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Delivering on the Promise of High-Impact Tutoring

Tracey Weinstein

Tracey Weinstein

Categories: Teaching Practice, Cognitive Science, Tutoring

Last summer, President Biden called upon our country to deliver 250,000 tutors to help accelerate learning for our P-12 students in service of Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona’s call to school systems to provide 90 minutes of high-impact tutoring to every child every week. This recognition that to accelerate learning at the pace necessary to address the widespread learning loss plaguing our students would take more than just our teachers and students “getting back to work” inside classrooms felt like a warm hug – a doubling down on high-quality, evidence-based instruction as the path towards deeper learning.

But as with anything in education (or life) – the details matter and the challenges are many.

To replicate the positive effects found in the research, high-impact tutoring must meet certain criteria. The National Student Support Accelerator, an organization dedicated to scaling high-impact tutoring nationwide, outlines several essential criteria, including: substantial time each week of required tutoring (at least 30 minutes, three days a week), sustained and strong relationships between students and their tutors (including a consistent tutor over time), close monitoring of student knowledge and alignment with school curriculum, and oversight of tutors to assure quality interactions (including initial high-quality training and ongoing coaching and support).

But a year later, while the field is importantly focused on recruiting enough tutors to meet the demand, and weeding out bad actors who provide tutoring that looks nothing like the high-dosage, evidence-based model, – there is still progress to be made, especially with respect to ensuring all the tutors we’re placing in front of our students receive the training and ongoing support they need to deliver effective, rigorous, and inclusive instruction for all learners.

To effectively support student learning requires tutors that are strong at building meaningful relationships with students and who fully understand the content and materials students are expected to learn. That means having a grasp of the key concepts necessary for students to master grade-level standards, how to focus student attention on those concepts and to elicit and respond to student thinking in ways that both push students to grapple with challenging concepts and provides the feedback they need to address misconceptions and refine their thinking, all the while attending to the specific needs of each student (i.e. emergent multilingual learners and learners with disabilities) in ways that value their prior knowledge, lived experiences, and unique gifts, and ensure they feel safe and welcome to try on new thinking and persist in the face of difficulties.

If this seems like a lot, it’s because it is. The work of tutors, just like teachers, is no easy task and takes intentional training. Which is why, as part of the Aspiring Teachers as Tutors Network, Deans for Impact (DFI) is piloting the use of scalable tutor training modules, grounded in the science of how students learn, that can be integrated into educator-preparation programs, enabling programs to more easily connect tutoring experiences to the coursework required to complete a preparation program and earn licensure. These modules are also being piloted in tutoring initiatives led by nonprofits and districts that are mobilizing aspiring teachers as tutors.

Through our partnership with four tutoring programs across the country, DFI is piloting a series of four, asynchronous training modules to prepare aspiring teachers on elements of effective high-impact tutoring. These modules are adapted from those originally developed and piloted in partnership with educator preparation programs in Tennessee as part of our Tennessee High-Quality Instructional Materials (HQIM) Network. Each of the modules follows a research-based sequence that allows tutors to understand, analyze, and apply the concepts covered in the materials by supporting them to build background knowledge by exploring a key concept or practice at work and explore strategies related to the practice, grounded in real instructional artifacts, and complete a culminating activity where tutors ‘put it all together’ in response to a real-world example.

The four modules represent approximately 24 hours of content that can support the ongoing training and development of successful high-impact tutors when completed in sequence and in full. The modules cover four topics essential to supporting student learning – with an explicit focus on supporting tutors to use high-quality instructional materials effectively, a particularly important lens given the evidence that the quality of instructional materials matters when it comes to student learning. After completing the modules, tutors will be prepared to:

  • Module 1: Identify and use HQIM to focus student attention on the knowledge and skills that help students master ambitious academic standards
  • Module 2: Internalize HQIM to free themselves up to focus on and respond to student thinking in-the-moment
  • Module 3: Anticipate student misconceptions and ask questions that encourage higher-order thinking about ambitious content and skills
  • Module 4: Attend to the specific needs of all learners, including students with disabilities and emergent multilingual learners, as they engage with ambitious academic content

DFI, in partnership with researchers at the National Student Support Accelerator, will collect pre- and post-assessment data to examine the extent to which completion of training modules is associated with changes in aspiring teachers’ mindset and beliefs and instructional knowledge and skills, and whether there are variations in these changes across teacher-candidates with different demographic and other characteristics. We will also explore how, if at all, training modules are associated with changes in aspiring teachers’ preparedness to teach mathematics and plans to stay in teaching, and whether these changes vary based on characteristics of the tutors.

Additionally, though there is significant interest among programs preparing aspiring teachers to increase access to high-quality, practice-based early field experiences, like those afforded by tutoring, little is known about how best to align tutor training with the preparation necessary for developing effective future teachers. With the support of our research partner, we will also administer a survey and conduct interviews with those responsible for setting up, implementing, and monitoring progress throughout implementation of the training modules to better understand the process of implementation and its relationship to candidate learning outcomes. By examining key features and characteristics of the tutoring programs within which the practice-based tutor training is implemented including how they integrate the training modules and the value each program finds in the training for their specific population of tutors, we hope to give educator preparation programs and tutoring programs leveraging aspiring teachers as tutors a vision for embedding tutoring as a core component of teacher preparation.

At DFI, we believe that brilliance is equally distributed but access to quality instruction is not. It is our hope that this work to more closely examine tutor training and the conditions under which programs leveraging aspiring teachers as tutors can best support their development, will not only help unlock the potential of the roughly 600,000 aspiring teachers that could be serving our nation’s students as tutors, but keep a spotlight on the essential question of how we ensure that all students have access to the quality instruction they deserve both from their classroom teacher and any tutor with the privilege of supporting their learning.

DFI is grateful to our pilot partners at Bowling Green State University, Dallas College, the New Jersey Tutoring Corps, and TutorND, our research partners at the National Student Support Accelerator, and our philanthropic partners at Accelerate all of whom make this work possible.