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Review of Related Literature and Research

Alyssa R. Gandy

Olivet Nazarene University

Education Methods Course

EDU 779 - 238

Professor Lynda Aills

March 27, 2018

Certification of Authorship: I certify that I am the author of this paper and that any assistance I received in its preparation is fully acknowledged and disclosed in the paper.  I have also cited any sources from which I used data, ideas, or words, either quoted directly or paraphrased.  I also certify that this paper was prepared by me specifically for this assignment.

Your Signature: ALYSSA R. GANDY

Review of Related Literature and Research

This chapter reviews the professional literature that discusses the rationale behind cross-age literacy tutoring and the effects it has upon student reading achievement and school culture. The chapter begins by highlighting major theories that support the existence of the study. The chapter then examines the impending struggle that is placed upon teachers to meet the diverse learning needs of every student in the classroom. The concept of differentiated instruction is then examined and defined in order to better understand how different modes of instruction, such as cross-age literacy tutoring, can be used in order to support and increase both student reading achievement. After examining the benefits and challenges of cross-age literacy tutoring, the chapter will conclude by examining and discussing the possible impact it may have upon student reading achievement and overall school culture.

Theoretical Rationale

A review of literature in this area is warranted for several reasons. The following Theories provide a rationale for the importance of cross-age tutoring experiences in light of student reading achievement and development.

Social Development Theory

Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory argues that students “make meaning” through interactions and relationships (McLeod, 2014). In this study, students are participating in cross-age tutoring. According to Andeberg (2013), cross-age tutoring can be defined as, “A tutoring format where both tutor and tutee are students, but the tutor is older than the tutee (p.12).” Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory relates directly to cross-age tutoring because during cross-age tutoring experiences, students are “making meaning” together. Vygotsky firmly believed that one’s cognitive development evolves from one’s social interactions from guided learning within one’s Zone of Proximal Development. When a student is interacting with a tutor, the tutor is modeling behaviors and providing the student with verbal instruction. These cognitive, social interactions between the student and the tutor allow the student to internalize the information and modeled behavior and use the information to guide their own performance (McLeod, 2014). Through the avenue of cross-age tutoring, students are able to use their interactions with one another to strengthen and support their reading comprehension. Some argue that the social interactions within a peer-to-peer tutoring relationship are more beneficial than the average social interaction in the classroom because the tutoring interaction is individualized and tailored specifically to the needs of the individual(s) (Anderberg, 2013).

Schema Theory

According to Bartlett’s Schema Theory, it is imperative that students use their prior background knowledge to better understand the text they are reading, because it is through schema that the old knowledge we carry influences the new information that we gain (Carrell, 1983). The Schema theory assumes that written text does not carry meaning. Rather, it is when written text is decoded and comprehended that it begins to carry meaning. According to Carrell (1983), “According to schema theory, comprehending a text is an interactive process between the reader’s background knowledge and the text. Efficient comprehension requires the ability to relate the textual material to one's own knowledge (p. 557).” Reading is an extremely dominant skill when it comes to learning. Therefore, students must be able to consciously and unconsciously make meaning from the words they are reading (An, 2013). It is through the avenue of reading that students are able to make connections to new ideas and concepts. With that in mind, it is imperative that students are given unique reading opportunities to develop and strengthen new understandings. Schema allows a reader to develop new connections by referring to prior connections from past experiences. Cross-age reading tutoring can help young readers to develop flexible schema because each tutoring interactions presents different challenges and calls for the use of different reading strategies. Flexibility in schema is important because once schema is developed it is very difficult to change, even when presented with conflicting information (Persaud, 2016).

