Communicating Advice

Peer Tutoring and Communication Practice

by Wendy Atkins-Sayre (Volume editor) Eunkyong L. Yook (Volume editor)
©2015 Textbook XVIII, 328 Pages


Although competent peer tutoring depends heavily on knowledge within the particular discipline, there is certainly more to the process than subject knowledge alone. One of the most important components of tutoring in any academic area is effective communication. Research in the area of communication studies is relevant to all areas of tutoring, but is often only a minor component of peer tutoring training. This book brings together tutoring center experts and communication experts to provide research-based advice for training peer and near-peer tutors. With a broad audience in mind, these experts translate research from the fields of communication and pedagogy into advice that can be used for tutoring in any field. Peer tutoring centers or pedagogy courses in any discipline will find this book to be an effective discussion tool for encouraging tutors to consider the importance of how they communicate their advice to students.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword: Communication and Peer Tutoring Christopher Bell and Sherwyn Morreale
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part 1: Building a Strong Staff
  • Chapter 1. Training the Trainers: Improving Peer Tutoring through Communication Education Wendy Atkins-Sayre and Eunkyong Lee Yook
  • Chapter 2. Tutors, Directors, and Research: Proactively Building Professional Foundations Kathleen J. Turner and Theodore F. Sheckels
  • Chapter 3. Building an Effective and Supportive Peer Tutoring Team Steven A. Beebe
  • Chapter 4. Making Sure the Work Is Good Work: Communicating Ethics to Tutors Jon A. Hess
  • Chapter 5. Managing Conflict in the Peer Tutoring Context Jennifer L. Bevan and Jennifer H. Waldeck
  • Theory into Practice
  • Case 1. Successfully Running a Peer-to-Peer Learning Space Kimberly M. Cuny
  • Case 2. Teaching the Tutor to Reflect via Three Roles: Client, Participant, and Practitioner Alison Fisher Bodkin
  • Case 3. Using Creativity and Cooperation in Staff Training Erin Ellis
  • Case 4. Speakers Lab Code of Conduct Butler University Speaking Lab Staff
  • Case 5. Speaking Center Code of Ethics University of Southern Mississippi Speaking Center Staff
  • Part 2: Understanding the Needs of Students
  • Chapter 6. Working with Diverse Clientele Patricia R. Palmerton
  • Chapter 7. Learning Styles: Rounding the Cycle of Learning in the Context of Peer Tutoring Carl J. Brown, Michael L. King, and Steven J. Venette
  • Chapter 8. Connecting with the First Year Student William J. Seiler
  • Chapter 9. Helping Students Conquer Anxiety in the Session Karen Kangas Dwyer
  • Chapter 10. Online Communication for the Savvy Tutor Catherine K. Wright
  • Theory into Practice
  • Case 6. Peer Tutor Training Activity: Addressing Various Audiences Molly McHarg
  • Case 7. “Not How, But Why”: Training Consultants to Work Thoughtfully Online Jennifer Whitaker
  • Case 8. Peer Consultant Evaluation Nicole Magee and Carley Reynolds
  • Part 3: Creating a Supportive and Productive Tutoring Environment
  • Chapter 11. Building Trust in Tutoring through Effective Interpersonal Communication Becky L. Omdahl
  • Chapter 12. Communicating Ethos at the Center Kristen Hoerl, Mercedes Kolb, Ethan Gregerson, and William Butler
  • Chapter 13. Engaging in Effective Instructional Communication Behaviors in the Tutoring Relationship Scott A. Myers, Jordan Atkinson, Hannah Ball, Zachary W. Goldman, Melissa F. Tindage, and Shannon T. Carton
  • Chapter 14. Peer Tutoring and Customer Service: Students as “Partial Employees” C. Erik Timmerman
  • Chapter 15. Designing and Delivering Effective Feedback: Making the Most of Your Consultation Time Jennifer Butler Ellis and Angela Grimaldi
  • Theory into Practice
  • Case 9. Tailoring Constructive Criticism in the Peer Tutoring Center Susan Wilson
  • Case 10. Strengthening Tutoring Communities with “They Say / I Say” Lori Walters-Kramer and Bridget Draxler
  • Case 11. Tutor Observations as a Tool for Creating a Supportive and Productive Tutoring Environment Cassandra A. Book and Maureen McCoy
  • List of Contributors
  • Content Index
  • Author Index

