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.

When a peer tutor has competed the above requirements and has tutored for at least 25 hours, he or she achieves certification in accordance with the College Reading and Language Association (CRLA) guidelines. Berkeley College applied for and received certifying status in 2017. In addition to recognizing and positively reinforcing the tutors’ successful work, this organization sets an internationally accepted standard of skills and training for tutors.

Best practices for starting a peer-tutoring program

Supplemental training
Staff observe peer tutors twice each semester to ensure that they continue to follow best practices. A formal observation takes place after the second evaluation, in which the peer tutor and the director discuss the tutor’s progress and areas for possible improvement.

Peer tutors and staff from the CAS of all seven campuses meet once a semester to discuss best practices, share challenges and triumphs, learn tutoring tips, and participate in team-building workshops. The content of the workshops changes each semester, depending on the area of concern raised by the peer tutors. Past topics have included How to Open and Close a Session, Writing Effective Session Notes, and Dealing with Challenging Students.

Advice for starting your own peer-tutoring program
Here are some tips for starting your own program:

  • Consider the academic institution’s goals.
  • Assess and evaluate your resources.
  • Identify the needs of your student population.
  • Include input from faculty and staff.
  • Create a plan to recruit, train, and deploy qualified peer tutors.
  • Include the institution’s plans to communicate the services available to students, faculty, and staff.
  • Build into the plan the ways you will re-evaluate and measure progress.

At Berkeley College, peer-tutor training provides a standard to ensure consistency in the quality and program outcomes. Our peer tutors model academic success and resourcefulness. They understand the diverse student populations they are tutoring and what their fellow students are experiencing, which we believe encourages students who need assistance to seek the services that improve their academic achievements and help them overcome the challenges they face to complete their courses. Our peer tutors are service-oriented. In addition to achieving excellent grades, they demonstrate professionalism, have good people skills, and want to help others.

About the Author:

Patianne Stabile, DA, is director of the Center for Academic Success at Berkeley College in Midtown Manhattan.

Add your opinion to the discussion.