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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2007
Peer Tutoring: A Professional and Service Opportunity
JoAnne Brewster, PhD, James Madison University (VA)

As a previous Psi Chi faculty advisor for several years, I am aware that many Psi Chi chapters and members are actively involved in a variety of professional and service activities. Psi Chi members often look beyond the classroom to develop their professional skills. For example, they become involved in the on-going research programs of faculty, they develop and conduct their own research, and they attend and present at professional conferences. Many Psi Chi chapters also provide valuable service to their departments and to the profession. For example, Psi Chi members at various chapters assist their departments with orientation activities for prospective students, organize departmental events such as awards ceremonies, or raise funds for special projects. Another way that Psi Chi members can develop academic and professional skills and provide a service to their departments and to their fellow students is through the implementation of a peer tutoring program. A peer tutoring program that is appropriately structured and supervised can provide benefits to faculty, to tutors, and to the students being tutored. This article will highlight some of the benefits of peer tutoring to the participants, and will provide one model for a structured peer tutoring program that is based upon the program I developed at James Madison University (JMU) that could be implemented by a Psi Chi chapter to serve a department or individual courses.

What is Peer Tutoring?
In the past, the college course experience has often been conceptualized by both students and faculty as a process in which the role of the teacher is to deliver information, and the role of the student is to receive and learn that information. However, college faculty have come to believe that this unidirectional learning model does not promote as deep a level of understanding and skill development as alternative models that treat students and faculty as learning partners, with students taking more responsibility for the educational experience. Although there are a number of different ways to implement this learning partnership approach to education, one model is to use peer tutoring, or instruction provided by other students, as an adjunct to instruction provided by faculty. Peer tutoring can take place either between the members of a class, or between beginning and advanced students.

The first approach is exemplified by the interteaching method, in which students in a class engage in activities to teach each other the course material (Barron, Benedict, Saville, Serdikoff, & Zinn, 2007; Saville, Zinn, & Elliott, 2005). During an interteaching class period, students work together in dyads to discuss their prepared responses to questions previously distributed by the instructor. The instructor circulates in the classroom, clarifying and providing additional information. This method involves class sessions in which students teach themselves and each other basic material, alternating with class sessions in which the instructor clarifies concepts that were identified as difficult by the students.

In other approaches, selected students provide tutoring to other students who are typically less advanced in their studies (Carlson & Minke, 1974; Lidren, Meier, & Brigham, 1991). There are many ways in which tutors can assist with instructional duties, from proctoring exams to explaining course material and leading discussion groups. In some programs tutors are responsible for most aspects of the instruction (Carlson & Minke, 1974). Other programs include activities conducted by tutors in addition to instruction delivered by faculty (Johansen, Martenson, & Bircher, 1992; Lidren et al., 1991). In some programs tutors receive extensive training and supervision from faculty (Brandwein & DiVittis, 1985; Carsrud, 1979; Mann, 1994), whereas in others the tutors receive little guidance from faculty (Johansen et al., 1992).

What Are the Benefits of Peer Tutoring?
There has been very little empirical assessment of the impact of peer tutoring programs, but most studies and anecdotal reports suggest that the tutoring experience is beneficial to both the tutors and to the students. Both tutor and student attitudes toward the experience tend to be positive (Carlson & Minke, 1974; Johansen et al., 1992; Lidren et al., 1991).

Tutors generally improve their interpersonal and communication skills, teaching skills, and leadership skills (Brandwein & Di- Vittis, 1985; Lidren et al., 1991). Many tutors become more sensitive to differences between individuals and more flexible in their problem- solving strategies (Mann, 1994). The process of tutoring also helps the tutors to understand and learn course content more clearly, even more so than the tutored students (Annis, 1983). These, as well as additional benefits, were mentioned in written comments by the tutors participating in the tutoring program at JMU. Tutors also learned a great deal about available campus resources—information that they could use themselves as well as pass on to other students. They believed that they improved their understanding of themselves and other students. In the course of helping others, they also improved their own study habits and their understanding of the material. Several students mentioned the benefits of working closely with a faculty member for one or more semesters. The students not only benefited from the close mentoring, but the faculty member was also able to write a letter of recommendation for the tutor’s graduate school or employment applications, including specific details about the tutor’s knowledge of psychology, written and oral communication skills, ability to work independently and in groups, and skills as a teaching assistant.

