus on what others are saying to you.
- Give extra time. Avoid upstaging students or answering before a student has finished speaking. Instead, give the student extra time to consider and respond to your questions. Allow yourself time to finish listening and think about what the student has said or written before you begin to speak. You can't really listen if you are busy thinking about what you want to say next. (see reference 6)
- Notice subtext. Pay attention not only to the logical content of what someone is saying but also to how they say it. That is, how they feel about the subject under discussion. It turns out that how people feel about an issue or a person is a key determinant in decision-making. If you listen for emotions rather than words, you'll notice an interesting thing - you'll absorb both and understanding will be deeper.
- Show you are listening. While a student is speaking, use your body language to show you are listening.
- Show respect for the other person. Respond in such a way that proves you are taking the other person seriously. Demonstrate respect for their point of view. (see reference 7)
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Ask Effective Questions
Another key role that a tutor performs is to ask effective and stimulating discussion questions. By asking the right questions, a tutor can help create a dialogue for the student that the student can replay later by him/herself.
As you listen, you will naturally find yourself asking questions. Ask questions to engage the student, to clarify what has been said, and to show that you've been listening (see reference 8). Effective questioning helps to continue to build rapport as well as provide information about the work at hand.
Tips for Asking Effective Questions:
- Be sure the question you are asking is clear in your own mind. Think through what you want from the student before you ask the question. Avoid ambiguous questions. Questions should be purposeful and direct. Since tutoring sessions are usually brief, questions need to accomplish a lot in a small amount of time.
- Ask only one question at a time.
- Use "probing." Probing is the use of further questions to force the student to put together his or her partial knowledge into a more complete answer. Probing often involves the use of follow-on or leading questions to help the student answer the initial question or to provide a more complete answer. (see reference 9)
- Avoid leading questions. Questions, such as "Don't you all think that ... ?" will not encourage students to offer their opinions and views on the subject. Students often believe that they should wait to be told the answer and that they should think the same way as the tutor.
- Avoid yes/no questions and questions that require only a one-word response. It is difficult to get a discussion going or foster an active learning environment by asking students questions that only require a one-word response.
- Admit when you don't know the answer. You'll lose more credibility by trying to fake an answer than by stating that you don't know. If you don't know the answer to a student's question, say so: "That's a good question. I'm not sure about that." Follow up by looking for the answer to demonstrate good study habits by showing the student how to find answers in the textbook. (see reference 10)
- Try to use natural language. Students tend to be intimidated by technical talk.
- Try to focus on what is needed rather than what is missing (e.g., "You need an analysis section" vs. "You failed to analyze . . ." ).
- Acknowledge. Make sure that each comment is greeted with some gesture of acknowledgment: a head nod, a smile, a verbal "Good" or "Interesting" or "I see what you mean."
- Look for chances to give positive feedback (e.g., "Now that's an intriguing way to look at it" or "Exactly, you've hit the nail on the head"). Use more positive than negative language in verbal responses. Use encouraging statements to show your interest and to keep the student talking about an important area. These include the simple "I see", "uh-huh" and "Yes, keep going."
- Handle "wrong" answers by dignifying students' responses. Dignify an erroneous response by indicating what question for which the answer is correct, and then clarifying why it's not correct for the question you asked (e.g., "That would be correct if X were true, but remember that this situation is different because of Y," or "I see why you might think that, because the terms are easy to confuse. However, keep in mind that we're talking about Z."). (see reference 11)
- If a student does not or cannot respond, don't force the issue. Try rephrasing the question or probing to get to the question you have asked. Avoid answering the question yourself. Allow the student plenty of time to think and respond. Show the student how to find the answer in the textbook, or ask her/him to check her/his class notes.
- Look for chances to refer back to a student's earlier contribution to weave into the current discussion (e.g., "That ties in nicely to what you said earlier about X").
