What is Tutoring?
Tutoring is an age-old practice. The dictionary definition describes a tutor as a person who gives individual, or in some cases small group, instruction. The purpose of tutoring is to help students help themselves, or to assist or guide them to the point at which they become an independent learner, and thus no longer need a tutor. The role of the tutor is diverse.
Content knowledge is an essential ingredient for a tutor; however, to be truly effective, a tutor must combine content knowledge with empathy, honesty and humor. Empathy requires a tutor to "read" the emotional states, attitudes and perceptions of their students. Empathy is the ability to see others from their personal frame of reference, and to communicate this understanding to the person involved. In order for tutors to establish a supportive relationship with their students, tutors must be open and honest. Students are often reluctant to talk with a stranger about their academic problems. If a tutor is perceived as genuine and having a strong desire to listen, students will be more willing to open up and discuss their problems. Humor can also play an important part in a tutoring session. Humor can reduce tension. Shared laughter is a powerful way to reinforce learning. Humor can set students at ease and increase rapport. Humor can also be used to compliment, to guide or to provide negative feedback in a positive manner.
In addition, a successful tutor demonstates a caring attitude. Caring consists of being organized for the tutoring session, being punctual, establishing a learning relationship with the student, developing unique tutoring strategies, and becoming familiar with the learning process. Tutoring is sharing yourself with another student in a way that makes a difference in both your lives.
There are many benefits to tutoring.
- Heightens sense of competency/adequacy in conforming to new role.
- Encourages higher levels of thinking.
- Permits more advanced students to study below-level material without embarrassment.
- Increases motivation to learn in order to maintain new role.
- Increases ability to manage own learning and study strategies.
- Increases subject specific knowledge.
- Increases related general knowledge.
- Increases understanding of subject area.
- Improves attitude toward subject area.
- Provides more empathy with students.
There are also many benefits to the students who receive tutoring.
- Offers more individualized, systematic, structured learning experience.
- Provides greater congruence between teacher and learner, closer role model.
- Improves academic performance and personal growth.
- Improves attitude toward subject area.
- Generates stronger effects than other individualized teaching strategies.
- Motivates self-paced and self-directed learning.
- Provides intensive practice for students who need it.
- Improves self esteem.
There are many benefits to the college.
- Increases opportunity to reinforce instruction.
- Increases positive student interaction.
- Enhances measurable positive changes in attitude towards teaching/learning for the participants.
- Improves educational climate.
- Facilitates ethnic and racial integration.
Characteristics of Good Tutors
Intelligence alone does not indicate success as a tutor; but what kind of person, what kind of student you are does. It takes a certain kind of person to be a good tutor. Some of the characteristics noticeable in good tutors are:
- A positive outlook: The belief that things can be changed through action.
- A desire to help others: The willingness to become involved with people at first hand and in depth.
- Empathy: The ability to feel what another person is feeling.
- An even disposition: Patience, gentleness, understanding and fairness.
- An open mind: A willingness to accept other people and their point of view.
- Initiative: The ability to see what needs to be done and to do something about it.
- Enthusiasm: A liking for your subject, and a wish to share it with others.
- Reliability as a worker: Punctual, dependable, steady.
Summary of What Students Need:
- Positive expectations
- Mutual respect
- Acceptance that everyone makes mistakes
- Effective communication
- Applications/reasons for learning
- Connections between new material and prior knowledge
- "The Big Picture"
- The language of the discipline
- Thinking or wait time before answering
- Separation of relevant from irrelevant information
- Techniques for: time management, test taking, relaxing, studying, notetaking, organizing, representing and remembering concepts and their relationships.
Five Steps to Being an Effective Tutor
Step One: Know what is Expected of You as a Tutor
Tutoring is the process of getting students to become independent through questioning. Tutoring should help students develop self-confidence and improve study skills. In addition, the tutoring session should provide students with an opportunity to speak up and ask questions, an opportunity sometimes unavailable or missed in a regular classroom situation.