Tutored students in some studies show more motivation and persistence in completing course requirements (Carsrud, 1979) or perform better on objective measures of learning, such as quizzes and exams (Carlson & Minke, 1974; Lidren et al. 1991), although not all studies have found better test performance by tutored over nontutored students (Carsrud, 1979). Students who were tutored in the JMU program generally agreed that "just having a tutor makes you want to do better.” They commented that they received tips on how to study more effectively and how to approach tests. They also believe that they benefited from being able to take practice tests to assess the adequacy of their preparation for the exams.

Published accounts of peer tutoring programs rarely mention benefits obtained by the faculty member, but I have found that there are several. For both the individual faculty member and the department as a whole, tutors offer significant additional resources to help students beyond what can be offered by instructors. This is particularly helpful in large classes where tutors can provide individual assistance to many more students than I would have time to help. I have also found the tutors to be invaluable consultants who give me a different perspective on the classroom experience. I routinely ask them their opinions about classroom situations and how they believe students might perceive various ways of structuring the class. I have found their assessment of classroom dynamics to be very perceptive, and have often followed their advice. In addition, I have the opportunity to personally get to know and work closely with motivated, bright, and generous students. Many tutors remain in the program for several semesters, and I can watch them go from being uncertain about their abilities, to becoming confident of their thorough knowledge of the material and their ability to teach others.

What Would a Good Peer Tutoring Program Look Like?
Several years ago, JMU’s chapter of Psi Chi attempted to implement a peer tutoring program that was coordinated by members, operated completely on a volunteer basis, and provided no training, structure, or consistent supervision for the tutors. The program limped along for several years before finally faltering and disappearing. From this experience, we learned what things did not work, and what things are necessary for a peer tutoring program to thrive.

With the assistance of my students, I developed and am now supervising a tutoring program at JMU for my own classes, based upon some elements that have been suggested by previous authors as being crucial to the success of peer tutoring, as well as several elements based on our Psi Chi chapter’s previous experience. The program was designed jointly by students and faculty. The program is highly structured, as suggested by Klaus (1975, as cited in Brandwein & DiVittis, 1985). Consistent monitoring and supervision of the program is provided by a faculty member on a year-to-year basis, although student coordinators and participants change. Participants are selected by the faculty supervisor on the basis of demonstrated academic abilities and motivation in relevant courses. Course credit and a grade are given for participation to ensure successful completion of instructional tasks. As suggested by Johansen et al. (1992), advanced training is provided to all tutors to provide them with the knowledge and skills that they will need to be effective. Training and supervision take place at weekly meetings with the faculty supervisor. The tutors are actively involved in preparing all of the instructional materials. Finally, as suggested by Lidren et al. (1991), the activities of the tutors are supplementary activities outside of and in addition to the regular classroom instruction. Lidren et al. (1991) also noted that the most effective tutors are more advanced students who have small tutor-to-student ratios. To date, this peer tutoring program has been made available to students in two of my courses, Abnormal Psychology and Forensic Psychology, but the model would be applicable to any psychology course.

The JMU Peer Tutoring Program: One Model for Peer Tutoring
Peer tutors are chosen from students who have previously earned an A in the relevant course. They receive 3 credits for participation. Each tutor signs a statement of confidentiality agreeing to protect the privacy of students who seek help. Tutors meet as a group for two hours each week for training, consultation about their work with individual students, and group editing of instructional materials. In addition to the group meetings, tutors meet individually with assigned students, prepare materials, and conduct review sessions.

The tutoring coordinator. The coordinator is chosen by the faculty supervisor from students who have already completed at least one semester as a peer tutor. The coordinator organizes the activities of the group in consultation with the faculty supervisor, with whom the coordinator meets individually each week. The coordinator prepares the tutoring manual, visits the class(es) to provide a description of the tutoring program and to invite students to participate, conducts training for new tutors, assigns tasks to the tutors, prepares presentations for review sessions, attends each review session to assist, and does many other tasks that arise over the course of the semester.

