Research on Effective Tutoring Techniques

Late last month, U.S. Secretary of Education Cardona set out his Vision for Education in America. He discussed the importance of keeping schools open and strategies for helping students catch up and succeed, including targeted, intensive (high-dose) tutoring.

Much attention and many resources have been focused on providing tutoring to help close students’ learning gaps. What are the ingredients of a successful tutoring program? Several studies provide guidance: 

tutoring session

Daily or almost daily tutoring is one of the most effective interventions for struggling students. A 2016 study provides strong evidence that frequent tutoring is especially effective at increasing the achievement of low-performing students. Studies have shown tutoring produces big gains in student scores when it occurs daily or almost every day; less frequent tutoring showed lower gains and was not as helpful as other types of interventions. In the studies, successful “high dose” tutoring was delivered by specially trained tutors who adhered to a detailed curriculum and received coaching. The best results occurred when the tutoring took place at school during the school day. The Science of Catching UpThe Hechinger Report, August 25, 2021.

While online tutoring companies claim that online tutoring is effective, an independent, comprehensive study is needed. Two recent studies (2020-21) of online tutoring of low-income, immigrant, middle school students in Italy showed that when students received four hours of online tutoring per week, their scores increased; when online tutoring was provided for only two hours a week, it was more than 50 percent less impactful. A January 2022 study of online tutoring of low-income middle schoolers in Chicago by volunteer, university students showed no gains. While the students were supposed to receive 30 minutes of tutoring twice a week during the school day, they received far less due to technical glitches, poor attendance, difficulty recruiting volunteer tutors, and vacation breaks. While these studies looked at the effectiveness of online tutoring, under which conditions and for which students online tutoring is effective requires further study. Proof points: Uncertain Evidence for Online Tutoring, The Hechinger Report, February 14, 2022.

Programs that rely on volunteer tutors were less effective than programs that use paid, paraprofessionals (teaching assistants).  Research has shown that tutoring does not have to be delivered by teachers to be effective. Research on struggling elementary and secondary readers and on elementary math programs showed that tutoring delivered by paraprofessionals (college educated teaching assistants) was at least as effective as tutoring by teachers in both one-on-one and small group settings. Additionally, volunteer tutors were less effective than paraprofessionals or teachers, even when volunteer tutors were provided with extensive training and supervision and structured materials. New Findings on Tutoring: Four Shockers, Robert Slavin’s Blog, April 5, 2018.

Effective tutoring programs rely on just-in-time review. Effective tutors do not simply reteach the same lessons from the year before. Rather, they provide additional practice on the topics being discussed in their students’ classes that week, or they review pre-requisite topics. Additionally, while studies have shown that teachers do not have to deliver the tutoring for it to be effective, curriculum experts need to create materials to guide the tutors on how to diagnose students’ knowledge gaps and determine what to teach each student. The Science of Catching UpThe Hechinger Report, August 25, 2021.

To that end, our recent blog post suggests three tips for identifying content in your current materials that you can use for tutoring.

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