Tutoring has broad value and broad purpose, but it’s easy to miss if we default to viewing it in a narrow scope. Unfortunately, this happens far too often, even by those who are dedicated to facilitating academic success.
After all, tutoring is primarily considered to be a tool for students who are performing poorly in a course. It’s viewed as a “fix” to a problem, often first thought of when a student receives a low grade or is struggling to keep up.
While it’s certainly true that academic support can be especially useful in these circumstances, peer tutoring also offers a broader holistic value that extends far beyond a “fix it” function. In order to empower peer tutoring to live up to its full potential, we must frame it as a proactive tool rather than a reactive response to poor performance.
Ultimately, the true value of peer tutoring lies in its ability to enrich the academic experience, which is valuable no matter what a student’s current grade is. In fact, this academic enrichment occurs for both students and tutors, thereby allowing an institution to impact two students for the price of one.
Peer tutoring elevates learning beyond a transactional exchange of knowledge and into an engaging, dynamic, and meaningful experience. Here are three ways, in particular, that peer tutoring serves as an effective method of academic enrichment.
Unlocking Experiential Learning
Peer tutoring provides academic enrichment because it makes learning more experiential for students. By virtue of engaging with the material more actively outside of the classroom, students unlock the ability to learn by doing rather than only by listening. Research on how people learn shows that active engagement and timely feedback are incredibly important. While this is difficult to facilitate for all students in a lecture, it’s nearly impossible to avoid in the context of peer tutoring. Students must be engaged and, as a result, their learning becomes more experiential. In fact, research has shown that peer tutoring helps to “produce more independent higher-education learners capable of achieving examination success, and thereby facilitat[ing] the learners’ progression to the next level.”
It’s only natural for colleges and universities to initially focus on offering tutoring for courses where student performance is particularly low. This is both practical and important as it can help breathe new life into the academic pursuits of students who are struggling to find their way. This relationship with a peer tutor can help them build confidence and transform their learning strategies from passive to active. That said, it would be a mistake to overlook the benefit that peer tutoring offers for high-achieving students as well.
Peer tutoring can help ensure the learning experience is rich for these students rather than rote. While high-performing students may have developed skills and strategies that result in A’s on a transcript, that doesn’t mean that they have nothing to gain from enriching their academic experience. Peer tutoring is a great way for them to ensure that they are learning-oriented rather than performance-oriented, which will ultimately result in a deeper understanding of course material.
When it is well-designed, tutoring work can be an excellent experiential learning activity for students working tutors as well. The Princeton Review notes that experiential learning opportunities can even help students launch their career, especially when they include support to help students learn how to talk about their skills. Similarly, we have discussed the importance of helping tutors make connections between their tutoring work and the skills they will need to have a successful career.
Promoting Proactivity, Prevention, and Protection
Peer tutoring steps into its true power when it is utilized as a proactive tool, or preventative measure, for students. Its ability to facilitate academic enrichment is enhanced when it is used as a steady stream of support over time rather than a fire hose used only in an emergency.
Positioning tutoring as a proactive tool allows us to demonstrate how tutoring can help students learn more effectively, instead of focusing on how it can help them pass a class. In that way, tutoring can even help prevent students from being performance-oriented and instead facilitate their progress down the more effective path of becoming learning-oriented. Tutoring can even be a proactive tool for students with a perfect GPA, since the experiential aspect of the working relationship will allow them to get more out of their classes.
Peer tutoring also lends itself to being a preventative measure. Prevention work on college campuses, usually carried out by health promotion and wellness staff, draws from risk management principles such as harm reduction, responsible decision-making, and environmental management. This work aims to ensure student well-being, which enables students to achieve academic success. Peer tutoring can be used as a risk management tool that helps reduce academic struggle, teach academic skills and strategies, and add positive academic influences to keep students on track. The benefits of peer tutoring, then, usher in a kind of academic enrichment that students may struggle to find on their own, while also safeguarding them from traps that may put them behind.
Lastly, peer tutoring helps create opportunities for academic enrichment as a protective factor. This study about the risk and protective factors in first year college adjustment identifies academic self-efficacy as a protective factor associated with increased college adjustment among first year students. The other identified protective factors are resilience and optimism. These are epitomized in the work of peer tutoring, since tutors offer positive support, provide encouragement, model perseverance, and share strategies with students to help them achieve academic self-efficacy. The study notes that risk factors “seem to lose potency when we include protective factors in context.” With risk factors at bay, academic enrichment can thrive.
Tutoring is also highlighted for its potential to be a protective factor in this study, which offers an analysis of the risk and protective factors among low-income, first generation college students. The author notes that tutoring can provide academic support, promote academic integration and retention, and create a sense of community. Mental health distress may also be reduced due to academic and social support through resources like tutoring. When tutoring is relationship-driven, for example, it can reduce the psychological size of your campus. This further strengthens the ability of peer tutoring to foster academic enrichment by making room for the student to achieve.
Doubling Your Impact
As mentioned, peer tutoring provides academic enrichment for both the student and the tutor. In fact, peer tutoring work exists in the nexus of student success due, in part, to the academic enrichment it includes. Furthermore, intentional training, like that which the College of Charleston provides, not only helps tutors tackle the skills gap but also equips them to be more effective in helping their peers succeed. This stretching of skills can increase their academic enrichment since it offers a new way for them to engage with the curriculum.
Of course, peer tutoring also brings a high level of academic enrichment for students receiving help, especially if it’s powered in a way that can withstand challenges like COVID-19. Through a peer tutoring relationship, students have the opportunity to work with concepts in a fresh way that clicks for them. For example, since peer tutors don’t suffer from the curse of knowledge, they can speak more clearly to students about the course material in a way that helps remove barriers and promotes progress.
Peer tutors are also able to dispel common lies about learning and lighten up the learning process with the Super Mario Effect. As a result, they can become a secret weapon to a student’s success by helping create a pathway to confidence, clarity, and competency. This demonstrates the value of peer tutoring beyond that of a strictly remedial tool. In reality, it is a powerful form of academic enrichment that opens up a new realm of learning possibilities for any and all students.
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