Tutoring is a well-balanced question/information exchange in which both parties participate and, therefore, both benefit. Tutoring provides the practice and drill in specific course material needed by the student, while giving the tutor valuable review opportunities and the chance to develop and sharpen educational and communication skills.
Tutoring is not teaching. There are important differences between the role of the tutor and that of the classroom teacher. Approaches, relationships, and techniques are different. The tutor works in very close proximity with the student, usually one-on-one. The student may not be accustomed to the close contact and the interchange that occurs during a tutoring session. The tutor may have to consciously strive to develop a good rapport with the student within this environment.
Step Two: Setting Up the Tutoring Session
It is important to shape the tutoring environment. This can be difficult in the busy LRC; however, if you follow these simple procedures, you will have a successful session.
- Prepare yourself for the tutoring session
- Prepare a greeting and review expectations
- Be prepared for potential problems
Step Three: Meeting Your Student's Needs
Assess the student’s understanding of the subject by asking questions. Determine the student’s need for them to succeed in the subject. Strategies will vary, but do remember to engage the student. Try not to lecture and attempt to use:
Step Four: The Ingredients of a Good Tutoring Session
The following are some of the necessary ingredients for a good session:
- Greet your Student and give them your undivided attention
- Have empathy with your Student's problems
- Be honest with your client
- Set the Agenda
- Have a sense of humor
- Have the ability to "lighten up" a situation
- Have a good interaction with your Student, a good give-and-take
- Know your Student's strengths and weaknesses
- Work through your Student's strengths to improve his/her weaknesses
- Make your Student feel good about him/herself and his/her accomplishments
- Know when to stop a session
- End the session on a positive note
Step Five: Ending the Tutoring Session
Do not just say "good-bye" when the session is over. You should:
- Positively assess the work that was done during the session
- Re-schedule for another session if necessary
- Do any necessary tutor paperwork
- Always end the session with a positive comment
Techniques that Work
It has been estimated that it takes only three or four minutes for the average person to form a positive or negative first impression. What does this mean to a tutor? Make that first meeting with your tutee a positive experience. Be consistent in body, voice and words. Initiate eye contact. Listen with your body by smiling and nodding your head. Nonverbal messages are the most powerful form of communication. Take the communication skills test and find out how your communication skills rank. Establishing rapport with your tutee is very important. You can help create a good rapport by listening patiently and remaining open to what the tutee has to say.
It is also important to know why the student has requested tutoring. Some students know exactly where they are having trouble. Some students point out general areas of difficulty. Some students can only vaguely describe the source of their confusion. To help these students, simply ask them where they are having problems. It could be that they fear the subject because of past failure.
It could be that they are taking the class because it is a requirement; therefore they have no interest in the subject. The students could also be lacking confidence in their ability to master the material, or they could be overwhelmed by the time requirements imposed on them for this particular class. The reason for the tutoring request is important because it will give you a focus to plan your future tutoring
Another approach to finding out why the student is seeking assistance is to review the course materials with the student. Use the course outline, text, or assignments to figure out precisely where the student is having problems. Ask questions that encourage students to state what they know about the material.
A technique critical to a successful tutoring session is the ability to ask the right question. There are many types of questions that a tutor can use in a tutoring session. Good questioning techniques are essential to a successful tutoring session. It is important to use the right words. Try asking "What do you understand?" If you ask students what they don't understand, they will be clueless. Another important aspect of asking questions is waiting for an answer. Many tutors are too quick to answer their own questions. Give students an opportunity to reflect on the question before they volunteer a response. Always wait at least 20 seconds for the student to answer your question. This "wait time" might be uncomfortable at first, but it can greatly improve the tutoring session.
Remember to ask leading questions. Questions that can be answered with yes/no have less value that those that ask the student to demonstrate understanding. "What if" questions and analogies are excellent strategies for expanding student understanding. Become familiar with the Socratic Method of teaching. It is the oldest, but still the most powerful teaching tactic for fostering critical thinking.
