Short ‘Bursts’ of Tutoring Can Boost Reading Skills

Education Week

Bite-sized tutoring sessions—only 5 to 10 minutes daily—may help nip reading struggles in the bud in the earliest grades.

Students who participated in Chapter One—a nonprofit tutoring program that serves elementary children in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom—in their first two grades had higher oral-reading fluency and better performance on district reading tests than untutored students, finds a study released this month by the National Student Support Accelerator, which studies ways to scale up effective models for high-intensity tutoring.

High-intensity tutoring—with trained tutors meeting individually or in very small groups for at least 30 minutes several times a week—is considered the most effective tutoring model, but often, it’s the most expensive. This study suggests that districts may be able to get more bang for their buck by using short, tightly focused individual tutoring in the earliest grades.

Kindergartners and 1st graders in the Chapter One program have individual sessions with part-time tutors trained in highly scripted, five- to 10-minute lessons on phonics, oral reading, and other early-literacy topics. These “tutoring bursts” happen during regular class lessons three to five times a week, and students also complete tablet-based activities on their own to reinforce the lessons.

“If you’re thinking about teaching phonics—like a new sound—you can actually complete that in five minutes,” said Carly Robinson, a senior researcher at Stanford University and the Accelerator’s research director. “Thinking about the attention span of a 5-year-old, it actually might be more effective to layer bite-sized chunks several times for a few minutes, as opposed to try to reiterate [a new concept] in a 30-minute session.”

The tutors all have college degrees, and many have education experience, but they are paid part time. The program costs $350 to $450 per student annually, Robinson said.

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