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Kids Tutor Kids to Big Gains


When Ivy Hall School staff members were searching for a way to provide more individual support to struggling readers, they turned to Stevenson High School's service club, and found a supply of free, effective tutors. Included: Ideas on how to set up a student tutoring program.

All educators recognize the value of one-on-one instruction; they only wish they had more time and resources to do it.

Staff members at one elementary school, Ivy Hall School in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, began brainstorming a few years ago about ways to provide more individual support to primary students -- and found their solution in other students.

The result is a four-year-old afterschool student program in which high school students tutor younger children. The program has helped some elementary school students gain as much as two years in reading ability after only 25 hours of tutoring, and at no cost to the district.

"It's turned out to be very popular," Ivy Hall principal Peter King said. "Now we have kids who never wanted to read who want to read books and share them with their tutors."


The program grew out of a desire by Ivy Hall staff members to do more for first and second graders who were having difficulty with reading.

"We wanted to give struggling students more time and support," King told Education World. "We approached the superintendent of the high school district, who lined us up with the community service program at Adlai E. Stevenson High School."

Ann Christiansen, the literacy coordinator at the high school, takes applications from students who are interested in tutoring. Students have to explain on the application why they want to be tutors. "Often they are students who have worked at day camps or are interested in teaching," Christiansen told Education World. The high school students undergo some training and then are assigned to students.

"It was a program I wanted to have because as the reading coordinator, I interact with the sending schools," Christiansen continued. "I thought it was a good idea; I'd been to several conferences and seen examples of tutoring programs."

Grant money covers the cost of paying teachers who supervise the program.

Tutors meet for an hour a week after school with their students. The two students read together, sometimes play reading games, and occasionally review writing. This year there are 12 tutors.

"A lot of kids don't want to leave when the hour is up," he said. "They get close; they bring their tutors gifts during the holidays."

Christiansen agreed. "They make really good friends; they get very close over the course of a year," she said.


Classroom teachers report seeing not only improvement in the tutored students' reading, but also in their work in other subjects and attitude toward school as well.

"Kids in the program feel special, and they began taking school more seriously," King said. "It re-enforces what we do in the classroom."

Staff members are trying to quantify the impact of the tutoring on students. Just by reviewing reading test scores, they have found that students have gained as much as two years in reading ability between the fall and spring, after working with a tutor over the course of a year.

First grade reading scores went up by 1.9 years, second grade by 1.2 years, and third grade by 1.8 years, according to King.

The success of the tutoring was part of the reason King now requires teachers to hold individual reading conferences with each child, so teachers can take a close interest in what each child is reading. "They try to work one on one with each student for five or ten minutes over a two-week period," King said. "They sit down with a child, talk about a book, and see how well the child can read it."


Children are recommended for tutoring by their teachers, but with the program's success, parents began calling the school to ask if their kids could participate, according to King, so the school is looking at students' test scores as well in deciding who is tutored.

Ivy Hall certainly could use more tutors, he added. Last year there were 25 high school tutors, and the program was expanded to include some third through fifth graders, and some math tutoring as well.

"We considered expanding it [so one tutor would work with more than one child], but the real value comes from the one-on-one experience," King said.

The high school students are benefiting from the program as well. Some students said they never thought about teaching as a career until they became tutors, and now are considering it, according to King.

Tutors also get a chance to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses, added Christiansen. "I think the experience of working with children and the experience of helping children learn to read makes them think about their own reading skills and abilities."


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    Article by Ellen R. Delisio
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2010 Education World

    Originally published 10/24/2005
    Last updated 04/29/2010