Tutors can perform a valuable service when they assist students to figure out answers by themselves. There are three steps that can help you provide this service: Provide instruction, require a response, and give feedback. In other words, present the information briefly, have the student respond and talk about the material, let the student know when the answer is correct or incorrect. Learning to handle right and wrong answers is a vital part of tutoring.
In addition, you might want to look at some tips on how to motivate your students to learn. The two most important factors that lead to student success are a strong motivation to succeed and good learning skills.
What is Listening?
Which activity involves the most listening? Students spend 20 percent of all school related hours listening. If television watching and one-half of conversations are included, students spend approximately 50 percent of their waking hours listening. For those hours spent in the classroom, the amount of listening time can increase to almost 100 percent. Look at your own activities, especially those related to college. Are most of your activities focused around listening, especially in the classroom?
How well do you really listen? Take this test to find out.
If you ask a group of students to give a one word description of listening, some would say hearing; however, hearing is physical. Listening is following and understanding the sound; in other words, listening is hearing with a purpose. Good listening is built on three basic skills: attitude, attention, and adjustment. These skills are known collectively as triple-A listening.
Listening is the absorption of the meanings of words and sentences by the brain. Listening leads to the understanding of facts and ideas. Listening also takes attention, or sticking to the task at hand in spite of distractions. It requires concentration, which is the focusing of your thoughts upon one particular problem. One who incorporates listening with concentration is actively listening. Active listening is a method of responding to another that encourages communication.
Listening is a very important skill, especially for tutors. Many tutors tend to talk too much during a tutorial session. This defeats the purpose of tutoring, which is to allow students to learn by discussion. Rather than turning the session into a mini-lecture, tutors must actively listen and encourage their students to become active learners. Giving a student your full attention is sometimes difficult because you start to run out of time, or you find yourself thinking about your next question; however, the time you spend actively listening to your student will result in a quality tutoring session.
Look at these sites for improving your listening skills:
Remember it is important for you to encourage your students to practice good listening skills. One way to accomplish this task is by sharing with them this simple mnemonic device on how to learn to listen. Active listening is a very demanding skill that requires practice and perseverance; however, active listening is also very rewarding
Good study skills are essential for good students. Since you are all good students, it is assumed you have good study skills. Do you? Take this simple test to determine the quality of your study skills. You probably already know your strengths and weaknesses; however, this test will remind you of possible areas that could be improved upon.
Tutors are students who are successful learners. They have learned how to learn. As a tutor, it is your responsibility to communicate the principles of effective learning to your students. The majority of the students who seek tutoring do not have good study skills. If these students took a course on study skills, it would probably cover a broad spectrum of subjects, including: time management skills, memory skills, test taking skills, listening skills, note taking skills, textbook reading skills, and learning styles information.
Encouraging students to develop good study skills requires you to assess the areas in which students need help. Usually, students will not be able to accurately identify the areas in which they need help. For instance, students who are always late for classes might need some time management techniques. You might ask them to describe the activities in their average day. Some students have never learned how to take notes in class. You might ask the students you tutor if you can look at their notes. If you see that they do not know how to take notes, you could recommend that they look over the different note taking systems.
Or, you can ask them to tell you how they prepare to take notes for a lecture class. If they are lacking positive note taking skills, you might share with them some ideas on how to take good notes.
Many students do not realize that there are techniques for taking a test, or more importantly, how to overcome test anxiety. You can give the student ideas on how to prepare for tests. It is always helpful and beneficial to go over returned tests with your students.
As a tutor, you are a resource for your students. If you find that some of your students have poor reading skills, you can provide them with handouts that could improve their reading skills. Tutors can also teach students how to use memorization techniques. Improved reading memorization skills can be a big step toward being a successful student.
Students seeking tutoring have often experienced poor grades; this could be the direct result of their personal study habits. You can provide a valuable service to them by giving them direction and encouragement to develop good study skills.
