Tutoring roundtables
A Proven Strategy for Collaborative Learning

Lorraine Sherry
The STAR Center
May 5, 1997


The research literature on tutoring shows that there are clear benefits for both the tutor and the student being tutored. Tutoring roundtables are one way to organize this activity that has been used successfully in Florida and other sites. Tutoring takes place in a learning center which is a nonthreatening environment rich with media resources, computers capable of printing reports, banks of previous copies of statewide and other standardized tests, textbooks currently or previously used within the school, and reference materials organized by content area and furnished by teachers within the school. The learning center is open from 8 AM until 8 PM. Thus, it is accessible to students during their free periods and after school as well as to participating parents after work.

The learning center is staffed by a media specialist and two paraprofessionals. The media specialist is responsible for the smooth functioning of the computers and equipment, for checking in and organizing media resources, for creating student accounts, and for printing reports for students. A paraprofessional oversees tutoring roundtable section of the learning center, checks out copies of tests to students who present an authorization slip from their teacher, and keeps student tutors on task.

Another paraprofessional logs students in and out of the learning center using either an electronic database or a paper-based log book. This assures that anyone present in the learning center at any given time has a specific task to accomplish. Periodic reports generated from the logs records the number of hours clocked by each student, content area studied, whether students were tutored or studying on their own, and the types of resources used. Several educators from various content areas throughout the school are given release time or other incentives to serve as teacher-tutors. At least one teacher-tutor is present at the learning roundtables at any time.

Selection of tutees

Students or parents can avail themselves of tutoring at any time, on a volunteer basis, and at no cost. They may make arrangements with the learning roundtable paraprofessional if they wish to be tutored by the teacher-tutor, or they may sit at any table and tell a student tutor that they wish to be tutored in a specific topic, either alone or with one or two other classmates. Sometimes, parents and children are tutored together after school. This has been found to be an effective way to of stimulating parent involvement in their children's schooling as well as preparing parents for the GED or improving their workplace literacy skills.

Teachers may also assign students to the tutoring roundtables for a specific number of hours per week to study specific topic areas. Assigned students will bring a slip from their teacher to the paraprofessional in charge of the tutoring roundtables indicating which topics need to be addressed, which homework assignments need to be made up, or which form of the state assessment the student should use for timed practice. Students return the slip signed by the paraprofessional at the front desk who uses information from the logs to verify that they have spent the specified amount of hours receiving tutoring. Similar information will be provided by the teacher for students who are assigned to the computer system. Printed reports will be furnished to the assigning teacher once the student has completed the required task.

Selection of tutors

Besides the teacher-tutor, there are usually three or more student tutors present at the learning roundtables at any given time. They may serve as tutors during their free periods, during lunch time, or after school. Student tutors are recommended by their teachers on the basis of their exemplary work in class and are paid an hourly stipend to be decided by the school administration. This small expenditure on the part of the school has been effective in keeping student participation high since the stipend is usually slightly more than the student could earn working at a franchise restaurant after school.

Student tutors are responsible for one of three broad content areas in which they have demonstrated competence both by recommendation of their teacher and by their past achievement on standardized tests: mediacy (computer skills such as keyboarding, word processing, spreadsheets, or searching for information); functional literacy (reading and writing skills including a good command of vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and composition); and numeracy (science and mathematics).

Typical activities

When students log in at the front desk, they specify both the topic and the type of task in which they will engage. If they are assigned to practice a standardized test, the paraprofessional at the learning roundtables will provide a copy of the test and the scoring sheet and will time the student as he or she completes it. The scoring sheet and the answer sheet will be placed in a sealed envelope and returned to the assigning teacher by the student.

If they want to be tutored, students can specify whether they want the teacher-tutor or their peers. They then sit at any roundtable of their choice, either alone or with classmates, and wait until the next tutor with competence in their topic area is free. They may also study quietly at a roundtable without being tutored, or they can work on any of the computers on their own.

When a peer tutor becomes available, he/she asks the tutees whether they have been given specific assignments to work on, or whether they simply have questions about their school work that they would like to discuss with the tutor, alone or with classmates. Tutors will use the same textbooks and workbooks that the students use in class, but may enrich the tutoring session with other materials from the reference shelf that have been successfully used in the past. Tutors will use the same problem-solving strategies as the classroom teachers while enhancing these strategies with insights of their own. The use of grids and diagrams for word problems in mathematics and the use of sentence diagrams for grammar have proven particularly helpful. Students sometimes bring in tests that they have failed, and the tutors will guide them as they work through missed problems so they will understand how to work them out properly on the midterm or final exam.

The test bank contains several forms of the statewide achievement tests accumulated over several years so that students may practice on equivalent forms of the test before taking the required one at the end of the term. Tutors can then help students with sections of the test in which their teacher has indicated that they need improvement.


Often, students tell others about the program and may themselves return to the learning center after having successfully passed the test. These word-of-mouth recommendations are useful in targeting exemplary student tutors for their distinguished work. Parents also report that they are pleased to see improvement in their children's work and sometimes like to sit in on a tutoring session to find out what their children are learning.

Many students prefer to be tutored by their own peers because these classmates are in the same situation, faced with the same exams, and are using the same strategies. The empathy between peer tutors and tutees has proven successful in building up an atmosphere of trust and in alleviating students' fears. Plus, when two or three students work together at a roundtable, problems can be addressed from multiple perspectives, and tacit misunderstandings are easier to identify. The tutors' grades go up as well as a result of the extra practice they receive working through problems with their tutees. Tutoring rounds out the expertise of the peer tutors, and they generally perform well in final examinations, future semesters, and on the state assessments.