When most people hear the term ‘one-on-one instruction’, they think about students sitting with a tutor either after school or on weekends. Tutors can be teachers, non-teaching professionals, university students looking for extra cash, parents, an older sibling, or someone from a tutoring service. In the school environment, teachers devote a large amount of time to one-on-one instruction. This can be during class, on breaks or even after school. Outside of class time, one-on-one instruction can take the form of a quick chat after class or be a formal session of 30-60 minutes. Many of these longer sessions, whether individual or small group tuition, are part of intervention or remedial programs. School-wide remedial programs are designed as a safety net for students who have fallen behind their peers and who need specialist instruction to ensure that they don’t fall further behind.
One-on-one instruction is without doubt the most effective teaching strategy in terms of improving educational performance.
While teachers regularly employ one-on-one instruction for various purposes, teacher’s aides spend most of their time supporting students with one-on-one instruction.i One-on-one instruction is therefore particularly relevant for teacher’s aides and other support staff. For practical purposes, the term ‘one-on-one instruction’ is used to refer to small group instruction (2-4 students) as the teacher or teacher’s aide has ample time to support individual students within the small group (when compared to the time available per student in a whole-of-class situation at least).
One-on-one instruction is without doubt the most effective teaching strategy in terms of improving educational performance.ii Research shows that one-on-one instruction is far more effective than other student-centred strategies such as discovery learning, problem-based learning and any type of co-operative learning strategy.iii One-on-one instruction is also more effective than basically every teaching strategy when that strategy is delivered to large groups of students (including explicit instruction). In other words, a strategy such as explicit instruction is much more effective with 1 student per teacher than with 32 students per teacher.
This is not ground-breaking news of course. Educational researchers have been wondering why one-on-one instruction is more effective than whole-of-class instruction for decades.iv If the strategies used in one-on-one instruction (scaffolding, modelling, feedback, etc.) were applied to larger groups, the educational outcomes should be similar. However, this is not the case and one-on-one instruction is far more effective in terms of achieving gains in skills such as reading and writing. Hence the use of one-on-one instruction for remedial and intervention programs in both reading and writing. The results have led to one of the biggest questions in education: how can teachers make whole-of-class activities as effective as one-on-one instruction?
To unpack this question, we first need to look closely at all of the things that are unique to one-on-one instruction:
Each stage of the ‘one-on-one treatment loop’ is specifically targeted to maximise individual student learning. Like a medical condition, the more targeted the treatment to the needs of the individual, the higher the treatment’s success rate overall (and in less time, making it more efficient). We will now look at each of the stages in the one-on-one treatment loop in more detail:
Hint: every interaction with a student of 2-3 minutes or more can be thought of as a micro-lesson. As such, the same best-practice recommendations apply: set goals, structure your micro-lesson with an introduction, notify students if they achieve a goal, accurately diagnose any issues, scaffold, provide feedback, use questioning techniques, provide opportunities for practise and finish with a conclusion or summary.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
Source: Teaching Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners. Amazon #1 best seller in the category of Classroom Management.
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