Peer tutoring


ResearchEd is becoming a regular feature on many teachers’ calendars and last month together with some colleagues, I found myself wrapping up warm to brave the Swedish winter once again as I ventured to the outskirts of Stockholm on this annual pilgrimage. The reason I keep coming back was neatly summed up by Alex Quigley (Senior Associate at the Education Endowment Foundation) in his keynote speech: attending events like ResearchEd gets us off the treadmill of classroom practice and encourages intellectual discussion. While the event may seem just as exhausting as a treadmill session at the gym it is ultimately good for us. A full day (a Saturday!) includes 6 lectures plus opening and closing speeches. There is little time to catch your breath let alone a coffee yet year after year educators flock to this event.

In past years, I have benefitted greatly from the reading tips gleamed from the sessions I’ve attended. As all busy teachers know however, finding time to keep up with the latest research is a challenge. One book recommendation I had not yet read was Graham Nuthall’s The Hidden Lives of Learners and for that reason I chose to attend Jan Tishauser’s session on this subject.

The main activity of students is in making sense of what is being taught.

Nuthall’s findings are interesting and include:

  • There is no difference on the learning outcomes for the student whether a teacher is new to the job or an expert.
  • Student ability has no predictive value on learning outcome.
  • Those with prior knowledge learn more.
  • The real difference on learning outcomes is from feedback and questioning.
  • New material should be encountered three times.

A further significant observation Nuthall makes relates to the influence peers have on the learning process. It is perhaps not surprising to note that students often listen more to their peers than to their teachers but according to Nuthall, students learn more from their peers than their teachers.


Given the influence that peers have on learning outcomes, Tishauser recommends that teachers explore and get to know the peer context of their classrooms. One way of doing this is to create a sociogram of their class. Teachers can ask students to write their own name on a piece of paper along with the names of two other classmates that they feel comfortable working with. This data is collected and used to discover patterns that will reveal something of the social dynamic of the class: are any students isolated, are there any cliques in the class, etc.

Students learn more from their peers than their teachers

Nuthall’s observations that students learn more from each other than their teachers would suggest it is worth establishing and investing in a peer tutoring scheme as it is likely to have a positive impact on learning outcomes. Such a scheme would need careful planning however as students may also learn misconceptions from each other too. The work of the classroom teacher cannot simply be handed off to peer tutors.

Teaching and Learning Toolkit

In Alex Quigley’s session during ResearchEd we were introduced to the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit. This valuable resource summarises the evidence surrounding research in education – including the extensive work done on peer tutoring. The toolkit also offers guidance regarding implementing evidence-based practices such as peer tutoring.

According to the EEF, all pupils appear to benefit from peer tutoring with low-attaining students or those with special educational needs benefiting most. It should be noted that peer tutoring works best as a complement to teaching (not a substitute) and that intensive blocks of tutoring focussed on consolidating knowledge from the classroom rather than new material are recommended. The evidence makes a compelling case for this practice and it offers a low cost method for schools to improve learning outcomes. 




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