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Make Effective Verbal Responses
As you are working with and listening to your student, you will want to continue to progress through the task at hand by building the dialogue and showing that you are interested and involved. Making effective verbal responses will also help to clarify the materials being discussed as well as reinforce the rapport you are building.
Tips about Making Effective Verbal Responses:
- Praise. Remember to give praise whenever possible.
- Restate. Restating means that you repeat what you have heard to validate that you understand.
- Summarize. Summarizing means that you take a lot of information and restate it in a very high-level way to again validate that you heard correctly.
- Reflect. This is similar to restating, except that you bring the student's feelings into the mix. This includes statements like "I see you are passionate about this idea. Let me make sure I have the information right," or "You seem to feel that ...," or "My perception is that you don't think this is a good idea." (see reference 12)
- Encourage the student and compliment any strengths. Positive feedback is important in developing an enjoyment of learning. We always want to let the student know that he or she is working on an engaging topic, or, for example, has excellent ideas and solid organization.
- Try to determine the reason the student has trouble with a certain area. For example, maybe the thesis statement is missing because the student thinks of it as a stupid part of some teacher's mechanical formula for writing a paper. We might then explain that a good thesis statement will tell the reader what the paper will be about, and will help the reader develop an interest in reading the paper to see how the thesis is supported.
- Always ask. Asking questions ensures that the student is thinking along with us and increases the probability that he or she will remember what we have discussed. Once students get used to answering questions, they will also start to ask the questions themselves, so the questioning technique helps avoid the problem of students becoming over-dependent on tutors.
- Do not assign or anticipate grades. While some self-evaluation from a tutor may prove to be beneficial in helping to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the student's understanding of a particular concept, tutors should not allow themselves to be tempted into predicting what grade an assignment will receive. Let instructors worry about grades. (see reference 13)
- Try to avoid evaluative language. Using words like "good" or "bad" implies a universal truth. Instead provide feedback based on your own opinions of the assignment (e.g. "I like how you used transitions here").
Activity 3: Effective Strategies for Listening, Questioning, and Responding
Now that you have read through all of the information and tips, take the quiz below to see what you learned.
Information about Peer Tutoring - Feedback
Finally, as you are addressing the work with your student, it is your job to offer useful feedback. Remember that it is not the tutor's responsibility to make sure the paper or assignment is perfect. Your job is to help the student further understand key concepts. Therefore, when offering feedback keep these ideas in mind:
- Prioritize the information you discuss. Don't discuss every detail, because that can overwhelm and frustrate a student more than it can help. Focus on key concepts and help the student work through them.
- Try bouncing questions back to the student. Occasionally, it is OK to answer direct questions, but more often, try to encourage students to work through ideas and come up with their own answers. (e.g., "What do you think?")
Tips for offering Constructive Feedback:
- Prioritize areas that would benefit from attention. An effective and logical guideline is one that proceeds from the "global" to the particular. For example, in a writing assignment, there's no point in revising sentence structure, if the organization needs work and sentences may be dropped anyway. For global concerns, you can examine whether the paper fits the criteria for the assignment or is written effectively for the intended audience. You can also discuss how well the content of the paper is developed and if the ideas exhibit unity. We might also look at how those ideas are organized and presented and what type of tone or style the paper uses. After those concerns have been addressed, the mechanics of the paper, such as punctuation and grammar, can be reviewed
- Focus on sharing ideas and information, rather than giving advice. Feedback tends to be more effective when it is two-way. Encourage discussion. Both praise and constructive criticism should be included. If feedback is always negative, then motivation will be low (e.g. "I know when I write, I often get frustrated with introductions because there are so many ways to start. What frustrates you about this intro?")
- Regular and continuous feedback is a major factor in enhancing performance and motivation because it enables individuals to judge more clearly how they are performing against their objectives/targets and other expectations.