Social Constructivism  

It is imperative that teachers provide students with social learning opportunities within the classroom that allow them to learn and practice new knowledge and skills. When students participate in cross-age peer tutoring, they are provided with the opportunity to apply their reading skills and strategies in real contexts. (Lattuca, 2006). Lattuca (2006) states, “Teaching is not about delivering content. It is the act of designing experiences that encourage and enable learning (p.356).” Cross-age tutoring is a practical and effective way to encourage and enable learning in the classroom. Through cross-age tutoring, the teacher is able to meet specific needs of each learner by providing them with a tutor who is responsible for targeting their specific deficits. It is clear that learning occurs through social interactions, both between the students and the teacher. Cross-age tutoring provides students with a social interaction that is student-centered, authentic, and functional (Persaud, 2016). When paired with Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), teachers can maximize all learning experiences within the classroom by focusing on a student’s current and potential development. Through the use of cross-age peer tutors, teachers are able to see what a student’s potential is and how to foster and develop it (Persaud, 2016). Teachers must strive to mediate learning in such a way that students can share their understanding of a task inside of the classroom. It is through these types of interactions that students learn how to use collaborative learning strategies to better understand the text and world around them (Lattuca, 2006).

No Child Left Behind

In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), greatly enhanced the responsibility of every teacher in the nation. The NCLB mandated that substantial academic gains, specifically in reading, must be made in every public school in America. By 2014, it was required that all students in grades 3-8 would be reading at grade level. At this time, schools in America were no longer considered to be internationally competitive. Through this law, federal law makers were able to hold schools responsible for the academic progress of every student enrolled (Klein, 2015).

Since the majority of public schools did not meet the mandated reading achievement requirements in 2014, many states received academic waivers through the Obama administration. These academic waivers dismissed the penalty that several states would have received since they failed to meet their AYP goals mandated by the NCLB (Allington, 2012). In return, these states were required to create standards that focused on preparing students for higher education and the work force (Klein, 2015). Today, schools are still wrestling to eliminate the literacy achievement gap that is continuously prevalent among students across America. In hopes to raise student reading achievement, the U.S government has required every state to identify 15% of their school as “focus” and “priority” schools. It is required that “focus” and “priority” schools receive a government funded accountability plan that provides ways in which they will enhance student reading achievement.  Core elements that must be found in the government funded accountability plans are leadership, collaborative cultures, curriculum and assessment, and effective instruction and educators (Strand, 2016). Through the implementation of accountability plans, U.S lawmakers hope that schools will begin to experience positive gains when analyzing and assessing overall student reading achievement.

Differentiated Instruction

One way to increase the effectiveness of reading instruction is to provide students with modes of differentiation. Fuchs (2005) states that, “In an average class of 22 students, the number of words read correctly in one minute ranges from 0 to 183. This wide range in reading skill strains the capacity of most teachers to address students’ learning needs (p.34).” In every classroom, there is an extreme spectrum of reading ability. Although many teachers strive to meet each student’s needs, they oftentimes fail to do so. Teachers are able to meet most needs of students who are reading at-grade level, but it is too often that teachers fail to meet the needs of students who are below- or above-grade level. When needs go unmet, it becomes clear why so many of today’s children are reading poorly (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2015).

One way to meet the needs of diverse learners is through the approach of differentiated instruction. According to Taffe et. al (2010), “Differentiated instruction allows all students to access the same classroom curriculum by providing entry points, learning tasks, and outcomes tailored to student learning needs (p.2).” Differentiated instruction is a responsive instruction that uses a variety of strategies to meet the diversity of needs in the classroom. In the past decade, research has proven that students make greater gains in word and reading instruction when the instruction they are receiving is differentiated, using small, flexible learning groups such as guided reading groups, reading buddies, or one-on-one interventions. Through differentiation, teachers are able to honor and celebrate diversity, while still effectively meeting the needs of each student who is present in their classroom (Taffe et al., 2010). It is clear that students learn best when exposed to different learning experiences, therefore, using differentiated instruction should be used not only to celebrate diverse learning needs but also to provide students with unique, worth-while classroom experiences. When implemented correctly, differentiated instruction is extremely student-centered because it recognizes that students possess a varying background knowledge, interests, and preferences when learning (Tates et al., 2015).

Modes of Differentiation

Differentiation can exist in the classroom in several different forms. As Hall (2002) states, “The intent of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is, and assisting in the learning process (p.1).” Whatever the task may be, differentiation is always utilized to bring success to the individual student.

