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Peer Tutoring and the Conversation of Mankind.Doc

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Peer Tutoring and the

"Conversation of Mankind"

by Kenneth A. Bruffee
The beginnings of peer tutoring lie in practice, not in theory. A decade or so ago, faculty and administrators in a few institutions around the country became aware that, increasingly, students entering college had difficulty doing as well in academic studies as their abilities suggested they should be able to do. Some of these students were in many ways poorly prepared academically.
Many more of them, however, had on paper excellent secondary preparation.
The common denominator among the poorly prepared and the apparently well prepared seemed to be that, for cultural reasons we may not yet fully under­ stand, all these students had difficulty adapting to the traditional or "normal" conventions of the college classroom.
One symptom of the difficulty was that many of these students refuSed
.help when it was offered. Mainly, colleges offered ancillary programs staffed by professionals. Students avoided them in droves. Many solutions to this problem were suggested and tried, from mandated programs to sink-or-swim.
One idea that seemed at the time among the most exotic and unlikely (that is, in the jargon of the Sixties, among the most "radical") turned out to work rather well. Some of us had guessed that students were refusing the help we were providing because it seemed to them merely an extension of the work, the expectations, and above all the social structure of traditional classroom learning. And it was traditional classroom learning that seemed to have left these students unprepared in the first place. What they needed, we had guessed, was help of a sort that was not an extension but an alternative to the , traditional classroom.
To provide that alternative, we turned to· peer tutoring. Through peer tutoring, we reasoned, teachers could reach students by organizing them to teach each...

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