In the last month of this school year I introduced peer tutors into both my classes. In China I have two different groups of grade eight students who are all Chinese students, born in China and whose first language is Chinese. I am their main grade eight English teacher and will be teaching the same group of students next year for grade nine. I introduced peer tutors into the end of grade eight because in grade nine students write a government exam called the Zhongkao for entrance into high school, and I wanted to establish more support and collaborative learning into the classroom. In China, mandatory government funded education ends in grade nine. Students who do not score high enough on the Zhongkao will not be accepted into a high school and will not be eligible for university. The Zhongkao determines if students leave school, filter into the trades, or are accepted into a high school with the potential to enter university. In my classes I have roughly 2-3 very strong students, and in one class, have two who are very close to fluent and could easily assimilate into a Canadian grade nine classroom. At the opposite end however, I have students who are very low where basic communication is a challenge. Taking into consideration the variety of levels within my classes and the desire to build more collaboration and unity I chose to introduce peer tutors. Near the end of the year I developed a review of the term’s language lessons in conjunction with a short novel study, which was to be completed over six days. Before starting I provided a training session for my peer tutors and then introduced them into the classes to support with the final novel study review.
Overall I had great success with my peer tutors and I was very pleased with the results from students they worked one-on-one with. Having the peer tutors supporting others in class allowed me to focus my efforts on individual students who require more time and direct support from me. My peer tutors also felt more useful in class and liked the leadership challenge.
As successful and rewarding the experience of peer tutors was; I do recognize some possible challenges with the concept. Below are some possible challenges and some suggestions from my experience:
• It can be challenging to encourage students to collaborate and support one another. For my students in china, and I suspect many groups of other English Language Learners (ELLs) who come from a different education system, they are not used to the idea of group work and supporting one another for the benefit of all. In China students are used to the lecture style of teaching and because the school system is highly competitive-only the top scoring Zhongkao students are accepted to high school-there is a hesitation to collaborate. Building a sense of community into the classroom prior to introducing peer tutors can greatly support a successful introduction of their role.
• A secondary challenge that can arise from the above point is the selection process of who your peer tutors will be. Their fluency with English is an important component, yet their potential for leadership, providers of support and ability to keep confidentiality when working with others are important factors to consider. In my experience, I’ve found many of these skills can be taught, however the peer tutors also need to agree to the terms and be willing to learn.
• After the selection and introduction of the peer tutors, some students in the class who have good/very strong English skills may feel left out because they were not asked to be peer tutors. A possible rotation of peer tutors could be a way to alleviate this possible challenge, and something I might do next year.
• Other students’ comfort level with the notion of peers supporting them may be a potential challenge for long-term continuation. However, I think in the end if there is enough structure and strategic planning students will come to embrace the additional support and view the peer tutors as an extension of the teacher.
• Effective role modeling by peer tutors is something that needs to be learned and as a result the teacher needs to be aware to support peer tutors on how to do this. For example, they are leaders in the class and students will be watching them. If peer tutors are not doing their work, taking initiative, or on task other students will not see the need to do these things. The peers tutors need to have clear instructions given to them, and they need to be encouraged to communicate with the teacher if they are finished and needing something to do.
• There is a balance to consider of when to use peer tutors and when to have them be learners in the class. Having peer tutors as supports in the classroom helps provoke their own learning by reinforcing what they know and becoming aware of gaps in their own proficiency. In the long term the teacher needs to take into consideration when to engage peer tutors in their support roles and when to allow them to be learners.
Lesson Notes: Introducing peer tutors at the end of this year has been something I really wanted to try and has become what I have enjoyed most all year. I had a very positive experience with my peer tutors and will be continue their roles next year.
Ms. Kolshuk's Blog
Welcome to my blog where I post about my teaching practice, ideas, findings and discuss topics of an educational nature. Please feel free to comment and/or email with any topic suggestions.