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Tutor learning: the role of explaining and responding to questions

Abstract

Previous research on peer tutoring has found that students sometimes benefit academically from tutoring other students. In this study we combined quantitative and qualitative analyses to explore how untrained peer tutors learned via explaining and responding to tutee questions in a non-reciprocal tutoring setting. In support of our hypotheses, we found that tutors learned most effectively when their instructional activities incorporated reflective knowledge-building in which they monitored their own understanding, generated inferences to repair misunderstandings, and elaborated upon the source materials. However, tutors seemed to adopt a knowledge-telling bias in which they primarily summarized the source materials with little elaboration. Tutors’ reflective knowledge-building activities, when they occurred, were more frequently elicited by interactions with their tutee. In particular, when tutees asked questions that contained an inference or required an inferential answer, tutors’ responses were more likely to be elaborative and metacognitive. Directions for future research are also discussed.

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Acknowledgements

Support was provided by the University of Pittsburgh Office of Graduate Studies, and grants from the National Science Foundation to the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Constructive Learning Environments (NSF 9720359, www.pitt.edu/-circle) and the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center (NSF SBE-0354420, www.learnlab.org). The authors gratefblly acknowledge the assistance and suggestions of Marguerite Roy, Robert Hausmann, Stephanie Siler, Bibinaz Pirayesh, and anonymous reviewers.

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Correspondence to Rod D. Roscoe.

Appendix

Appendix

Human visual system text excerpts

The entire text is not reproduced here due to the length, but two excerpts are provide to offer a flavor of the writing style and level. These excerpts are chosen to align with two of the episode examples shared, so the reader can further appreciate how text information was used differently in knowledge-telling and knowledge-building episodes. Text Excerpt 1 (from p. 7 of our text) describes the lens, ciliary muscles, and the process of accommodation. Episode Excerpt C shows an example of knowledge-building based on this information. Text Excerpt 2 (from p. 16 of our text) describes the horizontal and amacrine cells of the retina. Episode Excerpt A shows an example of knowledge-telling based on this text.

  1. (1)

    Although most of the bending of the light, called refraction, is done by the cornea, some additional focusing is accomplished by varying the thickness of the lens. This process is called accommodation. In this process, the ciliary muscles tighten and thereby increase the refractive power, and thus the focusing power, of the eye. Accommodation enables us to keep an image on the retina sharp as we look at objects located at different distances.

  2. (2)

    There are two other types of retinal cells called horizontal cells and amacrine cells. Horizontal cells connect receptors to other receptors. Amacrine cells connect ganglion cells to other ganglion cells and bipolar cells to other bipolar cells. These cells do not transmit signals toward the brain, but instead transmit and pool signals laterally across the retina. Thus, neural signals flow both directly toward the brain and laterally across the retina before going to the brain. (from p. 16 of the text materials).

Definitions Test items

Thirteen components were targeted on the eyeball diagram: aqueous humor, blind spot, choroid, cornea, eyelid, fovea, iris, lens, optic nerve, pupil, retina, sclera, and vitreous humor. An additional 13 terms were included as filler terms: amygdala, capillary, cochlea, duodenum, femur, larynx, ligament, macula, microvillae, nephron, pyramidal cell, sciatic nerve, and valve. On the retina diagram, seven components were targeted: amacrine cell, bipolar cell, cone receptor, ganglion cell, horizontal cell, optic nerve, and rod receptor. An additional nine items were included as filler terms: aqueous humor, barorecptor, blind spot, duodenum, leukocyte, microvillae, nephron, optic chiasm, and pyramidal cell. On both diagrams, some filler terms were unrelated to the eye (e.g. femur) and others were related to the eye but not indicated on the diagram (e.g. macula).

Questions Test items

The following questions were used in the Questions Test. Questions are listed in the order they appeared; those labeled with an asterisk appeared only on the post-test.

  1. (1)

    Which receptors are responsible for color and detail vision in high levels of light?

  2. (2)

    How is light entering the eye adjusted and directed toward the retina?

  3. (3)

    What is meant by the term “pooling of receptors”?*

  4. (4)

    What are the most direct and least direct pathways that neural signals can take the reach the brain from the receptors?

  5. (5)

    What muscles are involved in the process of accommodation?*

  6. (6)

    Why is the fovea the most sensitive portion of the retina for detecting light patterns?

  7. (7)

    What is the iris? What function does it serve?

  8. (8)

    Color blindness is a disorder in which a person is unable to see colors. Some people with color blindness are “blind” to all colors, while others are “blind” to just one or two colors. What might be the problem underlying color blindness? How could a person be “blind” to just one or two colors?

  9. (9)

    What is refraction?

  10. (10)

    What are some possible reasons why a person may need glasses? How do glasses help to compensate for these problems?

  11. (11)

    Why do humans see better in the light than the dark?

  12. (12)

    What structure us responsible for over two-thirds of the eye’s focusing power?

  13. (13)

    Most people never notice the “blind spot” in their vision? Why don’t people notice?*

  14. (14)

    What different types of cells are bipolar cells connected to?

  15. (15)

    Some animals can see in the dark. How might their eyes be structured different than human eyes so that this is possible?

  16. (16)

    What is the blind spot? Where is it located?*

  17. (17)

    How are receptors, neurons, and blood vessels arranged in the retina?*

  18. (18)

    What are the two main purposes of the vitreous humor?*

  19. (19)

    Diabetes is an illness in which the body does not produce enough insulin (a hormone needed to metabolize sugar). If untreated, diabetes can sometimes lead to swollen blood vessel and blindness (along with other health problems. How could diabetes lead to blindness?*

  20. (20)

    What happens when a molecule of photopigment absorbs a photon?*

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Roscoe, R.D., Chi, M.T.H. Tutor learning: the role of explaining and responding to questions. Instr Sci 36, 321–350 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251-007-9034-5

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Keywords

  • Peer tutoring
  • Tutor learning
  • Tutorial dialogue
  • Explanations
  • Questions
  • Metacognition
  • Verbal data analysis