Differentiating Content

When teaching new content, teachers can differentiate the content mastery tasks so that students can master the concepts through several different avenues that still meet then rigorous skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  This type of differentiation can be achieved through activities such as vocabulary match, identifying fact and opinion, interacting with a comprehension passage, or presenting a power point that summarizes the content being taught (Weselby, 2014).  

Differentiating Product

Differentiation can take place when creating assessments and assignments that ask them to demonstrate a level of mastery with a particular skill. Teachers may provide students with several different choices to choose from when completing unit’s final project. These choices differ in learning styles, and they allow the student to express their new understanding and knowledge in a way that capitalizes on their specific strengths (Weselby, 2014).

Differentiating Environment

Teachers can also differentiate the learning environment. This type of learning requires a flexible classroom layout with several different types of seating. Students are given the choice to learn in a safe, flexible environment that accommodates not only their academic needs but their physical needs as well (Weselby, 2014).

Differentiating Process

Lastly, teachers can differentiate the process of how students are learning in the classroom. This type of differentiation considers different learning styles such as auditory, kinesthetic, and visual. This type of differentiation acknowledges that not all students need the same amount of support when learning and mastering a new skill. When the process is differentiated, students often times work with partners, one-on-one with the teacher or classroom aide, in cooperative small groups, or independently (Weselby, 2014).

Paraprofessionals and reading tutors. The U.S government has tried to initiate this type of differentiation by employing over 700,000 paraprofessionals and aids within the nation’s public schools. When paraprofessionals are supported and trained correctly, they can successfully provide students with addition reading instruction that is beneficial and effective (Andeberg, 2013). Along with paraprofessionals, many schools have also provided students with access to reading tutors. According to Slavin, tutors can be very beneficial. However, there is still much debate over what kind of instruction they should be providing. Nonetheless, tutors can be very inspiring and motivational for students to work with when providing them with practice opportunities. Researchers Griffin and Burns remind us that tutors should not be the only supplemental resource that students with significant reading disabilities are receiving (Andeberg, 2013).

One-to-One Tutoring

Research has proven that one-to-one tutoring is both a beneficial and effective tool when it comes to raising student reading achievement (Gaustad,1993). Through the avenue, tutoring can adapt whole group instruction to meet the needs of a specific learner’s pace, learning style, interests, and level of understanding. During one-to-one tutoring, the tutor is able to provide the tutee with immediate feedback regarding their progress. Not only does one-to-one tutoring benefit students in cognitive ways, but it also positively affects students in emotional ways. When a student is able to work at their own pace without the pressures of students who work faster than them, they are able to develop their confidence and ability as a learner. One-to-one tutoring also helps to fulfill the needs of troubled or single-parent families that need extra support and attention (Gaustad, 1993).

Elbaum (2000) states that:

“The effectiveness of one-to-one instruction has been validated by empirical research, especially for students who are considered at risk for school failure or have been identified as having reading or learning disabilities (p.605).”

Teachers understand that one-to-one tutoring is an effective intervention to use when striving to meet the needs of at risk students. However, most teachers claim that they do not have enough instructional time within their day to effectively utilize one-to-one tutoring. Usually, when teachers are able to conduct one-to-one tutoring session in the classroom, the session lasts one minute or less, and is used to clarify information or directions (Elbaum, 2000). It is nearly impossible for teachers to meet with students one-on-one on a consistent, daily basis. If parents or schools decided to hire tutors instead of relying on teachers to be the leading tutor, then one-to-one tutoring becomes a very expensive and very unaffordable for many families and students who need the extra instructional support. Along with expenses, hiring one-to-one tutors, even if they are volunteers, can also be hindered by scheduling and recruitment issues (Anderberg, 2013).

Cross-age Tutoring

It is undoubtedly clear that student deficiencies in reading can be resolved if the student receives explicit, systematic, direct instruction in the specific area of need. However, providing students with one-to-one tutoring time with the teacher, or even an adult, can be very challenging, expensive, and time consuming. An alternative option to adult one-to-one tutoring can be found in cross-age tutoring, sometimes commonly known as peer-tutoring.