- Encourage self-criticism. People are more willing to accept criticism when they have recognized their own strengths and weaknesses. Start by encouraging them to appraise themselves and then build on their own insights (e.g. "What do you feel gives you the most trouble with writing? Where do you feel that algebra loses you?")
- Be helpful rather than critical. Negative feedback can destroy confidence and motivation. Balance out and keep a sense of perspective (e.g. "I really like your attention to description in this paragraph. It draws me in as the reader. Are there other places you could add more of this descriptive detail?")
- Be specific whether you are criticizing or praising. Detailed information is more likely to reinforce what happened than vague statements. Own the feedback. Use "I" statements based on your observation (e.g. "I think your introduction paragraph is solid and well-crafted, but I'm not sure what your point is in this second paragraph. I feel that it is either about X or Y. How do you feel about it?")
- Be selective. Give as much information as they can use. Too many examples or points will dilute the feedback and could lead to complacency or defensiveness.
- Be forward looking. Offer constructive comments that offer alternatives on what could be done differently in the future. Even though it's cliched, remember the old saying: Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime.
- Discuss it. Don't give the feedback and run. Stay to explore the topic in more detail. Have they understood? Do they want to discuss future action plans in more detail? Would they like feedback on other aspects?
- Listen. You can't make any judgments on validity if you have a closed mind. If you are convinced that there is only one way for the student to solve the problem, then you are limiting the options available for revision and/or discovery.
- Suspend judgment. Try not to put your own thoughts in until you take your time and make some mental notes to check out later.
- Let them finish. Don't jump in; wait for the student to finish talking, so you have a full picture.
- Avoid arguing, denying, justifying or minimizing. It's their point of view; decide what you want to do with the information. (see reference 14)
Peer Tutoring Role Play
During this activity, you will view short video clips of a student who has dropped by the Writing Center for help with writing a paper for his English class. After viewing the video clip, read each of the three possible actions you could take and choose the one that will best help to build rapport, show that you are actively listening to the student, help you to gather information about the student and his assignment, and will provide the most useful feedback to the student. You will know if you have been successful if your choices result in the student being able to complete his writing assignment.
Begin role play activity. (Note: This will open a new window or tab)
- (1) Performance Learning Systems. Tips for Positive Body Language. Retrieved 2005. http://www.plsweb.com/resources/newsletters/enews_archives/25_body_language.pdf *
- (2) Essortment. (2002). Information on Positive Body Language. Retrieved 2005. http://tntn.essortment.com/bodylanguagein_rjkk.htm *
- (3) http://careers.asia1.com.sg/st_recruit/r20020715.html *
- (4) Ramsey, Lydia. ALQ Real Estate Intelligence Report Career Guides. Body Language Speaks Louder than Words. Retrieved 2005. http://www.reintel.com/bodylanguage.htm *
- (5) Caposella, Toni-Lee. (1998). Orlando, FL:The Harcourt Brace Guide to Peer Tutoring. Harcourt Brace and Company.
- (6) Teaching Today Postsecondary. This Week's Tips: Improve Your Listening Skills. Retrieved 2012. http://www.glencoe.com/ps/teachingtoday/weeklytips.phtml/21 *
- (7) Davis, Katie. Speakers Platform. Listening Skills: How to Recognize and Repeat Them. Retrieved 2005. http://www.speaking.com/articles_html/KatieDavis_583.html *
- (8) Fact Monster Homework Center. Listening Skills. Retrieved 2012. http://www.factmonster.com/homework/listeningskills1.html
- (9) William G. Camp. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Questioning Skills. Retrieved 2005. http://www.aged.vt.edu/methods/que-skil.htm *
- (10) http://www.adm.uwaterloo.ca/infotrac/queststrat.html *
- (11) University of California, Santa Barbara, The office of Instructional Consultation. Teaching Tips for TAs: Acknowledging Responses and Dignifying Errors. Retrieved 2005. http://www.oic.id.ucsb.edu/TA/tips/resp.html *
- (12) http://www.portal-step.com/oss/users/login.php?ce=0&group=156&url=www.lifecyclestep.com/members/410.4ActiveListening.htm%3f *
- (13) Penn State University. The Undergraduate Writing Center. 2001. The Penn State Undergraduate Writing Center Handbook for Peer Tutors in Writing. Retrieved 2005. http://www.psu.edu/dept/cew/writingcenter/UWC/handbook.htm *
- (14) University of Derby. Development and Performance Review (DPR) On-Line Toolkit. Retrieved 2005. http://www.derby.ac.uk/staffdev/DPR%20Toolkit/Giving&ReceivingFeedback.htm *
* Indicates that the original Website is no longer available.