The tutoring manual. Tutors receive a manual containing materials that they will need throughout the semester. The contents include contact information for important campus services and resources, such as Disability Services, the Counseling and Student Development Center, the Academic Advising Center, and the Writing Resource Center. Copies of syllabi and study guides are included. The manual also contains copies of recordkeeping forms that tutors are required to complete to document each contact with an individual student. Finally, the manual explains various techniques of peer tutoring.

The training. New tutors receive several weeks of training conducted by the faculty supervisor, the tutoring coordinator, and selected guest speakers from relevant campus programs. Tutors become familiar with characteristics of active learning, and learn how to teach effective reading and study skills. They are trained in a test-taking strategy developed specifically for multiple-choice tests. They receive suggestions for improving time management, note-taking, communication, stress management, and memory. They learn a variety of methods for coping with test anxiety, including a progressive relaxation technique, and they practice teaching the relaxation exercise to each other. They learn how to identify learning disabilities and when to refer a student for specialized services.

Tutors learn how to do a structured interview designed to obtain specific information about a student’s study behaviors and habits, to allow identification of possible barriers to academic success. Training also includes a discussion of interpersonal problems or ethical issues that might arise between a tutor and a student, and suggestions for how to handle them, including problem situations that would warrant an immediate referral to the faculty advisor.

Tutors are also trained to prepare effective study materials. They learn how to write multiple- choice questions for use in review sessions and how to explain the information needed to answer each question correctly. They also learn how to prepare a variety of styles of worksheets for students to use to "quiz” themselves before each test.

Individual peer tutoring. Students are invited to request a tutor at any time. The faculty supervisor also recommends tutoring to any student who is not doing well on the tests, but tutoring is always optional. Each tutor is assigned no more than two students at one time.

During the first meeting, the tutor completes the structured interview, obtaining information about the student’s academic performance and course load, time management skills, attitudes toward learning, academic strengths and weaknesses, study habits, class attendance and note taking, test-taking strategies, special issues that might interfere with learning, and expectations that the student has regarding tutoring. Based on that information, the tutor identifies potential problem areas and determines which tutoring techniques seem appropriate. At the next group meeting the tutor presents a summary of the interview and the proposed tutoring strategies for group review and discussion.

Tutors meet with students as needed, usually weekly or bi-weekly, implementing the strategies devised in consultation with the group. After every meeting, the tutor completes a progress report describing whether the student complied with suggestions from the previous meeting, detailing what took place during the meeting, and outlining new suggestions given to the student.

About 10% of the students in the class ask to work individually with a tutor at least once. On average, about half of the students who work with a tutor improve their test performance. Of the students who do not improve, the majority appear to have not implemented the tutor’s suggestions.

The review sessions. The tutors use a multiple-choice quiz format during the review sessions to help students assess their level of preparation and to review material that is confusing. Using their knowledge of the tests from their own experience, tutors prepare multiplechoice questions and edit the questions during group meetings. During the review session, they present each question, allow students to answer, and then reveal the correct answer along with an explanation of each of the choices. They also use the review session as an opportunity to present a test-taking strategy or to explain material that students don’t appear to understand. The review sessions are offered twice before each test. Although attendance is optional, about 50% of the class attends a review session before each test.

The worksheets.
Tutors prepare worksheets to help students test their knowledge of course material. Their goal is to develop a worksheet of each of the following types for each chapter: fill in the blank, true/false, matching, short answer, multiple-choice, and crossword. Worksheets are made available through Blackboard a few days before each exam. The answers and explanations of the answers, also prepared by the tutors and edited in group meetings, are made available the night before the exam. Approximately 80% of the students in the class report completing at least one worksheet for each test, and many students complete all of the worksheets.

Plans for the future. Based on suggestions from students and peer tutors, additional tutoring activities are planned for future semesters. Tutors will begin to hold open office hours each week, so students can drop in to get clarification of specific material or to obtain any other assistance. Students who are reluctant to ask for an individual tutor may be willing to stop by to ask a few questions, with no commitment to regular meetings with a tutor. Selected tutors are planning to develop presentations on material that the instructor does not have time to present in class. These presentations will be given outside of the normal class time, and attendance will be optional. Students have also suggested that they would enjoy different formats for review sessions, such as games or a competition format, and tutors are currently engaged in preparing those materials.