Cross-age peer tutoring has several benefits. Unlike adult tutors, cross-age peer tutors can more easily understand the problems and deficiencies of the tutees because they are cognitively and developmentally closer in age and ability. Tutors who are similar to their tutees in age are also able to present material and content in a way that is more understandable (Gaustad, 1993). Many times, cross-age peer tutors have struggled with the same types of deficiencies, and therefore have more patience and encouragement to display to the younger tutee. Lastly, it has been proven that cross-age tutors help to improve the overall school atmosphere. Students who are a part of a cross-age tutoring program tend to be less derogatory towards their peers, and more willing to accept diverse learning styles, needs, and preferences (Gaustad, 1993).

Along with the tutees benefiting from cross-age tutoring interventions, the tutors themselves also can benefit. Participation in a cross-age tutoring program has proven to significantly increase the tutors’ empathy, altruism, and self-esteem (Coats, 2007). Tutors spend much of their time reviewing and practicing material in order to present it to the tutee. By doing this, the tutor is strengthening their knowledge of the subject and developing higher cognitive skills. When cross-age tutoring occurs in reading, the tutor strengthens their fluency, comprehension skills, as well as deepens their understanding of vocabulary. Lastly, cross-age peer tutors also strengthen their communication and intrapersonal skills when they present materials and strategies to the tutee (Gaustad, 1993).


Although cross-age tutoring has several benefits, it also poses a few challenges that must not be overlooked. Since 1988, there have been a few research studies that have found evidence to be insufficient when it comes to the effectiveness of tutoring. Some cross-age tutoring intervention strategies were not validated or were insufficiently developed. There are few peer-tutoring interventions that have been compared to teacher-lead interventions.  Others believe that peer-tutoring isn’t as effective because there are no curricula specifically designed for its implementation (Kalowski, 1995).

One of the largest challenges of a cross-age peer tutoring program is having untrained tutors. One cannot expect students to know how to tutor without training them first. Tutors need to understand how to encourage, support, and guide tutees. If tutors enter into a tutoring relationship without proper training, they may end up putting down the tutee and making them feel inadequate and foolish. Another challenge that cross-age peer tutoring presents is that the tutor may not know how to teach the material that needs to be taught. It is wise to assess the students understanding of the topic before pairing them up with someone to tutee. Students do not need to be advanced students in order to be a tutor, but they do need to have sufficient understanding of the concepts and ideas that they will be teaching. One last challenge that cross-age peer tutoring presents is scheduling because it involves accommodating two grade levels of students. This challenge can be remedied if both participating teachers are willing and able to accommodate their schedules for the sake of raising student reading achievement (Gaustad, 1993).

Elements of an Effective Cross-Age Tutoring Program

Research has proven that one-to-one tutoring programs involving students are more effective when the participants are cross-age rather than same age peers (Coats, 2007). However, for a cross-age tutoring program to be effective, it must contain several key elements. Kalowski (1995) challenges tutoring programs to ensure that they have tutors who can provide relevant help that is explainable, timely and understandable to the tutee. Once the tutor has taught the material, the tutee must be able to practice using the new information, as well as take advantage of each learning opportunity presented by the tutor. With these elements in place, Kalowski believes cross-age tutoring will be effective in removing deficiencies. Effective cross-age tutoring programs must have measureable and obtainable goals that can be easily assessed and analyzed. The assessment provides staff with feedback on the effectiveness of lessons, as well as brings encouragement to both the tutor and tutee (Gaustad, 1993). It is imperative that a procedure is set in place when pairing up students so that the process is done with fidelity, consistency, and intentionality. Tutors must be trained in making instructional decisions, so as to provide the tutees with the most effective lesson as possible. Both tutors and tutees need supervision and an element of accountability, such as verbal discussion or an exit ticket. In order for the program to be lasting and fruitful, both teacher participants and administration must be on board with the program. It is clear that if a cross-age tutoring program contains, and is not limited to, the above instructional elements and accountability, then the program can improve student achievement and overall school climate.

Reading achievement and attitude.