Look at these wonderful sites for valuable information on how to improve your study skills.
- The Study Skills Help Page: Strategies for Success
- Charles Sturt University, New South Wales-Study Skills, Exam Techniques
- Virginia Polytechnic Institue and State University - Study Skills Self-help Information
Every student has a unique learning style. According to Jody Whelden, a psychotherapist, counselor and teacher, "Each learning style is like an instrument in an orchestra. Students need to know what instrument is theirs and how they fit into the orchestra."
Each student learns differently, at a different rate, using different learning styles. Everyone has a learning style. Our style of learning, if accommodated, can result in improved attitudes toward learning and an increase in academic achievement. By identifying your learning tyle, you will identify how you learn best. Learning styles do not reflect levels of achievement or academic ability and no one style is better than the other.
Researchers have done experiments with at least 21 elements of learning style. They have found that most people respond strongly to between six and fourteen elements.
The element chart indicates perceptual strengths as being tactile/kinesthetic, visual or auditory learners. Perceptual elements are important to identify because they will identify the learner's preferred learning modality. You have probably noticed that when you attempt to learn something new you prefer to learn by listening to someone talk on the subject. Some students prefer to read about the concept; others want to see a demonstration of the concept. Learning style theory suggests that students learn in different ways and it is good to know your preferred learning style. Learn more about your particular learning style by taking this test. After you take the test, score it and print your score so you can complete your assignment.
By becoming familiar with learning style theory, you will be able to recognize your students' style and you will be able to make suggestions on how they can use that strength to help them study. Be sure to look at the suggestions for each learning style, and look at these sites to learn more about learning styles:
Have you taken even an introductory course in psychology? If you have, then you have probably taken a personality test. There are several personality models of varying usefulness and accuracy. Carl Jung’s personality theory was originally converted into a practical instrument by Myers and Briggs. Their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® assessment tool is used extensively in education and career counseling. The personality system used in the Keirsey Sorter is also based on Jung's theory of personality type.
Personality type tests attempt to identify a person's personality "type." Personality influences the preferred approaches to acquiring and integrating new information. Take a personality test. The test measures extroversion versus introversion, sensing versus intuition, thinking versus feeling, and judging versus perception. There are 16 different personality types. What is your type? Look at this site for a more detailed description of your type.
Knowing your learning style preferences and your personality type can help you plan for activities that take advantage of your natural skills and inclinations. It will help you to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. It will also help you to capitalize on your strengths and to compensate for your weaknesses, as well as help you become a better tutor.
A Learning Disability (LD) is a permanent disorder which affects the manner in which individuals with normal or above average intelligence take in, retain and express information. Like interference on the radio or a fuzzy TV picture, incoming or outgoing information may become scrambled as it travels between the eye, ear or skin, and the brain. This is one definition of a learning disability.
Abilities are frequently inconsistent, a student who is highly verbal with an excellent vocabulary has difficulty spelling simple words, a student who learns very well in lecture cannot complete the reading assignments. These striking contrasts in abilities and learning style were evident in many famous individuals. For example, Nelson Rockefeller had dyslexia, a severe reading disability, and yet he was able to give very effective political speeches.
Learning disabilities are often confused with other non-visible handicapping conditions like mild forms of mental retardation and emotional disturbances. Persons with learning disabilities often have to deal not only with functional limitations, but also with the frustration of having to "prove" that their invisible disabilities may be as handicapping as paraplegia. Thus, a learning disability does not mean the following:
- Mental Retardation: Students who are learning disabled are not mentally retarded. They have average to above average intellectual ability. In fact, it is believed that Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison had learning disabilities.
- Emotional Disturbances: Students who are learning disabled do not suffer from primary emotional disturbances such as schizophrenia. The emotional support they need is due to the frustration mentally healthy individuals experience from having a learning disability.
- Language Deficiency Attributable to Ethnic Background: Students who have difficulty with English because they come from different language backgrounds are not necessarily learning disabled.
