Skip to Content

Is Your Program Effective? What the Research Says: Tutoring

Ten best practices for youth tutoring programs.


What the Research Says


Tutoring Best Practice Checklist


(Note that although much of this information will probably aid all types of tutoring programs, most of the research has examined only programs that focus on reading skills.)


Practices Present in High-Quality Tutoring Programs


    • Work in coordination with the student’s classroom teacher.  Meet with the teacher before students are assigned.  Have the teacher define goals for the student, and work with the teacher to meet them.  Ask teachers to provide training and modeling of teaching strategies.  Allow tutors to participate in a one to two week in-class observation period.


    • Tutors should be screened before acceptance into the tutoring program. Identify the main skill sets tutors need and describe those skills clearly in your recruiting materials.  To assess a potential tutor’s skills in these areas, consider having them provide a writing sample or read aloud. You could also use specific skill mastery tests or exams to evaluate their skills in appropriate subject areas.  Assess problem-solving skills and attitudes toward children specific to your setting by presenting common dilemmas in your program during an interview and learning how they would respond. (Check out Possible Interview Questions for Volunteer Tutors)


    • Provide intensive initial and ongoing training for your tutors.  Once accepted, tutors should receive a written job description and a tutoring handbook that outlines the program's approach, policies, and procedures.  Tutors should receive an orientation before they begin working with children and ongoing training, technical assistance, and supervision.  They should recognize the importance of building relationships with children and motivating them to want to learn. (For additional topics to cover, see Potential Training Topics for Volunteer Tutors)


    • Make sure the tutoring sessions are well structured and perhaps even scripted.  Tutoring sessions should be divided into segments such as: an opening activity to set the stage, activities based on individual learning goals, reading or other skills practice, and a closing activity.  Each tutoring session should include opportunities for the child to experience success and progress. 


    • Use research-based methods.  These methods will include rigorous, systematic, and empirical evidence that includes control groups.  They will have convincing documentation with adequate data analysis to establish outcomes.  Also look for reliance on measurements and methods that are validated through multiple investigations in numerous locations.  Acceptance by a peer-reviewed journal or approval by a panel of independent experts is important as well.


    • Monitor the tutee’s progress.  Pre- and post-tests of children’s skills should be conducted. (See the Tutoring Toolkit for some sample evaluation tools.)


    • Schedule tutoring sessions to be 10-60 minutes in length, and several times a week. 


    • Tutoring should take place in an area large enough for children to concentrate without being disturbed by others, but where the tutoring pair can be observed at all times.


    • Involve families in the tutoring program as a means of providing encouragement after a tutoring session ends and building on each small success.  Provide communication journals or audiotapes to families and provide progress reports at regular intervals.  Encourage reading aloud at home and make sure each home has children’s books and writing materials.  Plan events that bring families, children, and tutors together to play and learn.


    • Provide a support system for tutors at the site and within the overall program.  This could include monthly trainings, team leaders to lead biweekly meetings, and mentor tutors to help troubleshoot with volunteers on a consistent basis.

Sources:  Evidence that Tutoring Works, US Department of Education



Effective Practices Collection, Corporation for National and Community Service



Suggestions for Structuring Your Tutoring Program


    • Talk to your local schools and find out what is happening there and what they see as needs.  Listen as they offer advice for how your program can help.  Gather information and suggestions from the principals, teachers, parents, students, and other school leaders. 


    • Assess the resources available to you.  What people, materials, and space are available for your use?  Are there rooms at a local school that you could use?  Are the schools willing to provide any materials such as pencils, paper, books, etc?  Where will you find volunteers?


    • Write a detailed plan for your program including a list of objectives and the impact you want to have on your community.  The program design should be based on assessed needs, a well-defined mission statement, and clear, measurable goals.


    • The program should have systems for identifying children in need of tutoring. Some program coordinators work with parents and teachers to try to identify those kids most in need.


    • Communicate with the students’ classroom teachers on a regular basis.


    • Develop and implement a plan for recruiting tutors.  Encourage businesses to provide release time for employees to volunteer by providing discrete goals for each tutoring session.  Seek an invitation to attend gatherings of local pastors or to set up a recruitment booth at local congregations’ missions fairs. Consider media publicity, such announcements or interviews on local religious television and radio talk shows.  Visit Christian high schools in your community and talk to administrators about their juniors and seniors getting involved in your program as part of a “service-learning” initiative. Once your program is operating, ask current volunteers to be ambassadors to recruit their friends into the program.  Also, try to recruit volunteers from the communities that make up the schools your tutees attend in order to match the diversity of the school populations.


    • Develop and implement a training program for your tutors.  Training typically includes the following areas:  (1) program operation, or training related to a project and its goals; (2)  school or site culture, aimed at helping tutors interact with and contribute to the educational goals of a school or other site; (3)  training in educational content areas such as literacy, computers or math; and (4)  training that helps volunteers build positive relationships with learners.  Within programs, evaluation of tutor training can take place immediately after training, in weekly meetings, during follow-up phone conversations, and in a variety of other forms.  These may include written evaluations, reflection activities, informal questions, feedback, and discussion, pre- and post-session "tests" of participant skills or knowledge and self-assessment checklists.


    • Create a schedule for your program which includes the hours of operation and which takes into account your resources, that is, the tutors and the locations of the tutoring sessions.  Will you offer tutoring during school hours?  (This is an option if the schools will allow you to use school space such as libraries or empty classrooms and if the school will allow students to meet with tutors during free periods such as study halls.)  Will tutoring sessions only be available after school?  Where will the sessions take place?  Do you have a method for matching tutors with students?  How long will each tutoring session be?  How often will tutors meet with their students?


    • Monitor each tutee’s progress.  Simple observation can help you to do this but it would also be helpful to keep records of each students school grades.  You may also want to develop your own method of tracking progress through your program.


    • Create program reports to be given to the local school leaders.


    • Recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of both the students and the tutors involved in your program.  This will help to ensure a joyful and loving environment.


Sources:  Adapted from a list by the Seattle Public Schools Volunteer Services.



 Effective Practices Collection, Corporation for National and Community Service



Benefits of a Tutoring Program


Research indicates that tutoring programs can…


    • Improve students’ academic skills
    • Lower high school dropout rates
    • Improve students’ self-esteem
    • Improve students’ confidence
    • Improve students’ social skills
    • Provide positive companionship and friendship for youth
    • Provide positive role models
    • Provide emotional support to youth
    • Allow instruction to be tailored to the student’s specific learning styles and needs
    • Create a competition-free learning atmosphere
    • Allow students to progress at their own rate
    • Provide students with more personalized feedback and encouragement


Source:  Tutoring:  Strategies for Successful Learning by Jennifer Fager, NWREL