What Are Some Advantages and Disadvantages of Peer Tutoring?

by Dr. Mary Dowd Google

Peer tutoring involves students helping each other learn and grow. The concept is strongly endorsed by organizations such as the National Education Association and the National Tutoring Association. Reported outcomes include gains in academic achievement and stronger peer relationships. On the flip side, peer tutoring can be ineffective and a burden for teachers if the program is simply an attempt to do more with less in response to budget cuts. Peer tutoring should supplement, not replace, quality classroom instruction.

Advantage: Academic Achievement

Peer tutors learn themselves by teaching the material to a classmate or younger student. Peer tutors are challenged to use and hone their creativity and critical thinking skills to help tutees make sense of new material introduced by the teacher. Students being tutored can ask questions to ensure understanding. For both students, repetition aids retention. The National Education Association suggests that peer tutoring increases motivation and improves the overall academic performance of the class. Further, peer tutoring can reduce boredom, absenteeism and truancy, as reported in “Peer Tutoring: A Teacher’s Resource Guide.”

Advantage: Personal Growth

The National Tutoring Association indicates that students engaged in peer tutoring develop a positive attitude toward learning and school. Students who receive peer tutoring are less likely to fear or detest certain subjects. Peer tutors develop a sense of pride and self-worth knowing they’re capable of making a positive difference in the life of another student. Peer tutoring is also thought to increase self-confidence as tutors and tutees discover they’re capable of mastering difficult assignments and abstract concepts even without the help of the teacher.

Disadvantage: Cost and Time Commitment

Effective peer tutoring programs don’t just happen; they require an investment of time and energy on the part of the school to launch and maintain. Researcher K.J. Topping stressed in a 1996 article in “Higher Education” that peer tutoring requires extensive training of peer tutors, careful matching of tutors to tutees, ongoing supervision and monitoring of progress. Associated costs can involve purchase of peer tutoring program materials and the expense of hiring staff to help teachers implement and manage peer tutoring initiatives. Without support, teachers will have less time for daily lesson planning.

Disadvantage: Resistance and Skepticism

Parents and students may have misgivings about peer tutoring and need convincing that it’s worthwhile. Parents may argue that it’s not the job of students to teach other students. Parents may remain skeptical until evidence is presented that peer tutoring can improve grades and test scores. Student selected as peer tutors may resent the responsibility or lack empathy for struggling peers. If the majority of tutors are from an affluent, privileged background, the disadvantaged students being tutored may feel stereotyped and stigmatized.

About the Author

Mary Dowd holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a master's degree in counseling and student personnel from Minnesota State University, Mankato. In her 20 years of higher education experience, she has taught classes, served as interim dean of students, and worked in many areas of student affairs, including student discipline, career advising, orientation and violence prevention.

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