So what is peer tutoring? Well, peer tutoring in the form of paired reading is when a better reader reads with another child. Normally, this means an older reader is reading with a younger child. It’s a very structured technique, and there’s a very structured way that errors are corrected, that praise is given, and that the pair talk about books to promote their understanding of meaning.
Why would you bother to do it? Well, there’s a great focus on reading development. It’s likely to improve reading for all students, although the tutor is likely to get roughly about three times the amount of gain as the tutee. How do we know this? Well, we’ve dome two large trials. We did a large randomized controlled in Fife involving 129 schools. What we found is in primary school that the children made about six months reading gain in about 12 weeks of using the technique. In secondary school, the gains went for everybody, mainly there were for tutors, and there were for tutors who were located in the bottom 10% of readers.
And what we found there was they made about 18 months reading gain in about 12 weeks. Another reason to do it is it’s very cheap to implement. You can do it using the resources that you already have in the classroom and using books– either from the children’s homes or from the school library. So how do you go about organizing paired reading? Well, the first thing is about choosing which books to read. It should be the tutee who chooses these books. They need to be of high interest, and that means maybe moving beyond the normal school library books. Books could be books brought in from home, magazines, or newspapers. It could be information books as well as stories.
So it’s important to allow the tutee to choose a book that interests them. The books that are being read need to be of a certain kind. They need to be of both the readability age of the tutee and slightly below the readability age of the tutor. It’s a bit like the Goldilocks principle– the books need to be just so difficult that the tutee might find some words that they find difficult or that they struggle on but easy enough that the tutor can help them and correct errors when need be. So it needs to be in that middle gap– in between the two.
We know that the tutee is going to choose a book, but we don’t want them choosing a different book every week. We want to get them to persevere with books and stick with the same book for a couple of weeks at the very least. It’s absolutely fine for them to bring in reading material from home. I’ve known classes in which boys that were very reticent readers will be delighted to bring in a football program and read that from cover to cover. So how often and where do the pair read? Each pair should read about once a week for 30 minutes per session. That 30 minutes would include the time moving between classes and getting settled.
So I suppose we’re really talking about 20 minutes a week actual reading. Why don’t we do it more often? Well, during the Fife Peer Lending Project, which we worked in 129 primary schools, we found no benefit to having greater intensity. Some schools did it once a week. Some schools did it three times a week. But there was no greater gain to doing it three times a week. You didn’t get three times of benefit. In terms of where– well, again, it doesn’t necessarily need to be at a desk. We just want the pair to be able to sit comfortably side by side, where they can both see and share the book. So then how do you match students together?
Well, what we need to do is take into account readability age. Normally, what happens is a matching of students is done across two year groups that are two years apart. That might mean in primary school, you’re matching the year six group with the year four group or primary six with the primary four group. And in post-primary school, you’re matching say, a year 10 to a year 8 year group. We don’t take into account previous relationships or child preference. The only thing that matters is about readability, and the way in which we do that, is we rank order– the older class from the best in reading to the worst in reading.
And then we rank order the younger class– best in reading to the worst in reading. We match the two best readers, and they form a pair. The second two best readers and they form a pair. The third, two and so on and so on down the list until everybody is matched. Now it’s not quite as precise as that. So if you match Bonnie with Clyde, and you know that they’re more likely to go away and rob a bank than do paired reading, then move the pairs. And if you match Sarah with Peter, and you know that last week, Sarah’s dad ran off with Peter’s dad, again you might not want to put these pairs together for personal reasons.
In addition, you might want to think about parental agreements. There have been instances in the past where parents have been concerned that teachers were going off to the coffee room to go and have a coffee and put their feet up and have a currant bun whilst their children go on with doing the teaching, without being paid, of course. However, one of the things to assure them is by acting as tutor then their child is more likely to get a good benefit to their reading. So how do you go about getting paired reading up and running in your classroom? Well, what you’re going to do is do a mixture of telling the children what they’re going to do.
Maybe demonstrate it– maybe you could demonstrate it with another teacher or with a classroom assistant or train up two other children who should be able to catch on quite quickly and then get them to demonstrate it to the rest of the class. In actual fact, we recommend a great introduction of this over sessions one to three, and then it’s fully implemented over sessions 4 to 12– all the time you’re going to be coaching and giving feedback. However, we’re going to give much more detail about this in week two.