Best practices for starting a peer-tutoring program

From training to recruitment, here are some tips for having a successful peer-tutoring program

The Berkeley College Center for Academic Success (CAS) opened in 2006, with peer tutors employed to provide positive role models for students. Since then, the program has expanded, and faculty report that students using the CAS show improvements of between 20 and 25 points in their assignments.

Central to the CAS mission is the idea that a peer tutor’s role is unique. Peer tutors reflect the student population they serve, and that helps to create a welcoming, empathetic space that encourages Berkeley’s students to seek the academic help they need.

When CAS evaluated its peer tutor program in 2016, in collaboration with faculty and staff, three initiatives emerged:

  1. Establish a certification program for peer tutors to achieve consistency.
  2. Hire additional writing peer tutors to meet demand.
  3. Enhance math instruction.

Peer-tutor recruitment
CAS directors typically identify peer tutors through faculty recommendations, particularly in subjects that are most in demand, including accounting, math, finance, and business writing. Peer tutors serve as mentors as well as tutors because of their familiarity with the methods used by particular faculty members in those courses.

Specifically, at Berkeley College:

  • Peer tutors are current students who have earned an A or B+ in the subject they are tutoring.
  • Any student applying to be a peer tutor must have a GPA of 3.25 or better.

If a student meets these qualifications, we schedule a formal interview for the director to assess if the prospective tutor has both the professional and people skills required for the program. We look for people who have a friendly, professional, and empathetic demeanor—people who know it is not just about achieving excellent grades. The peer tutors provide resources, encouragement, and direction to help the students they assist to be independent learners.

Our training program
Once a tutor is hired, there’s a three-step training process:

  1. CAS purchased a subscription to Tutor Lingo®, an online training program for peer tutors that includes eight short videos and exercises on such topics as The Role of the Tutor and Tutoring Students from Diverse Backgrounds. Peer tutors must complete the series during the first semester of work.
  2. All new peer tutors are required to follow an experienced tutor during their first week. By observing these tutoring sessions, new tutors get an idea of best practices and methods. A follow-up discussion of what the peer tutor observed, and what worked or did not work in the session, takes place after the observation.
  3. The peer tutor participates in a discussion of the difference between teaching, which is explaining a concept or problem to the student, and tutoring, or guiding the student to understand the material and answering the question on his/her own.

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