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Communication and Peer Tutoring

Christopher Bell and Sherwyn Morreale

At the collegiate level, the value of peer tutoring, both for the tutor and the tutee, cannot be overstated. Colvin (2007) broadly states that “peers are often considered the most powerful influence in undergraduate education, even more so than advisors and instructors” (p. 166). It takes time to enact real learning; critical foundational matter must be understood in order to build more advanced concepts. Tutoring, particularly peer tutoring, can supplement an instructor’s capacity to assist student learning at various stages along the way. Peer tutoring provides an opportunity for students of different skill levels to come together to learn course material—a valuable enterprise for both sides of the tutoring equation. The student being tutored is given a chance to learn from someone who may use different language, examples, or instructional methods than the professor. As a result, the material may “click” for the tutee in a new way. The student doing the tutoring strengthens his/her own grasp of the concepts and reinforces her/his knowledge of key principles by explaining them to someone else. Far beyond the amorphous “learning leadership skills,” this exchange may not only help the tutor retain important information, it also can reveal gaps in the tutor’s knowledge that need to be shored up. Topping (1996) reminds us that “Just preparing to be a peer tutor has been proposed to enhance cognitive processing in the tutor—by increasing attention to and motivation for the task, and necessitating review of existing knowledge ← xi | xii → and skills” (p. 324). This benefit is echoed by Roscoe & Chi (2007), who state that tutors, “metacognitively reflect upon their own expertise and comprehension, and constructively build upon their prior knowledge by generating inferences, integrating ideas across topics and domains, and repairing errors” (p. 541, emphasis original).

Hall & Stegila (2003) further explain that “to be most effective, students must be taught roles in the instructional episode; to be systematic, elicit responses, and provide feedback” (p. 1). A peer tutor who can elicit responses and provide feedback will foster a more conducive learning environment for peers, and that leads to more positive learning outcomes. While new or poorly-trained tutors might “give shorter answers, and tend to concentrate on the ‘concrete,’ rather than explaining, or elaborating on conceptual connections … a well-coached tutor tends to give more ‘explanatory’ responses in the same way that a ‘good’ teacher can direct thought processes through the use of questioning and/or conversation” (Galbraith & Winterbottom, 2011, p. 323).

Undoubtedly, the more effectively peer tutors communicate, the more each student (both tutor and tutee) will benefit from the tutoring process. To elaborate, “establishing a good rapport between students and tutors is the most important factor in the success of tutoring … interpersonal skill is especially important in tutoring actions” (Morillas & Garrido, 2014, p. 95). In this context, interpersonal skill is defined as “promoting critical spirit, motivation and confidence, recognizing cultural diversity and individual needs, and creating a climate of empathy and ethical commitment” (Torra et al., as cited in Morillas & Garrido, 2014, p. 95). Indeed, the ability to use communication to establish rapport is essential. Hawkins (1982, as cited cited in “Falchikov & Blythman, 2001) posits that learning, in the peer tutoring context, stems from its social nature; it is the “sharing in the work of the system between two friends who trust each other” (Hawkins, 1982, p. 29, as cited in Falchikov & Blythman, 2001, p. 4) that allows for tutoring to be effective. A peer tutor then is a trusted friend with effective communication skills, who is not simply clarifying or supplementing course material, but also is providing encouragement, emotional reassurance, inspiration, and a safe environment in which to ask questions. These more positive student-to-student communication interactions tend to correlate with more positive classroom climates and more in-class participation (Frisby & Martin, 2010), both necessary components of effective teaching and learning in higher education.

