5 min read

Rethinking Community Dynamics in Peer Tutoring Programs: Part Two

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In Part 1, we explored the challenges tutors and tutees face in building community around the vulnerable experience of seeking help, learning, and making mistakes. 

As we look at what contributors to the impact report have voiced about community in peer tutoring, there’s a great deal of good to be found from taking part in the experience. Not only are tutees feeling better about their academic performance, they’re reporting higher self-esteem, feeling more competent as learners, and carrying that confidence into classes beyond those in which they’re being tutored. What if that were the community we chose to focus on?

Similarly, there are clear benefits to be found for tutors. As Page Keller points out in the report:

Successful peer tutors in colleges and universities exhibit strong interpersonal skills, a deep understanding of the subject matter, flexibility, and empathy. These characteristics contribute to a positive learning experience, promote academic growth, and provide personalized support for tutees, ultimately fostering a more effective peer tutoring process.

All these skills are inherently beneficial and highly marketable when it comes time to position themselves as budding leaders in the workforce. Folks who are all seeking to develop those skills should know, and know of,  one another. What if that were the community we chose to focus on?

If it feels too vulnerable to “open” your tutoring relationship to the gaze of fellow students, it may instead make more sense to let participants connect more generally around who is taking part. 

A New Vision of Community for Tutees

Although students who seek out tutoring are benefiting from it immensely, the fact remains that too few students are seeking it out. Li, Hassan, and Saharuddin share the benefits in their 2023 literature review on college students’ help-seeking behaviors:

Whether formal or informal, help-seeking can improve academic performance, encourage positive learning, and increase students’ sense of self-efficacy. Previous research on academic help-seeking has demonstrated that seeking assistance from official sources (e.g., teachers and academic service centers) or informal sources (e.g., peers and family) promotes positive learning trends, increased self-efficacy, and enhanced academic performance. While students’ academic help-seeking behavior is very negative in traditional learning environments, primarily because students believe that asking for academic help in public implies that they are not capable of learning and because they believe it has an impact on their self-esteem.

If we assume that part of the self-esteem impact of help-seeking is because prospective tutees believe they’re the only ones in need, it could stand to reason that it’d be more attractive when positioned as normal, common, and beneficial beyond performance in any one course or major. 

Further, the decision to seek help isn’t the singular decision it may sometimes be painted as. To the contrary, as Li, Hassan, and Saharuddin outline: 

Unlike other cognitive strategies, this academic help-seeking (AHS) combines cognitive and social integration skills. The first step in a student’s process of seeking help is becoming aware of the need for it. Therefore, when a student seeks assistance, a series of choices are made. These choices could be but are not restricted to becoming aware of the issue and challenge; choosing to seek assistance; choosing from whom to seek assistance; choosing when to seek assistance; selecting the form of assistance to seek.

And as Christopher Schaberg points out in Slate, the skills to make these interconnected decisions may have either lapsed during the pandemic, or may not have been cultivated at all.

So for these students, community could be strengthened by making the connection to a tutor as a method of help-seeking not only a streamlined one, but a common and normalized one. Rather than making receiving tutoring feel like a remedial or shameful act, it could instead be framed as joining a community of learners who have elected to unlock their existing potential by seeking help. This act is common, effective, and normal.

A New Vision of Community for Tutors

Speaking of normal, in Part 1 we explore how learning to tutor can be as vulnerable as seeking the help that tutoring provides. In this case, a community for tutors could similarly be focused around cultivating not only competence, but also self-esteem could be increased when a sense of struggle or lack of all-knowingness is positioned as normal. 

Roscoe and Chi situate peer tutoring within “a larger community of educational and social expectations. Peer tutors’ perceptions of their tutoring role, and their motivational attitudes and beliefs, may influence how peer tutors approach their task and, thus, their tutoring actions.” For better or worse, tutors come to embrace the significance of their roles as a source of guidance and improvement for their tutees. However, the pressure that might bring along can be addressed in community with others who are similarly tasked and in need of support. Training at the outset of their appointment should serve as only part of that support. Consider also offering: 

  • Ongoing opportunities to check in with program supervisors, 
  • Synchronous and asynchronous supplemental learning, and perhaps even 
  • Forums for peer tutors to commiserate or troubleshoot with one another.

All of these support mechanisms have one element in common: the capacity to bring those embarking upon similar roles or relationships together, without opening the precise goings-on of those relationships to a wider group. Vulnerability is protected, but commonality is shared.

Ultimately, a likely more enticing method of creating community around peer tutoring, may paradoxically require a boundary be set. Rather than encouraging students to take on these vulnerable moments in community, it could make more sense to position the experiences of tutoring or being tutored as communal. 

That is to say, students opting to take part in help-seeking see a clear benefit - and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Or, for tutors, this is not just a chance to pass along your knowledge but also grow more skilled in delivering it - and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Perhaps the key to growing a community in tutoring is less about positioning these vulnerabilities in plain view, and more about the needed reminder that no one is alone in experiencing them...leaving the magic of resolving and strengthening these points of growth in more intimate relationships.

Learn more about Knack programs and how Knack can empower tutors and tutees alike on your campus by visiting joinknack.com/partner.