Read more about the research on why is small group learning is successful.
Why small group learning?
2020 was a difficult year for everyone, particularly students and teachers who made sure that quality learning continued despite seven weeks of remote learning and other disruptions.
We know that the learning of some students was impacted by these disruptions.
Small-group teaching, delivered by professional educators, is very effective in boosting students’ learning and helping them to quickly get back on track.
Understand optimal group sizes, accounting for differing levels of ability, lesson lengths, lesson frequency, timetabling and modes of delivery.
What should small group tuition look like?
Group size and ability levels
Evidence suggests that the smaller the group, the better, with the optimum size being 2-5 students per group. Once groups get larger than five students, there is a reduction in effectiveness. Small-group tuition is most effective when students with similar learning needs or ability levels are grouped together. Similarly, tuition should be targeted to the learning needs of the students and be relevant to regular in-class learning. This may require pre-assessment and ongoing collaboration with classroom teachers.
Lesson length and frequency
There is good evidence that small-group tuition is most effective when lessons are regular, short, and sustained over a period of months. Most successful tuition programs occur 3-5 times a week, for 20-50 minutes per session, repeated for at least 10-20 weeks. Generally, the youngest learners (PreK-Year 1) benefit from shorter sessions conducted more often, for example, 15-30 minutes, 4-5 times per week, while older learners benefit from longer sessions slightly less often, for example, 30-40 minutes, 3 times per week.
Timetabling and mode of delivery
Research suggests that tuition is most effective when delivered during school hours, although some reports suggest that tuition outside of school hours is just as effective. There is also some evidence that online tuition can be just as effective as when delivered in person, though this area needs more research. Timetabling of tuition needs to consider a range of factors, and so it is important to be flexible about when and where tuition should take place.
Learn more about subject areas studied in existing small group learning research.
What subject areas have been the focus of previous research?
Most of the rigorous previous research has evaluated reading and literacy programs, though there is also good evidence for mathematics and numeracy programs. One meta-analysis found reading programs were more effective for younger learners, while mathematics programs were more effective for older students. There is limited evidence on small-group tuition effects in subjects outside of literacy and numeracy.
Learn more about who is most successful in delivering small group learning in a school context.
Who should deliver small-group tuition?
Specific tuition programs often involve comprehensive training for the educators involved. In these cases, tuition delivered by para-professionals can be as effective as tuition delivered by teachers. Para-professionals can come from a range of backgrounds, but they tend to be well-educated, well-trained, and compensated for their time. The majority of studies use pre-service teachers, university graduates, or teaching assistants. As would be expected, qualified teachers are very effective tutors, whereas non-professional tutors without training tend to be ineffective.
Previous research highlights the importance of regular communication between educators delivering small-group tuition and classroom teachers. This might involve establishing a plan for ongoing collaboration and updates about student progress.
Understand more about the types of students who benefit most from small group learning.
Which students might benefit from small group tuition?
The majority of evidence for small-group tuition has focused on low-attaining primary-school students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. There is a lack of research testing the efficacy of tutoring programs for high school students, though one study found a modest positive effect of a maths program on Year 9-12 students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Most of the evidence for small-group tuition comes from the UK and US, though there are some Australian studies which show positive effects. The Grattan report released 2020 analysed the evidence and recommended small-group tuition as the most cost-effective, evidence-based and practical solution to helping disadvantaged Australian students get back on track as quickly as possible. Grattan suggests that disadvantaged students could gain 4-5 months of learning from a 10-20 week tuition program, based on data from EEF.
Discover lessons learned from other successful intensive support programs.
Research findings from the Norta Norta Individual Sponsorship Program
The Norta Norta Individual Sponsorship Program (hereafter referred to as Norta Norta) was a one-on-one tuition program which ran from 2009-2012, designed to improve the educational outcomes for Aboriginal students in Years 11 and 12. Read an extended executive summary of the program evaluation.
Norta Norta produced a number of positive findings such as improved HSC results and greater student retention. Staff and students involved in the program also reported increased student engagement, confidence, and timely completion of assessment tasks. We have summarised some of the lessons learnt from Norta Norta about effective tuition that schools may wish to consider when implementing the COVID Intensive Learning Support Program.
Learn more about the effectiveness of this type of tuition.
Cook, P. J., Dodge, K., Farkas, G., Fryer Jr, R. G., Guryan, J., Ludwig, J., ... & Steinberg, L. (2014). The (surprising) efficacy of academic and behavioral intervention with disadvantaged youth: results from a randomized experiment in Chicago (No. w19862). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Dietrichson, J., Bøg, M., Filges, T., & Klint Jørgensen, A. M. (2017). Academic interventions for elementary and middle school students with low socioeconomic status: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 87(2), 243-282.
Education Endowment Foundation (2020). Teaching and Learning Toolkit.
Education Endowment Foundation (2018). Tutor Trust: Affordable primary tuition: Evaluation report and executive summary.
Evidence for Learning (2020). Small-group tuition https://evidenceforlearning.org.au/the-toolkits/the-teaching-and-learning-toolkit/all-approaches/small-group-tuition/
Grattan Institute (June 2020). COVID catch-up: Helping disadvantaged students close the equity gap.
McNally, S., Ruiz-Valenzuela, J., & Rolfe, H. (2018). ABRA: Online Reading Support: Evaluation report and executive summary. Education Endowment Foundation.
National Tutoring Program UK (2020). Best tutoring practice for schools.
Nickow, A.J., Oreopoulos, P., & Quan, V. (2020). The Impressive Effects of Tutoring on PreK-12 Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence. (EdWorkingPaper: 20-267).
Victorian Department of Education and Training (2020). Out-of-class small group learning: advice for schools.