Effects of Learning Disabilities on College Students
The following are characteristic problems of college students with learning disabilities. Naturally, no student will have all of these problems.
- Inability to change from one task to another
- No system for organizing notes and other materials
- Difficulty scheduling time to complete short and long-term assignments
- Difficulty completing tests and in-class assignments without additional time
- Difficulty following directions, particularly written directions
- Difficulty delaying resolution to a problem
- Disorientation in time -- misses class and appointments
- Poor self-esteem
- Difficulty reading new words, particularly when sound/symbol relationships are inconsistent
- Slow reading rate -- takes longer to read a test and other in-class assignments
- Poor comprehension and retention of material read
- Difficulty interpreting charts, graphs, scientific symbols
- Difficulty with complex syntax on objective tests
- Problems in organization and sequencing of ideas
- Poor sentence structure
- Incorrect grammar
- Frequent and inconsistent spelling errors
- Difficulty taking notes
- Poor letter formation, capitalization, spacing, and punctuation
- Inadequate strategies for monitoring written work
- Difficulty concentrating in lectures, especially two to three hour lectures
- Poor vocabulary, difficulty with word retrieval
- Problems with grammar
- Difficulty with basic math operations
- Difficulty with aligning problems, number reversals, confusion of symbols
- Poor strategies for monitoring errors
- Difficulty with reasoning
- Difficulty reading and comprehending word problems
- Difficulty with concepts of time and money
Developing a Tutoring Program
Before determining what to work on with regard to a learning disability in a specific case, both the tutor and the student must understand the student’s specific strengths and areas for improvement. If a student brings up a learning disability or a disability becomes a problem, a few minutes should be spent discussing the student's learning disability, how it may affect him/her in school, and techniques for compensating for it. This is also the time to build trust. This can be accomplished by:
- Treating the student as an equal. The student may have a learning disability, but he/she also possesses knowledge and talent that the tutor doesn't have.
- Listening to what is important to the student. What areas of learning does he/she want to focus on?
- Creating an atmosphere that permits the student to confide in the tutor. It is important to find a location away from peers and teachers, where learning disabled students can feel comfortable to tackle problems without fear of being embarrassed.
Final determination of what to work on is based on the following factors:
- The nature and severity of the student's learning disability.
- The student's concerns.
- Course requirements.
It may be helpful to list information under each factor and use this information to determine priorities for the tutoring program. Some students may just require assistance with papers and reading assigned in their courses. Others also may want to work on supplementary materials. For example, a student planning to take a statistics course may want to review basic algebra concepts and overcome problems understanding fractions. A student with reading comprehension difficulties may want to focus on ways to improve his/her vocabulary.
There is a wealth of information regarding learning disabilities on the Internet. Look at these sites:
What is culture? Culture refers to the sum total of acquired values, beliefs, customs, and traditions experienced by a group as familiar and normal. It includes language, religion, customs, and a history of the people. Students today come from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
During the 1980's, immigrants accounted for 1/3 of the total U.S. population growth. In 1984, approximately one in four schoolchildren were minority students. By 2020, that figure likely will increase to nearly one in two. During the next 20 years the U.S. population will grow by 42 million. It has also been predicted that Hispanics will account for 47% of the growth, Blacks 22%, Asians 18%, and Whites 13%.
As a tutor, you will be working with students from other cultures. You will gain an appreciation for different cultures by providing the student with an atmosphere of trust and acceptance. Encourage the student to talk about his/her family and country. If you are asked about American customs, be sensitive to the tutee's viewpoints. What is socially acceptable in the U.S. might be unthinkable in the student's culture. Most foreign students are eager to talk about their country and traditions. This interaction might be a valuable learning experience for you.
Look at these five ways to bring more multicultural awareness to your tutoring Some questions you might want to ask a foreign student include:
- Tell me about your travels in other countries and the U.S.
- What are your impressions of life in the U.S.?
- Why did you decide to come to Anoka-Ramsey Community College?
- Have American customs been a problem for you?
