Mix and Match: The Effects of Cross-Age Tutoring on Literacy

By Marious, Sidney E. JR. | Reading Improvement, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Mix and Match: The Effects of Cross-Age Tutoring on Literacy


Marious, Sidney E. JR., Reading Improvement


This research-based article confirms the author's beliefs that cross-age tutoring programs are, indeed, very successful programs. In the area of literacy, the tutee, in a cross-age tutoring program, makes substantial gains in sight vocabulary, reading accuracy, self-corrections, comprehension, and reading age. The tutor, in a cross-age tutoring program, also makes the same gains and develops strategies for effective reading. The author identifies three major components in successful cross-age tutoring programs: (1) planning the tutoring program; (2) training for the tutors in interpersonal skills, management skills, and content skills; and (3) tutoring techniques needed to yield specific outcomes.

In almost every classroom in the United States, there are students with varying levels of reading achievement. Some are above grade level, some at, and some below. This poses problems for teachers. How can teachers provide additional instruction and support to those lower level students without sacrificing the progress made by upper level students? The issue of cost is an important one. How can support be provided without hiring an additional reading teacher or tutor? Safety is also a concern. Neighborhoods are sometimes unsafe places to live. Therefore, parents and teachers are concerned that it is unsafe for students to walk to school too early in the morning, or too late in the afternoon, for tutoring sessions. With these concerns in mind, this researcher attempted to find out how to make the best use of the time that teachers have with students during the school day.

The author found several research studies on cross-age tutoring. These studies noted that upper-grade students, both low readers and high-achieving readers, could be used as tutors to work with young students in schools. This method is safe. It is free. Research shows that it is highly beneficial to both the tutor and the tutee (Taylor, Hanson, Justice-Swanson, and Watts, 1997). Older students are in a position to provide a service to their school while they enhance their literary development. Also, lower-level readers benefit from this without sacrificing the progress of the higher-level readers.

The purpose of this article is to describe the benefits of cross-age tutoring for both tutees and tutors, as well as to outline some of the components used in successful cross-age tutoring programs.

Benefits for the Tutee

Depending on the goal of the program, cross-age tutoring produces gains in several areas of literacy. Barbetta, Miller, Peters, Heron, and Cochran (199 1) conducted a study to measure the effects of cross-age tutoring on sight vocabulary. It was a six-week study using six elementary students. These students were identified as having difficulty with word recognition. High school students tutored them, 30-45 minutes a day, for four days a week.

The results showed an increase in sight word mastery, and a considerably high percent of the gains being maintained. As a group, they mastered 60.7 words and 95% were maintained.

Limbeck, McNaughton, and Glynn (1985) conducted a study that yielded gains in several areas of literacy: percent of words read accurately, percent of errors that were self-corrected, percent of comprehension questions answered correctly, and growth in levels of reading age. The tutees were approximately eighteen months below their reading levels. A control group did not participate in any tutoring services.

In the study, the tutee selected a reading book slightly above his or her current reading level. The tutor introduced the book, and then read the book with the tutee. The tutee indicated when he or she wanted to read the book, independently, to the tutor. When the tutee made a mistake, the tutor would model the word correctly and also provide positive comments when the tutee self-corrected and successfully attempted difficult words. The tutor and tutee would then discuss the story. …

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