Getting Students to Speak. On Methodological and Analytical Points in Peer Tutoring

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Children’s voices are important, and they have the right to be heard (Petersen & Kornerup, 2021). For example, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states that children have the right to express themselves and be heard in matters that affect their lives (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1990, Article 12). At the same time, research shows that students would like to have the opportunity to talk about teaching and learning, and that they have important insights to contribute to the development of the learning environment in school (Rudduck, 2007). This applies, for example, to how students can be involved and participate more/better (Ulvseth, 2019).

This presentation analyzes how students experience working together in pairs. Furthermore, it discusses methodological considerations in relation to getting students to talk in interviews about learning in pairs. Thus, a 3-year research project named “SYKL” (which is an acronym for Systematized Reciprocal Peer Tutoring) is presented, in which 25 teachers and supervisors have been trained to teach mathematics and science in 4. grade in a new way, after which they had to test the intervention for 13 weeks.

The way of organizing the reciprocal peer tutoring based on subject didactics is new. To fulfill the role as a tutor the student is given prompt cards and hints for the specific task prepared by the teacher. In science and mathematics didactics, there has been a focus on inquiry-based teaching for years, while the dialogic interaction in relation to the inquiry-based teaching has been more neglected (Lehesvuori et al., 2018). Teachers use groupwork on a regular basis. While doing so teachers rarely employ explicit systematic peer tutoring strategies aligned with the academic topics. Even though teachers put an effort into matching students that will work together productively, they often neglect to provide systematic guidance as to how the students should cooperate (EVA, 2021).

Only few studies examine the benefits of peer tutoring from both an academic and social perspective. A systematic review (Tiftikci, 2021) confirms that most studies are carried out with either the aim of measuring the academic benefit or the significance for the students' social relations. In the SYKL project, the ambition was to support social relations through the academic work, and therefore we have investigated both the academic and social benefits and possible connections.

The presentation addresses two research questions:

How do students experience to participate in reciprocal peer tutoring (SYKL)?
What methodological barriers and potentials can be identified when students are to talk about their experience of participating in reciprocal peer tutoring (SYKL)?
The starting point is based on theory of communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 2003) and inclusive forms of practice (Booth, 2011; Harris, Carrington, and Ainscow 2017) as well as research on peer tutoring (Thurston et. al, 2020). SYKL builds on a sociocultural and dialogic foundation (Bakhtin, 1981) and focuses on the inquiry-based aspects of mathematics and science. According to Alexander (2020), dialogic teaching must be practiced in a way that is adapted to the specific subject, as there may be variations in the way of asking questions, arguing, and applying subject concepts in, for example, mathematics and science.

With a term inspired from mathematics didactics, it can be said that SYKL tries to clarify the socio-academic norms (Schmidt, 2015), which means the expectations that exist in the academic community. These can be norms such as explaining and justifying proposed solutions for tasks as well as listening actively (Makar & Fielding-Wells, 2019).

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
The research project reported investigated a 13-week intervention with SYKL (reciprocal peer tutoring). It involved 25 Danish primary school teachers, 15 intervention classes and 10 control classes, a total of approx. 570 students from grade 4. The total empirical data consists of pre- and post-tests, pre- and post-questionnaires, teacher, and student interviews as well as video observations of 90 lessons. This paper will especially highlight results from observations and video elicited interviews with 29 students.
The interviews focused on the following themes: The students' perspectives on
1. what engages them and increases their participation in SYKL
2. the significance of social interaction in SYKL
3. what is needed for SYKL to be successful
Interviewing children is a completely different linguistic act than interviewing adults. Children can, for example, answer contradictory to deepening questions based on the assumption that when the adult asks one more time, the previous answer must be unsatisfactory, which is why an answer with a different content is produced (Porter, 2014). Gibson (2012) describes that children often give short answers that they think are the right answers, as this is the dominant form of communication that the school invites between children and adults. It is particularly urgent to make ethical considerations when using children as informants due to the unequal power relation between adult and child. To support the students' opportunity to talk, we used what is called "creative interviewing" (Patton, 2002). This means that we included various aids such as materials from the lessons and video of the SYKL lessons. We chose to use video as the starting point for the conversation to awaken their memory, but also to have something concrete to talk about and reflect on (Epstein, et al., 2006; Braak, et al. 2018). Also, having a common object (i.e., a visual item) as the subject of the conversation, can help to maintain interest and concentration, while at the same time reducing the possibility of misunderstanding the informant (Harper, 2002).
Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings
Inclusive education is about empowering the students’ ability to realise their right to participate. Reciprocal peer tutoring is one way of helping students to learn in a safe and supportive environment. But in general, there is limited knowledge about reciprocal peer tutoring in the European educational research field. In particular, the student perspective is not well researched. If we want to support inclusive education and thus to get students to participate more, our results seem to point to the conclusion that it is important to teach students how to help each other. Only few studies investigate a combination of academic and social outcomes in relation to structured reciprocal peer tutoring. From this view, this study contributes to the research field of dialogical classrooms.
In connection to research question 1 we present analyzes of student dialogues, in which the following questions are discussed: What is important in a student perspective, when acting as a tutor? What contributes to create a safe and engaging learning environment? How do social and academic aspects play together in the student conversations?
A contribution of knowledge is given in terms of how to interview students based on video elicitation. The study indicates that it is constructive to use video elicitation when doing interviews with children, as it helps children to remember, leads to new perspectives, helps to build trust, and helps researcher and child to get on the same wavelength.
Related to research question 2 we present some examples of the relation between researcher and child in the interview situation and examines the questions: What seems to be important in creating a trusting relationship between researcher and child? What role does video elicitation play in this regard? How can the video-elicited interview provide access to the students' world of experience and what barriers might arise?

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Original languageEnglish
Publication date2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventECER 2023 - University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 22 Aug 202325 Aug 2023


ConferenceECER 2023
LocationUniversity of Glasgow
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • learning, educational science and teaching
  • schools, courses and institutions

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