Clearly, peer tutoring is of much value to the educational enterprise, and communication is vital to the administration of tutoring duties and to the ← xii | xiii → effectiveness of the entire tutoring process. The tutor-tutee interaction is a communication interaction, and effective interpersonal communication skills are not just necessary, they are essential. Given this reality, the volume you hold in your hands is a central repository of theory and practice in higher education tutoring. It is divided into three sections, with practical exercises, training strategies, and advice interspersed among the sections. The result is a practical and useful guide to building a successful tutoring program, from staffing to training to implementation.

The first section focuses on the selection and training of tutors. First, in Chapter 1 (“Training the Trainers: Improving Peer Tutoring through Communication Education”), Atkins-Sayre and Yook provide a compelling argument for the inclusion of communication education in peer tutor training, regardless of discipline. Given the importance of establishing rapport to the learning objectives of a peer tutoring relationship, this communication training is paramount to success. Turner and Sheckels, in Chapter 2 (“Tutors, Directors, and Research: Proactively Building Professional Foundations”), then detail three areas about which tutoring programs should be concerned for maximum effectiveness: the quality of tutoring provided, appropriate evaluation of tutoring center directors, and research into peer tutoring processes. In Chapter 3 (“Building an Effective and Supportive Peer Tutoring Team”), Beebe follows with a reminder that quality teamwork contributes to tutor success, laying out a step-by-step method for developing a well-organized and competent peer tutoring team. Chapter 4 (“Making Sure the Work Is Good Work”), by Hess, considers the role ethics plays in the tutoring process, as we seek to produce service-oriented tutors. Finally, Bevan and Waldeck provide useful advice about managing the inevitable conflicts that arise in the peer tutoring relationship, in Chapter 5 (“Managing Conflict in the Peer Tutoring Context”).

The second section turns to the other half of the tutoring equation, the tutee. Palmerton opens the discussion, in Chapter 6 (“Working with Diverse Clientele”), with a frank look at diversity as it relates to tutoring, including a valuable set of guidelines to share with tutors regarding engagement with culturally diverse students. Brown, King, and Venette continue this line of thought in Chapter 7 (“Learning Styles: Rounding the Cycle of Learning in the Context of Peer Tutoring”), moving the discussion from cultural diversity into multimodal diversity of learning styles—another area about which peer tutors must be aware. As tutoring centers are charged with the task of aiding student retention, building connections with first-year students is vital, and Seiler provides useful tools in Chapter 8 (“Connecting with the First Year ← xiii | xiv → Student”) for connecting with that population. As anyone who has worked with peer tutors can attest, dealing with student communication apprehension and communication anxiety can be a difficult challenge; Dwyer’s suggestions in Chapter 9 (“Helping Students Conquer Anxiety in the Session”), for alleviating this stress, will be pertinent for peer tutors and for their training. Wright finishes up this section, in Chapter 10 (“Online Communication for the Savvy Tutor”), with training tools for preparing peer tutors to enter the ever-expanding world of online tutoring.

The last section deals with the tutoring space itself, the environment, both physically and philosophically. Omdahl returns to interpersonal communication, in Chapter 11 (“Building Trust in Tutoring through Effective Interpersonal Communication”), as a method for building trust as a tutor, regarding both confidentiality and the minimization of the stigma colloquially associated with receiving tutoring. Ethos, that most ephemeral of Aristotle’s basic rhetorical canons, is considered by Hoerl, Kolb, Gregerson, and Butler in Chapter 12 (“Communicating Ethos at the Center”), giving practical advice for constructing credibility step-by-step before, during, and after a tutoring session. The rhetorical aspects of tutoring philosophy are detailed in Chapter 13 (“Engaging in Effective Instructional Communication Behaviors in the Tutoring Relationship”) by Myers, Atkinson, Ball, Goldman, Tindage, and Carton, with examples of how to put rhetorical principles into practice during tutoring sessions. Timmerman’s examination of customer service in Chapter 14 (“Peer Tutoring and Customer Service: Students as ‘Partial Employees’”) is destined to become standard reading for the training of future tutors, as he gives insightful tips about developing tutors as employees. This last section concludes with Ellis and Grimaldi directly reflecting upon feedback, its construction and its uses, in Chapter 15 (“Designing and Delivering Effective Feedback: Making the Most of Your Consultation Time”).