Peer tutoring is helping other students or peers move themselves forward academically. In a peer tutoring session, it is important for a tutor to take time to build a rapport with the student by asking probing questions, which require more than a yes or no answer. A tutor should remember not to do the work for the student if even the student doesn't seem to get the answers as quickly as they should. A tutor should not forget how important body language and good listening skills are. Without them, a tutoring session will not go very well. In addition to asking effective questions and making verbal responses to your students, giving proper and constructive feedback is always a good way to help your students learn.
Quizzes, Reflective Questions, and Activities
The following assignments are embedded in the Peer Tutoring tutorial:
- Activity 1: Quiz - What would you do to help a student in a tutoring session?
- Activity 2: Quiz - Building Rapport with a Student
- Activity 3: Quiz - Effective Strategies for Listening, Questioning, and Responding
Relationship to Other iStudy Tutorials
This tutorial is related to other tutorials on personal effectiveness, including note-taking, active reading, active listening, interview skills, stress management, conflict management, and brainstorming. Therefore, it is recommended that instructors introduce this tutorial to students in conjunction with other personal effectiveness tutorials.
Suggested In-Class Methods of Presentation
Peer tutoring is not the same as instruction. It is, instead, students helping other students to help themselves with tasks such as writing or math assignments. It is a hard job because the tutor's role is not to correct errors or write papers for students, but to provide assistance for the students to move forward academically. Depending on the dialogue (the questions and answers, the listening, and the feedback), the relationship between a peer tutor and his or her students can be mutually enriching. The purpose of being introduced to peer tutoring is first and foremost to learn how to be a tutor. In addition, students are helping their fellow students achieve more in college and learning about how to be a better student.
Break the learners up into small (three people) groups. Provide each individual in the group with a simple subject s/he is familiar with; perhaps a current social issue. In turn, each person should serve as a tutor, a student, and an observer. The tutor should strive to be an expert tutor by using the tips provided in the student manual. The student should make sure s/he understands what is being taught. The observer can use the tips provided in the tutorial information as checklists, showing the tutor and student what s/he did correctly and/or incorrectly. Then the people in the group can switch roles and repeat the above process, doing this until each person in the group has had the role of tutor, student, and observer at least once.
Each group could present its findings to the class and be prepared to discuss them. Instructors can assess learners' understanding of peer tutoring principles at this point by observing how each group presents its findings and responds to questioning.
Note: This is an excellent opportunity to utilize and reinforce the cooperative learning techniques from the iStudy Cooperative Learning tutorial.
In Class Discussions:
- Ask students to make a list of the interpersonal skills, abilities, personal characteristics, and knowledge that an excellent peer tutor should possess.
- After students practice tutoring each other, discuss what they think they did well and where they think they need more practice.
- Ask students to talk about their own personal experiences as both tutor and student.
Through observing both the group's and the individual's activity, the instructor may assess student performance. Assessment criteria are as follows (Instructors supply the percentage weights):
The student can describe:
- basic listening skills
- basic questioning skills, and
- basic feedback techniques
that a tutor should use in any peer tutoring situation.
The student can identify the skills being used when observing a tutoring session.
The student can actively participate in the in-class activities by using basic listening skills, questioning skills, feedback techniques, and communication principles.