The need for students to receive tutoring to succeed in institutions of higher learning was evident in America when Harvard opened its doors in 1636 as America’s first college. Because many of its incoming students were not yet proficient in Latin, Harvard provided tutors to help these students acquire the proficiency needed to succeed (Van, 1992). “Underpreparedness” for college in other academic areas is also not a new phenomenon in higher education in America. In 1907, over half of the beginning students at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia failed to meet entrance requirements (Maxwell, 1979). Since the 1960s, as increasing numbers of non-traditional and underprepared students entered colleges and universities, the need to provide tutoring and other support services for students has continued.

Most American colleges and universities today offer some form of peer tutoring to some of their adult students through student services, special services, individual departments, or learning assistance programs. Today, adult peer tutoring is generally recognized as a service, which provides more than equalizing the opportunity for success among specific disadvantaged populations. It is also recognized as a service for providing support to all students to help them increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their efforts in studying and meeting their educational goals (Maxwell, 1990a).

Roueche (1983), in her national study on elements of success in institutions of higher education, stated that one of the components of the success of basic skill development programs for colleges and universities was the use of peer tutors. For this investigation, peer tutors are defined as adult tutors who are generally close in class standing to the students with whom they work. Furthermore, in Maxwell’s (1990a) review of the literature on tutoring, she identified several studies that supported the use of adult peer tutors for college students. In those studies, students responded more positively to tutors who were closer in class standing (not necessarily in age) than to professional tutors who were farther removed from the class standing of the college student (e.g., freshman). Maxwell also identified training for peer tutors as an essential element for successful tutoring programs in colleges and universities. In 1992, the National Center for Developmental Education at Appalachian State University completed a follow-up study of over 6000 students enrolled in basic skill development classes nationwide. The study cited that “tutor training is the best programmatic predictorof successful college developmental education [basic skill development] programs” (Maxwell, 1993).

A set of national Standards and Guidelines for Learning Assistance Programs was developed over a six year period as part of the national Council for the Advancement of Standards’ (CAS) Guidelines for Student Services/Development Programs. These guidelines, published in 1986, recommended that paraprofessional staff (tutors) should be “trained with respect to helping skills and institutional services and procedures.” (Materniak & Williams, 1987).

Statement of the Problem

Many colleges and universities hire adult peer tutors; however, only a few programs provide them with formal training for tutoring (Mohr, 1991). Tutors are usually hired because they have been successful students. A criterion most programs use in tutor selection is a grade of “A” or “B” in the course they will be tutoring and/or a faculty recommendation (Maxwell, 1990a). Thus it is often assumed that the tutors can convey their strategies for success to the students they tutor and will gain tutoring techniques with experience. Unfortunately, being successful in their coursework does not necessarily mean they will be successful tutors without training. For example, some tutors, though successful as students, do not utilize efficient study strategies themselves and may need training before they can help the students they tutor become more efficient, effective, and independent as learners (Rings & Sheets, 1991). Other tutors have developed their strategies and metacognitive abilities to the extent that they may be operating on “automatic pilot,” that is, at a sub-conscious level, thus being unaware of the strategies they use to be successful. Therefore, these tutors are unaware of the strategies they employ and will need training to be able to consciously assist students in choosing strategies they may need to learn new material (A. L. Brown, 1980; Rings & Sheets, 1991). A third set of tutors may know the strategies they employ in learning new information, may be both effective and efficient learners, and may still not possess the repertoire of strategies needed to help students select the strategies appropriate for their learning needs (Rings & Sheets, 1991).

For the college programs who choose to provide training for their adult peer tutors, little research exists which identifies what topics should be included, which format of presentation is best (orientation session, staff meeting, course, seminar, etc.), or what kind of teaching method is best for tutor training (lecture, discussion, role play, etc.). An International Tutoring Certification Training Program was created by the national College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA, formerly WCRLA) in 1989. Its role was to certify post-secondary peer tutor training programs based on their adherence to specific guidelines (Maxwell, 1993). These guidelines (see Appendix A) provide flexibility so that program directors can select appropriate alternatives to meet the general guidelines. Training programs applying for certification must include at least 8 of the 15 topics in their training to meet the certification requirements (one choice is “other”).Thus, the possibility exists that two certified programs could select totally different topics to include within their tutor training programs.

Although the International Tutor Certification Program provides a variety of choices from which program directors can meet the needs of their individual programs, such a variety of alternatives means that there may be little, if any, uniformity among the programs they certify. This diversity confounds research design and thus makes research of tutor training among campuses and programs more difficult.

