En general, what do we expect from a teaching method? Among other things, that it helps as many students as possible progress, that it enables them to improve their academic achievements. Although sometimes used for different purposes, the tutorial formula is no exception to the rule. Associating a student tutor with a tutored student means counting on the aptitudes of the first to promote the learning of the second. Moreover, at the beginning of the 1960s, tutoring reappeared in the United States in this perspective, because teachers were somewhat at a loss when faced with a particular school population: the children of migrants (Charconnet, 1975, p. 18). Social distance and language differences mean that these students benefit little from the teaching provided in schools, a high rate of school failure is observed. The idea of making work at times these children with slightly older peers is then enforced. Many American programs will be based on this principle (Gartner, Kholer and Riessman, 1973).
2That said, the effectiveness of the tutorial formula is never guaranteed. As proof, Oakland & Williams (1975) show that it gives less good results than a mixed method, where teachers and tutors are successively called upon to intervene. Their experiment was conducted in American elementary schools, for a school year, with pupils whose level of English is rather low. Every day, some follow a complete tutorial program (Total Tutorial Program); the others work first with a teacher and then, for ten minutes, with older classmates (Supplementary Tutorial Program). Reading, pronunciation of words, oral expression, are the activities offered. The authors find differences between the two working conditions. The second is at the origin of greater progress than the first. They conclude that the tutors of the complete tutoring program are somewhat powerless in front of their tutees. They lack information about what is expected of them. Unlike their counterparts in the complementary tutoring program who, because they take over from the teachers, seem better prepared for their duties. Young tutors should therefore not be seen as resource persons whose action is infallible. seem better prepared for their duties. Young tutors should therefore not be seen as resource persons whose action is infallible. seem better prepared for their duties. Young tutors should therefore not be seen as resource persons whose action is infallible.
3It is certainly at the level of higher education that the content of the tutoring intervention has been analyzed with the most meticulousness. Indeed, several authors show that two associated components make student tutors quite effective when they have to help peers (Schmidt & Moust, 1995; Hay, 1997; Topping et al., 1997). These two components are the tutor’s degree of expertise and his ability to be close to the tutees.
4Moust (1993) is a pioneer on this question. At the University of Limburg in Maastricht, the comparison of the behaviors of teacher tutors and student tutors leads him to distinguish, in the latter, a highly valued quality: cognitive congruence. It is on this that the success of the tutoring intervention largely depends. But, still according to this author, the feasibility of cognitive congruence depends on two aspects. On the one hand, the tutor is obliged to sufficiently master the content taught; on the other hand, he must be as close as possible to the tutees. Without the first, what can it bring them? In the absence of the second, how can he help them? Expertise and social congruence are the two essential constituents of cognitive congruence. Here are two components whose union is by no means obvious: “As much as the first separates tutors and students; the second brings them closer” (Baudrit, 2000 a, p. 53). Thus, the know-how of the tutors studied by Moust seems relatively elaborate. Without neglecting academic knowledge, they are sensitive to the difficulties experienced by their tutees. In short, they have a level of skill that many tutors could envy.
5We must be aware of the fact that we are dealing here with a high-level tutoring intervention. What is more, implemented by rather special actors: advanced students in higher education. Hence the interest of knowing whether the feasibility of cognitive congruence is possible elsewhere, at other levels of study. Especially in primary and secondary education. In short, can children or young adolescents, as tutors, claim this level of skill? Do they have sufficient skills to achieve this? So many questions which, subsequently, raise questions about the relevance of tutoring practices at these levels of education, about their real scope. Elements of the answer can be found in works representative of various scientific fields.
The experience of tutors
6An ethnographic study carried out in elementary school on intercultural tutoring already gives some indications (Baudrit, 2000 b). This formula consists in associating a student from the host country (the tutor) with another newcomer (the tutee). In this way, the first can help the second in his school learning. We observed two such dyads during geometric activities in the middle first year. In addition, the class teacher integrates these pairs into small work groups. The social interactions between the tutor and the tutee, their exchanges with the other members of the group, were the subject of transcriptions each time there was a sequence of geometry (i.e. once or twice a week), this over a period of six months. We will present here only two tutorial sequences (one per dyad). They are quite representative of the two dyadic functionings.
7The first dyad is made up of Sarah (the tutor) and Youssef (the tutee). The latter, of Algerian origin, has just arrived at the school and is involved in the device described above. That day, they have to build geometric figures from smaller ones. This is the Tangram activity. Here are some of the observations made on this occasion.