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Group tutoring or one‐to‐one lessons? Which is best?

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

It’s a hot topic amongst tutors and opinion is divided. So here’s my personal experience of both one‐to‐one and small group tutoring that has formed my opinion.

Let’s call my student Brian, which, for reasons of anonymity, isn’t his real name. I worked with Brian one‐to‐one for a whole school year and he made excellent progress. I'm a specialist dyslexia tutor and his needs were relatively complex. He was assessed as on the autistic spectrum with a special interest in extreme weather and a need to check the weather forecast regularly to calm his anxiety. He was partially sighted and needed large print resources. He had a full time assistant to support his weaker executive function and memory skills. His ability to remember to do assignments outside the tutoring session, or bring the correct resources to the session, was limited.

Brian was a dedicated and enthusiastic learner with the tailored one‐to‐one intervention I created and used to tutor just him, because everything we did was based on his special interest - weather topics. Regular formal assessments of his literacy levels in spelling, single word reading and reading comprehension reached the point where he could access mainstream classroom lessons much more effectively. His levels of one‐to‐one support were also reduced as he became more secure in reflecting on his own learning, something I also trained, in a way that meant he could advocate for his own needs. It was, in five words, a big success for Brian. And it was a really rewarding tutoring experience for me to contribute to his progress.

Now let’s talk about my student Emilio, again not his real name. Here I am a general literacy tutor - some of the children I work with have not been assessed as dyslexic, even if they are on the dyslexia spectrum. Emilio had some very minor speech delay as a child and his phonemic awareness was behind other children of his age. That meant he was slower than his peers to build up his phonic knowledge and because he felt he wasn’t any good at reading and spelling, his motivation dipped. If he could live his best life, he’d spend all day playing football, basketball or any other ball game.

Emilio was part of my small group tutoring programme. He was with others who were at a similar level so he didn’t feel out of his depth. He really hit it off with some of the other children in the group, especially as they were not at his school so he felt like he had a wider circle of friends. We started and ended the session with an emotional literacy check-in and check-out, so his feelings about not being super excited to learn were heard and validated and he didn’t feel quite so alone.

He loved the social aspect of the group, but the breakthrough came with the games we played. The hit was a sorting exercise and it involved identifying what was happening in a word written on a ping pong ball, and throwing it in the correct bucket of a choice of three. Emilio might not have been the fastest literacy learner, but there was no one better with a ball. His hand-eye coordination was excellent, and he was the one everyone wanted on their team. He developed a kind of star status in the group. And because he had to do the phonics work to choose the right bucket to show off his throwing skills, he did the work. And if he couldn’t, the team jumped in and explained. And because he started having some success doing the work, he developed some positivity towards phonics, and he did a bit more work. His parents couldn’t believe he came willingly to the sessions. And after a few months he got to the same level as his peers and could start that phase of reading to learn now his learning to read skills were solid.

Emilio loved playing games, the peer learning, peer support and validation. He benefitted from the misconceptions that were addressed. He learnt from the questions others asked. All of those things are great group benefits.

So here’s my answer to group versus one to one tuition.

One‐to‐one tuition absolutely has its place. Brian and Emilio were learning similar things, but Brian would not have got very much out of being in Emilio’s group. Emilio wouldn’t have got much out of Brian’s lessons either. And there will be other children who need one‐to‐one, for many different reasons.

Small group tuition absolutely has its place. Emilio got so much more out of the small group than he would in a one‐to‐one session. And Brian got so much more out of a one‐to‐one session than he would in a small group.

Different people need different solutions. Do you agree?

What's your favourite way of tutoring? Groups, or one‐to‐one?

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