Maxwell (1990a) found that most of the related literature on adult peer tutoring and tutor training for post-secondary institutions was merely descriptive in nature. Case studies or student evaluations of the tutor or tutoring program were used to measure effects or describe methods or components of tutoring or training programs. The problem is that little empirical research exists which measures the effects of training on adult peer tutors, and none exists which investigates the effects of experience on adult peer tutors in post-secondary institutions. The question posed then is: Do tutors’ responses to tutoring situations change as a result of training or experience?

Purpose of the Study

The literature indicates that receiving tutoring by adult peer tutors makes a positive difference for students in their achievement, self-esteem, and motivation for continuing their education (B. E. Brown, 1981; Irwin, 1980; Maxwell, 1990a). The literature also posits that training for tutors is a critical component of successful tutoring programs (MacDonald, 1993; Materniak & Williams, 1987; Maxwell 1993). Only a few studies have investigated effects of training on the adult peer tutors. None of these studies has investigated the effects of tutoring experience, nor of other independent variables which might impact study results.

Importance of the Study

Though tutoring has been cited as a critical component of successful basic skill development programs at colleges or universities, and training for adult peer tutors has been cited as critical for successful tutoring programs, many programs have no formal training for their tutors (Mohr, 1991; Maxwell, 1990a; Zaritsky, 1989). Some program directors may believe that tutors will gain tutoring expertise through experience alone. Investigators have identified a need for more research in training adult peer tutors.

Training and experience will be discussed as two major independent variables to be investigated for improved tutor competence. What other factors should be examined for possible effects of improved tutor competence? Other factors will be researched in the literature review in Chapter II and will be selected and discussed in Chapter III.

A concern warranting investigation in this study was raised when a researcher-created multiple choice instrument was proposed. The concern was whether tutors’ abilities to recognize and select the appropriate response might be different from their abilities to create an appropriate response.

Research Questions

  1. Does tutor training affect a tutor’s ability to identify an appropriate course of action with a student?
  2. Does tutoring experience affect a tutor’s ability to identify an appropriate course of action with a student?
  3. What other factors contribute to a tutor’s ability to identify an appropriate course of action with a student?
  4. What are the relationships between the tutors’ abilities to identify an appropriate course of action and their abilities to construct an appropriate course of action?

Definitions of Terms

Appropriate course of action
-the response choice which most closely matches the choices identified by field experts as the “most appropriate” on both researcher-created instruments described below (TSORA and TSFRA).
Learning Assistance Center
-the center providing tutorial services; a variety of other names are also used for the center providing tutorial services; these include Learning Center, Learning Enhancement Center, Math Lab, Writing Center, Information Commons. For the purposes of this paper, the center providing tutoring will be called the Learning Assistance Center.
Learning Assistance Center Directors
-the formal tutor supervisory position. Some colleges participating in the study use other titles for the tutor supervisory position (i.e., lead teacher, office supervisor, technician, or coordinator). In this study, the tutor supervisory positions will also be referred to as directors or program directors.
-a formal session or set of sessions in which tutors are presented with information on techniques, strategies, or resources to use when tutoring students. It does not include any session or part of a session in which information on operational orientations is provided, i.e., information dealing with procedures, deadlines, or paperwork. In this study, training is used synonymously with tutor training.
Tutoring experience
-the number of hours a tutor has actually tutored students.
Tutor Situational Free Response Assessment (TSFRA)
– the researcher-created instrument used to assess tutors’ created responses to presented tutoring situations (see Appendix C)
Tutor Situational Objective Response Assessment (TSORA, pronounced soar-a; the t is silent)
– the researcher-created and expert-ranked instrument used to score tutors’ chosen responses to presented tutoring situations (see Appendix D).
-adult peer tutors who are hired because of content knowledge and success in the subject area, either through superior coursework or work experience. Though they may have some background or interest in teaching or in education, this background or interest is not a hiring criterion. Often adult peer tutors are currently students themselves and may have recently completed the course(s) they have been hired to tutor. For the purpose of this study, peer tutors, study participants, and tutors will be used as synonymous terms for adult peer tutors.

Organization of the Manuscript

Chapter I contains the introduction of the topic of the dissertation, including background, a statement of the problem, the purpose of the study, the importance of the study, research questions, definitions of terms, and the organization of the manuscript.

Chapter II is a synthesis of the literature reviewed, beginning with a brief history of tutoring. Constructivism and metacognition provide the theoretical foundation which establishes the need for training adult peer tutors. The chapter concludes with a review of research on tutor training.

In Chapter III, the hypotheses and the methodologies are presented which were used to design the study, to create the instrument, and to collect the data.

Chapter IV consists of the presentation of descriptive data of the sample, the statistical analysis of the hypotheses, and an exploration of the relationship between identifying and constructing appropriate courses of action.

Chapter V summarizes the study, states conclusions, and discusses recommendations.


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