Three Reasons Why Small Groups are Best for High-Impact Tutoring

January 20, 2023

One of the key factors of high-impact tutoring factors of high-impact tutoring comes down to a simple concept: one tutor who works with small groups of students. Ideally, the formula is one tutor to every two students–with no more than four students at the most. These are not just random numbers; they are backed by extensive research.

According to the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, “Research shows that two students per tutor are the most efficient and effective way to accelerate learning…no more than four students should be placed with a tutor at a time. The Saga Education model has some of the strongest evidence of success among tutoring programs.”

1.  Small Groups Optimize a Tutor’s Time
Most people assume that one-on-one tutoring is ideal because tutors can provide more explanations to students. However, good tutors don’t talk a lot. Instead, they ask many questions and motivate students to practice problems and explain their reasoning. This means that the best tutors get students to do most of the heavy lifting, and while one student is working, a tutor can use that time to engage with another student.

2. Small Groups Open the Door to Peer-to-Peer Collaboration
Students don’t like to be the center of attention the entire time. When asked, Saga students preferred small group tutorials with one or two other students. They reported feeling pressured and uncomfortable if all the attention was being paid to them. In addition, working alongside other students opens the door to student collaboration.

“Peer-to-peer learning is an essential element of learning and an instrumental part of a well-structured tutorial,” said Maryellen Leneghan, Vice President for District Partnerships for Saga Education.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, peer-to-peer learning has many benefits for students. “Small group settings may, for instance, allow for more engagement and rapid feedback, enabling educational activities that would not be possible in the classroom. Without being lost in the crowd of the larger classes, students may approach time spent in tutoring interventions with a greater degree of focus and effort than in classrooms.”

3. Small Groups Create Better Conditions for  Relationship Building
As a Site Director in Washington DC, Sharanya Balasubramanian gets an up-close look at why small group tutoring works. “Number one, it’s relationship-building, and number two, it’s personalized instruction. Relationship-building is important so that students see their tutors as partners in their learning and feel like they can trust them in their math and learning journey. The personalized instruction part is especially important because everyone processes information differently,” she said.

Saga’s tutors follow their students throughout their school year. “The relationships with tutors and students are a driving force in the Saga program’s success in schools. Tutors learn to adapt to their roles as teachers, friends, mentors, and support systems. They care for the students and form bonds with them that are quite special. Saga’s small group tutoring model not only supports the students’ learning and growth, but it also helps the teachers,” said Balasubramanian.

A report from New Profit asserts that this type of “relationship-driven tutoring . . . will expand …and eventually become the permeating philosophy in a school to drive student success.”