When I started this study, my purpose was to see if peer tutoring was a feasible intervention for struggling readers. I found research to support the need for additional fluency practice, and I found research that indicates peer-tutoring is an untapped, potential resource – that there has been success using peer-tutors to help struggling readers. However, my study takes peer- tutoring one step further than the previous research did, by asking what happens if the tutor is a struggling reader.
The study took place over 9 weeks; the first week was spent giving fluency assessments, training students to tutor younger students, and conducting surveys. We discussed the importance of fluency, and, per one of my research articles, explicitly discussed the need for fluency instruction and the steps that go along with it (modeled reading, re-reading, and one- minute probes). For the rest of the study, the tutors conducted fluency sessions with their younger partners.
I learned a lot during the study. First, as I expected, all of the tutors showed growth in one way or another – either their words read per minute increased, or their errors made in a minute decreased. In some cases, both areas improved. Second, according to their survey answers, most of them indicate that their reading engagement has increased, as well. They want to read faster, or they say they enjoy reading aloud more, or they are interested in continuing as a peer tutor to help younger readers. Third, this study helped their confidence and it was fascinating to watch those students to whom teaching comes naturally. For example, I had one student who was so comfortable and confident as a tutor that she seemed like a different student. She used her own corrective language, and after a couple of sessions, realized that her partner kept getting lost and continued to keep watching her as she read aloud – supporting her as needed. I also received positive feedback from teachers who had different points-of-view than I as the researcher, or the participants had. I was told that several students showed an increased confidence in their ability to read aloud in class, or to help another student in class. I also had one student whose teacher reported he has branched out as far as who he works with in class. She said it was almost like he realized “I can help other people” and “I can initiate
conversation.” This is an added bonus – one that I had not even considered, but one that the teacher attributed to the study.
The results of this study show that there are indeed other options for getting older, struggling readers to practice reading appropriate texts aloud. Teaching students how to teach other students, and supporting them while they do it, can be a valuable method for learning. The students who really enjoyed tutoring did very well completing the sessions with fidelity and showed a definite increase in reading engagement. I would like to continue this practice next year with those students who I know enjoyed it and who were solid with their methods. However, I would plan these sessions for one quarter at a time, and would only have four, possibly five, tutoring sessions a day.
As successful as I feel that study was, there are definite limitations. First, planning times with first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh graders was difficult and I had to adjust my schedule more than once to accommodate other class schedules. For example, several sessions were missed because of field trips or class parties. Second, seven tutoring sessions a day was somewhat repetitive and because the sessions were so close together, often felt rushed – even though they all managed to conduct their sessions in the allotted time. Third, I happened to get lucky with the partnerships that I made – which made me realize that pairing personalities is as important as pairing reading levels and the next time I have these sessions, I will be sure to keep this in mind.