Inclusion Processes in Peer Tutoring and the Importance of Students’ Tutoring Strategies

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International studies in inclusive education in mathematics point out that students have unequal access to learn and participate (Cin & Cifti 2017; Reinholz & Shah 2018; Rubel 2016; Lambert 2015). In the most dominant form of math education, teachers explain the task and give a few examples, after which the students work individually. Lambert (2015) and Schmidt (2016) argue that the academic norms in mathematics – like remembering rules and working individually without hesitating – favours certain students, while students with a more creative and problem-solving approach are excluded. Lim et al. (2015) state that learning and the sense of belonging is promoted, when the teacher develops classroom norms and establishes a learning environment in which students recognize divergent thinking.

As a contribution to the international studies this paper presents some of the results from a three-year research project in a Danish context. The project investigates how an intervention (SYKL) with reciprocal peer tutoring in mathematics and science in 4th grade affects the students' engagement, participation and learning outcomes. In contrast to most international peer tutoring projects, SYKL focus on both social relations and academic inclusion at the same time.

SYKL is based on a sociocultural perspective in learning (Vygotsky, 2019) and emphasize the importance of inquiry-based learning (Blomhøj, 2021). In SYKL students are specifically taught how to help each other and engage in academic conversations when working in pairs. SYKL is inspired by interventions with peer tutoring, where students take on different roles (Thurston et al., 2007; Thurston et al., 2020). The students are assigned one of two positions, either as tutor or tutee. To fulfill the role of ‘coach’ or ‘helper’, the tutor receives prompt cards with generic questions and academic hints for solving the specific task. During a lesson students switch roles so that both can participate in meaning making and commit to the relation.

The purpose of this paper is to investigate students’ assisting strategies in SYKL and explore how these strategies promote or inhibit inclusion. In the paper inclusion is understood as “maximizing the participation of all children” (Allan, 2008:33), and participation is understood as learning in collaboration with others, while students are involved in the academic field and accepted for who they are (Booth, 2011). To create knowledge about students’ participation we use Wenger’s (2004) terms and ask: To what extent do we see "legitimate peripheral participation" that can potentially lead to full participation, and to what extent do we see "marginalized non-participation" that potentially leads to full exclusion from the student community?

Whether students are included in the student community is related to the different strategies they bring into play. This phenomenon can be explained with the concept of social capital (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1996), which is the aggregate of the resources linked to being part of a group. Bourdieu emphasizes that people tend to acknowledge one another and affirm group membership through rituals, and he refers to these activities as investment strategies. Inspired by Bourdieu, we ask: Which "cards" do the students play to become legitimate participants in SYKL. What counts as trump?

Schmidt (2015) shows that students use different strategies to be included, and that these strategies are both academically and socially grounded at the same time. Thus, there is a close connection between acceptance, participation, and performance. In the presentation this is understood as a socio-academic inclusion, which is a lens we use when analyzing the students’ socio-academic investment strategies.

Thus, the driving research questions are:

What kind of conversational actions characterize the students’ different assisting strategies in SYKL?
How does different assisting strategies affect the socio-academic inclusion?

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
The research project reported investigated a 13-week intervention with SYKL. It involved 25 Danish primary school teachers and approximately 570 students from 4th grade. The total empirical data consists of pre- and post-tests, pre- and post-questionnaires, teacher- and student interviews, and video observations. This paper will focus on 15 video recorded dialogues and investigate the socio-academic patterns of participation. We have closely studied each video several times and we have transcribed each dialogue (Anderson & Tvingstedt, 2009).
As the ambition was to create knowledge about the students' assisting strategies, we have analyzed how the students used social and academic conversational actions (verbal as well as non-verbal) when they were in the role of tutor. In that regard we draw on Rasmussen and Schmidt (2022), who have categorized a number of social conversational actions (e.g., ‘expressing confidence in other’) and academic conversational actions (e.g., ‘suggesting possible solutions’), that constitute the socio-academic norms of a subject (in this case mathematics).
At the same time, we have investigated how these conversational actions are related to processes of inclusion and exclusion; to the students' opportunities to become legitimate participants in SYKL.
Based on the performed conversational actions, we have drawn up a typology that shows the students' assisting strategies. In this way, we have selected typical features of the assistance with the aim of creating a meaningful unit, so that a coherent figure or "archetype" emerges. Naming the figures is a fictionalization of analytical points that serve a communicative purpose (Kofoed & Søndergaard, 2008). By naming the assisting strategies, it is our hope that it will be easier to talk about what happens in the relation between the tutor and the one who gets help (tutee). Not with the intention of pointing out right and wrong ways of being a student, but with the intention of creating a language for the dynamics that can otherwise go unnoticed in peer tutoring.

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings
As a result of the analysis, we have constructed four ideal typical assisting strategies which relate to patterns in the students' different ways of using social and academic conversational actions when they act in the role of tutor.
First, the ‘Let’s bond’ strategy, that is about
- Keeping track of process and time
- Having many off-topic dialogues with the peer and others
- Suggesting relatively few possible solutions
Secondly, the ‘I’ll wait for you’ strategy, that is about
- Being patiently waiting
- Expressing confidence in other
- Suggesting relatively few possible solutions
Thirdly, the ‘Think carefully’ strategy, that is about
- Being patiently waiting
- Expressing confidence in other and keeping track of process and time
- Suggesting many possible solutions and asking many reflective questions
And finally, the ‘Let’s go’ strategy, that is about
- Working at high pace
- Ensuring progress
- Suggesting many possible solutions
The four figures are analytically produced archetypes that do not exist in their "pure form" in the classroom. These are typical strategies that students draw on in different ways and combinations. It is important to emphasize that all four assisting strategies can be legitimate, and that they can all – depending on the situation – be both productive and challenging for socio-academic inclusion.
In the presentation, we use examples from the video observations to illustrate what characterizes the four strategies. We will show how the social and academic actions intertwine, and how the assisting strategies and the didactic framework that SYKL provides have an impact on the students' opportunities to participate.
The paper concludes by suggesting that insight into students' strategies can help the teacher support inclusive learning environments.

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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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