A Case Study on Teacher and Tutor Perceptions of the Influence of Peer Tutoring in the Newcomer English Learner Mathematics Classroom



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Background: Research studies have shown that Latino immigrants entering secondary U.S. classrooms have lower academic achievement, higher rates of absenteeism, and reported higher levels of stress in their communities, peer groups, and families in comparison with other high school students (Fry & Passel, 2009; Lopez, 2009; Patel et al., 2016; Roosa et al., 2012). Considering these circumstances, it is critical for schools to intervene on behalf of this growing student population in need of academic support systems. In order to do this, schools could consider developing prevention and intervention strategies that foster positive relationships and integrate peer groups to promote students’ mutual peer respect and academic engagement. Secondary Algebra I and Geometry classrooms for newcomer English learners provide an ideal setting for an intervention program such as peer tutoring to be a powerful support for this student demographic’s academic success. Peer tutoring provides multiple opportunities for newcomers to enhance their academic skills while working alongside a more knowledgeable peer (Vygotsky, 1978, 1987) in a low-anxiety environment (Krashen, 1981, 1982). Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore the academic and affective influences of peer tutoring on 9th and 10th grade newcomer English learners in an Algebra I and a Geometry classroom in a typical urban high school located in the nation’s fourth largest city. Research Question: How might peer tutoring influence the academic achievement and affective stance of 9th and 10th grade newcomer English learners in a mathematics classroom? Methods: Participating tutors and teachers volunteered for inclusion in the peer tutoring program. Tutors were selected based on their demonstrated competence on a state Algebra I assessment as well as their expressed interest to tutor. Tutors were simultaneously scheduled in the mathematics classrooms that they supported providing support from three to four and a half hours per week. This qualitative study adopted a case study design. The qualitative approach was appropriate for this study because the data collected and analyzed was in text format. Qualitative data points included written feedback from the study’s three peer tutors, three participating classroom teachers, and one mathematics instructional specialist who also worked closely with the peer tutoring program, teachers, and identified classrooms. Participating tutors were asked to write open-ended reflections about their experiences in their assigned classrooms at the end of each of the three semesters. Data also included the researcher’s classroom observations and journal notes. Feedback from the teachers and specialist was collected during and after the peer tutoring intervention. Qualitative data were holistically coded (LeTendre & Lipka, 2000) which included chunking all written text and analyzing for emerging themes. Findings were debriefed with participants and critical friends to check for accuracy and researcher bias. Results: Feedback from participating tutors and teachers related to the peer tutoring program was positive. Overall, the three peer tutors had positive experiences in their respective classrooms. Peer tutors felt that they learned as much or more from their tutees as the tutees learned from the tutors. Being current and former English learners and immigrants themselves, the two male tutors identified with the current circumstances of their tutees expressing empathy and support for their peers. The female tutor’s experience varied in that her assigned classroom was larger and she occasionally experienced some behavioral issues with some tutees. The participating teachers unanimously agreed that peer tutoring positively affected student performance and attitudes toward content based on classroom assessments and teacher observation. Teachers indicated that having tutors who shared a common native language with their tutees and had a sincere willingness for working with diverse students was significant to the program’s overall success. Conclusion: Schools looking to replicate a similar peer tutoring program would do well to actively recruit a variety of students who have the affective willingness and academic capacity to support students who are challenged with mastering mathematics content in a new language. Thus, for the newcomer classroom especially, we would recommend tutors who speak the native language of the tutees with whom they will work. Finally, the initial and ongoing training and monitoring of selected peer tutors is critical to achieve desired results.



Newcomers, English learners, Mathematics, Peer tutoring, Affective influence, Academic achievement, Teacher perceptions, Tutor perceptions, Cultural bridging, Immigrants, Stressors