Though I think the “learning loss” narrative is generally harmful and overblown (see Trying To Bring Research, Sanity, Teacher Expertise & Student Voice To The “Learning Loss” Discussion), I do think it’s accurate to say that some of our most vulnerable students (including English Language Learners) did not learn as much in the academic realm over the past eighteen months as they might have in ordinary times.
In addition, the justifiable backlash against “learning loss” has resulted in another benefit – “remediation” has fallen out of favor and now the focus is on “accelerated learning.” Though I wrote a piece in The Washington Post on what I think accelerated learning actually looks like in the classroom, in general, it appears to me that with a few exceptions, not many have actually shown in practical terms how to do it.
Hiring tutors has gotten a lot of attention as one potential acceleration strategy, but it’s pretty clear that most districts have not pulled any kind of tutoring program off in the short term and, if they do, it probably won’t be until next year.
I do think, though, that one very doable strategy that many schools are overlooking, and which could be implemented immediately, is the use of peer tutors to assist younger students.
For example, at our school I always have had one-or-two peer tutors in all my English Language Learner classes, and they have always been invaluable.
This year, however, my extraordinary colleague Katherine Bell has increased that number five-fold in each of my three ELL classes. These peer tutors, generally either my former ELL students who are now advanced or my IB Theory of Knowledge classes from last year, have provided an extraordinary amount of assistance to Beginner and Intermediate students. Their progress has clearly exceeded what would have been achieved in previous years.
In addition to having ELLs read to them daily to improve comprehension and prosody, practice oral language, develop mentor relationships to provide social/emotional, as well as academic, support, and having them practice the public presentations my students do regularly, I have created a flow of providing a mini-lesson, followed by peer tutors working in small groups to reinforce the lesson, followed by another mini-lesson, followed by peer tutors working in small groups again.
I am also providing regular training to the peer tutors on how to improve their work, and they complete weekly self-assessments.
This is not a one-way street – studies from other areas, and our own analyses in previous years, have demonstrated that peer tutors/mentors tend to increase their own academic achievement, also (see The Best Resources On The Value & Practice Of Having Older Students Mentoring Younger Ones).
The peer tutors themselves love the work – we began the year with a smaller number, but word spread and students kept on coming to Katherine Bell and me pleading (that is not an exaggeration) to join the classes. I had to put a hard-stop on new peer tutors last week.
There is a lead peer tutor in each class who meets with me each day about the plan for the day, and who then briefs the other six-to-nine others. Some of the tutors have told me that this is great practice for them since they plan to pursue a teaching career.
The Beginning and Intermediate students think it’s great, too! As research has shown, when people feel they are important – and having this number of high-quality and trained peer tutors devoted to helping them clearly does contribute to their feeling valued – they tend to want to work harder.
Yes, it does create a bit more work for me – the peer tutors themselves are basically another class that requires some preparation and care. But the payoff to students is clear and immediate and worth the extra effort on my part. And it creates so many more possibilities in the classroom!
Do you know of other schools doing something like this? If not, why not?
Yes! Absolutely this is an important avenue to explore in all the ways! I’d also add this caveat: peer tutoring must not be used as the only strategy to differentiate for kids who already know the material. As in, yes! Use peers as a great way of supporting instruction. But for the peers doing the tutoring, they need more modifications to their instruction than just letting them teach it to someone else. Hopefully their differentiation also involves learning new things and pushing their boundaries, as we all deserve.
Love this approach, Larry! I read an article in Chalkbeat today about how districts are flush with funding for tutors but are facing the same challenges of an extremely tight job market that many businesses are currently facing. Peer tutoring is a great way to address this issue in the near term and, as you point out, has the fantastic bonus that it’s getting some students interested in a career in teaching—something we certainly need more of.
What’s the incentive in case of peer tutors?
It’s an interesting class and they get to work with me. I’ve generally had them as students in the past, and we have good relationships. It also looks good on college and scholarship applications.
I am an ELL teacher in Wisconsin and I have used peer-tutors (referred to as student aides in my district) and students have received class credit for the period they tutor. I used to do this through creating an independent study class with our office and I keep track of reflections and participation for their letter grade. More recently our district has taken this up as a whole and students can get a “P” for participation and receive class credit, similar to a pass/fail grade.
Looks like this post was quite awhile ago but a collogue brought this to my attention as I am looking for ways to accelerate language learning in my own district. I have all Spanish speakers in our ELL program and am finding tha tall of the new technology and an influx in immigration last year is causing deceleration in language learning for many students and also a wider variation in the levels of students I have in one classroom. I’m looking for new solutions and am hoping this model may work for me next semester.