When it comes to the subject of literacy, cross-age tutoring has a great impact on reading achievement. There have been several cross-age literacy programs that have been implemented in elementary settings. Cross-age literacy tutoring programs that are implemented in elementary schools focus primarily on letter naming, fluency, and decoding (Coats, 2007). In cross-age tutoring, it is implied that the older student fulfills the role of tutor and the younger student fulfills the role of tutee. Cross-age tutoring is most effective when tutors reading abilities exceed the tutees reading ability by two years grade equivalency (Coats, 2007). In Coats (2007) cross-age peer study with special education students, it was concluded that cross-age peer tutoring raised reading recognition for both tutors and tutees. The study also revealed that cross-age tutoring raised reading attitude for both the tutors and tutees as well. Along with the quantitative data revealing a positive impact, 100% of comments from the qualitative data revealed positive and constructive feedback regarding the program. It can be concluded from this study that adding extra reading practice through cross-age peer study can increase literacy (Coats, 2007).

When elementary students were tutored by high school students in Anderberg’s (2013) study, it was proven that the elementary tutees word recognition ability was greatly strengthened. These results are accurate according to other one-to-one tutor research studies. When measuring comprehension, Andeberg (2013) found that there were no significant comprehension gains in the elementary tutees. Andeberg (2013) concludes by stating that the phonics curriculum used within her study was not designed to develop comprehension, so it is appropriate that the student data revealed more gains in phonics and word reading than it did in comprehension.  

This result was also true for Davenport’s (2004) study regarding the impact that cross-age peer tutoring has on reading achievement. Davenport (2004) concluded that out of 10 students, only three revealed gains in reading comprehension. The rest of the students remained at the same comprehension level as from before the study.  Although Davenport’s study did not reveal gains in comprehension, it did reveal great gains in word study and reading attitudes, proving that cross-age peer tutoring has a positive and functional relationship to both reading achievement and reading attitude (Davenport, 2004).  


When implementing a cross-age peer tutoring program, research has proven that the tutors must display fidelity when instructing the tutees. Elbaum’s (2000) study revealed that programs that displayed higher amounts of fidelity produced greater overall gains than programs that displayed lower amounts of fidelity. Durlak and Dupre’s (2008) study on intervention implementation confirms that, “Higher levels of implementation are often associated with better outcomes (p.14). Implementation undoubtedly plays a large role in the effectiveness of interventions and programs, and it is clear that in order for a cross-age tutoring program to be effective and successful, it must be implemented with great care and fidelity. Efficient implementation fidelity is said to be that of 80% or more, as no other study has ever achieved 100% in fidelity (Durlak & Dupre, 2008). When fidelity is disregarded by participants, it is important to step in, acknowledge the infidelity, and promptly correct the tutor or tutee. By doing this, one will heighten the opportunity for greater academic achievement gains.


Meeting every student’s need in the classroom is a challenge that every teacher faces. This challenge pushes many teachers to embrace the approach of differentiated instruction in hopes to provide students with the appropriate cognitive and social support they need in order to be successful inside and outside of the classroom. Differentiated instruction can occur in the classroom in several different ways. One effective way to implement differentiated instruction in the classroom is through the avenue of one-to-one, cross-age peer tutoring. Cross-age tutoring, no matter the subject, is an intervention that can produce positive gains for both the tutor and the tutee. However, it is important to use a control group when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of cross-age peer tutoring, so that academic gains analyzed in the study can be solely attributed to the implementation of the cross-age tutoring program (Anderberg, 2013). Many studies in the past have not had control groups, therefore they have been unable to attribute academic gains solely to the implementation of the cross-age tutoring program.

In examining the literature and research regarding cross-age peer tutoring, it is abundantly clear that when implemented correctly, cross-age peer tutoring programs can positively impact reading achievement, specifically the skills of word reading and decoding. In this review, research also reveals that cross-age tutoring positively improves reading attitudes and overall school culture. According to Kalowski (1995) it is clear that when cross-age tutoring is implemented with fidelity and intentionality, “Achievement improves, and so do a host of social and affective outcomes (p.8). Teachers who understand how cross-age tutoring is supposed to be implemented can support the program by providing adequate training for both the tutors and tutees. Cross-age tutoring programs can positively impact a child’s skill and passion for reading, and it is in a teacher’s best interest to pursue such a program with curiosity, fidelity, and excitement.

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