- What do you miss most about your country?
When you begin tutoring a foreign student, be aware that sometimes the student will become dependent on you for more than just tutoring. The student might see you as a much needed new friend, or as a source of information about not only, scholarly interests, but social interests. Student dependence can become an obstacle to bridging the cultural gap.
The following are tips for working with English as a Second Language (ESL) students:
- Speak clearly, naturally and avoid using slang.
- Use repetition.
- Frequently ask the student if what you are saying makes sense.
- Ask students to become the tutor and explain the concept to you.
- Use restatement to clarify the student's response--I think you said...
- If the student does not understand you, write down what you are saying.
- If you do not understand the student, ask them to write what they are saying.
- Encourage students to read and to use their dictionaries.
Be sure to look at the following sites. They will give you additional information on multicultural awareness.
Even though group tutoring is less common in our center than individual tutoring, some tutors encounter small group situations while being a Supplemental Instruction Leader in a classroom setting. Group tutoring is far more challenging; however, it can be very rewarding. The group setting, while manageable by a skilled tutor, is quite limiting in terms of the amount of individual attention that can be provided; this potential problem grows in relation to the size of the group being tutored. Some of the differences are outlined as follows:
- Time allows the individual student to ask many questions.
- Student is instructed at his/ her level and pace.
- Student must actively participate in the session. Content is tailor-made to individual student needs.
- Time per student is restricted.
- Multiple abilities and background of students complicate level and pace of instruction.
- Non-participation by some students can occur.
- Content covered must be suitable for the general needs of the group.
As you can see, individual tutoring has many natural benefits, while group tutoring requires a more conscious leadership role on the part of the tutor. The primary advantage of group tutoring (and disadvantage of individual tutoring) is the potential for the sharing of a variety of views and information. Groups also demonstrate cooperative attitudes and work skills in contrast to individual tutoring, which is more self-centered by nature. The following are some basic group tutoring guidelines that enhance group learning. Remember that these guidelines (and skills) require conscious leadership on the tutor's part.
- Keep in mind, as a group tutor, you are a resource for students and their learning. Your role is to facilitate their learning process.
- Stand or sit where all can see and hear you. Arrange seating so it encourages interaction and visibility.
- Waiting for students to volunteer a well-developed answer allows high-level thinking to take place. If you are uncomfortable waiting for 30 seconds, join students in looking through notes or text. If students are unable to answer the question, refer to the source of information.
- Respect all questions or responses offered by students, no matter how basic.
- Remember to use probing questions.
- Don't allow individuals to dominate participation or discussion. Try to involve everyone in the learning activity; non-participants must be drawn into the activity.
- Please don't interrupt student answers. Group tutors should provide a comfortable environment for practicing. To check for understanding, ask another student to describe the same concept in his or her own words.
- Ask open-ended questions, and rephrase questions if they do not yield comments.
- Remember to include humor in the group session.
- Keep the session on topic and moving at the appropriate pace for the group's abilities.
- Maintain productivity of the session by preventing irrelevant arguing or repetition.
- As the session comes to a close, provide closure. You can do this by asking the students what they learned during the session, what they still need clarification on, or what they would like to cover in the next session. You might also ask them to come to the next session with a few predictions of test questions. Summarize the ideas presented in the session.
All over the world faculty are using technology to break classroom boundaries and improve communication with their students. It is my belief that both teaching and learning will be enhanced with this online class; however, you are the final judge.
Did the class fulfill your expectations?
Did you learn the fundamentals of good tutoring techniques?
Did you enjoy the experience?
With these questions in mind, please complete your last assignment and evaluate the class. These evaluations will be shared with future students. Your honest evaluation will be greatly appreciated.
Special Thanks goes out to Kathie Read, for the coutesy of the provided information!
Kathie Read, Learning Resource Center Coordinator of the American River College, graciously granted her permission for the Learning Center of Los Angeles Mission College to adapt her awesome Online Tutor Training Project for our college.