Between each section, the editors have included sample cases of various peer tutoring center practices. These brief cases explore everything from staff training, developing team relationships, and creating a staff code of ethics to reflecting on feedback styles and online tutoring needs. The pieces, contributed by peer tutoring center directors, provide specific advice and examples and will be a welcome tool to many center directors.

In all, the practicality and applicability of the information contained in this volume will prove worthwhile and highly useful to anyone who runs a tutoring program or tutoring center, whether it’s the first day on the job or the tenth year in the business. Even a casual perusal of the auspicious list of contributing ← xiv | xv → authors suggests this set of essays will become the “go-to” book for anyone with an interest in the opportunities and challenges inherent in peer tutoring. As former directors of tutoring centers and communication centers ourselves, we assuredly attest to the depth and quality of this collection. We say with confidence that it will serve future tutoring professionals in the care and guidance of peer tutors for years to come.


Colvin, J. W. (2007). Peer tutoring and social dynamics in higher education. Mentoring & Tutoring, 15(2), 165–181.

Falchikov, N., & Blythman, M. (2001). Learning together peer tutoring in higher education. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Frisby, B. N., & Martin, M. M. (2010). Instructor-student and student-student rapport in the classroom. Communication Education, 59, 146–164.

Galbraith, J., & Winterbottom, M. (2011). Peer tutoring: What’s in it for the tutor? Educational Studies, 37(3), 321–332.

Hall, T., & Stegila, A. (2003). Peer mediated instruction and intervention. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved from http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/peer-mediated_instruction

Morillas, N. R., & Garrrido, M. F. (2014). The role of tutoring in higher education: Improving the student’s academic success and professional goals. Revista Internacional de Organizaciones, 12, 89–100.

Roscoe, R. D., & Chi, M. T. H. (2007). Understanding tutor learning: Knowledge-building and knowledge-telling in peer tutors’ explanations and questions. Review of Educational Research, 77(4), 534–574.

Topping, K. J. (1996). The effectiveness of peer tutoring in further and higher education: A typology and review of the literature. Higher Education, 32, 321–345.

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An edited volume is, by definition, a product of teamwork. To all of the contributors and supporters of this project, we offer big thanks. Your experience and expertise has made this a valuable collection of essays. Thanks also go to the Department of Communication Studies and the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Southern Mississippi for their generous support of the project through time and money. The Speaking Center at the University of Southern Mississippi has provided continual support and a testing ground for peer tutoring ideas. The Communication Department at George Mason University also supported the project monetarily and, for that, we are very thankful. Carl Brown and Victoria Brown provided invaluable copy editing and indexing assistance. Finally, thanks also go to Meg Turner for her expert assistance in providing her indexing skills in a timely manner.

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XVIII, 328
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
training training the trainers tutor
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XVIII, 328 pp.

Biographical notes

Wendy Atkins-Sayre (Volume editor) Eunkyong L. Yook (Volume editor)

Wendy Atkins-Sayre (PhD, University of Georgia) is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and the Speaking Center Director at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her work has appeared in Southern Communication Journal, Western Journal of Communication, and Women and Language. Eunkyong L. Yook (PhD, University of Minnesota) is Associate Professor of Communication at George Mason University and author of two books on communication, education, and culture. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Intercultural Communication and Communication Education. The editors previously co-edited Communication Centers and Oral Communication Programs in Higher Education: Advantages, Challenges, and New Directions (2012).


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