How Can My Psi Chi Chapter Start a Peer Tutoring Program?
If you would like to start a peer tutoring program similar to this one at your school, I suggest that you start by identifying one course for which your members will provide peer tutoring services. You will need the cooperation of at least one faculty member for that course who would like to provide additional resources to his or her students. You will probably need to spend an initial semester working with that faculty member to plan the program and the activities. In addition to the activities included in the JMU program, there are other tutoring activities that could be included, such as leading small group discussions of the course material. At the end of the planning semester, the faculty member should invite exceptional students from previous classes to be peer tutors the following semester, and should identify one student to be the group coordinator. Depending upon the number of students in the class to be tutored, and the number of tutoring activities planned, six to ten tutors should be selected for each class. Your Psi Chi chapter can initiate, plan, and coordinate the project, and ideally will provide the peer tutoring coordinator and the peer tutors. However, depending on the size of your chapter and the interests and academic backgrounds of your members, you may not have sufficient members to fully staff a peer tutoring program. In that case, you may wish to choose some tutors from academically qualified students who are not currently Psi Chi members. This will increase the pool of potential tutors for a particular course, and will also allow exceptional psychology majors to become familiar with all of the potential benefits of Psi Chi membership.

Implementing a peer tutoring program is time-consuming for the faculty member and the tutors. In the JMU model, it requires students to make a two-hour commitment to the weekly meetings, as well as additional time to prepare and conduct review sessions, prepare worksheets and other instructional materials, and meet with individual students. It can take several semesters to develop a complete selection of instructional materials and activities for a single course. But, it can be a great resource for the department, the faculty member, the tutors, and the students who take advantage of the program.

Annis, L. F. (1983). The processes and effects of peer tutoring. Human Learning, 2, 39-47.

Barron, K., Benedict, J., Saville, B., Serdikoff, S., & Zinn, T. (2007). Innovative approaches to teaching statistics and research methods: Just-in-time teaching, interteaching, and learning communities. In D. S. Dunn, R. A. Smith, & B. C. Beins (Eds.), Best practices for teaching statistics and research methods in the behavioral sciences (pp. 143-158). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Brandwein, A. C. & DiVittis, A. (1985). The evaluation of a peer tutoring program: A quantitative approach. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 45, 15-27.

Carlson, J. G. & Minke, K. A. (1974). The effects of student tutors on learning by unit mastery instructional methods. The Psychological Record, 24, 533-543.

Carsrud, A. L. (1979). Undergraduate tutors: Are they useful? Teaching of Psychology, 6, 46-49.

Johansen, M. L., Martenson, D. F., & Bircher, J. (1992). Students as tutors in problem-based learning: Does it work? Medical Education, 26, 163-165.

Lidren, D. M., Meier, S. E., & Brigham, T. A. (1991). The effects of minimal and maximal peer tutoring systems on the academic performance of college students. The Psychological Record, 41, 69-77.

Mann, A. F. (1994). College peer tutoring journals: Maps of development. Journal of College Student Development, 35, 164-169. Saville, B., Zinn, T., & Elliott, M. (2005). Interteaching versus traditional methods of instruction: A preliminary analysis. Teaching of Psychology, 32, 161-163.

JoAnne Brewster received her PhD in psychology in 1978 from McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She completed clinical psychology internships at North Charles General Hospital in Baltimore, MD, and at Crownsville Hospital Center in Crownsville, MD. She has worked in community mental health centers in Michigan and Virginia, working with children and families. Before returning to academia full-time in 1992, she was in private practice in Staunton, VA.

Currently, she is a full professor in the Department of Graduate Psychology at James Madison University, primarily teaching abnormal, forensic, and police psychology. Her main research interests are the selection of police officers and police-community relationships. She has served as president of the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology and has been secretary of that organization for several years. She is also a member of the APA, the Virginia Psychological Association, and the Psychological Services Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Dr. Brewster’s professional presentations and publications focus primarily on police selection and the police personality. She is also interested in the use of technology in teaching and the use of peer tutors to enhance student performance. When she is not working, Dr. Brewster enjoys traveling with her husband, all forms of dancing, studying French and Italian, cooking, and crafts.

Copyright 2007 (Volume 12, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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