The following tutoring techniques are put together to give both new and seasoned tutors the necessary tools to succeed in the world of tutoring.
Goals and Agendas
Verbal Communication Techniques
Written Communication Techniques
Work With, Not For, Your Tutee
Good Student Behavior
Help! I can’t solve this
Right Ways and Wrong Ways
A proper tutoring environment is very important, and it is your responsibility to provide it. The environment in which the tutoring takes place can mean the difference between success and failure. And although you may be required to use a tutoring center’s facilities, there are still some things you can do to create the perfect tutoring environment.
Choose a side-by-side table (if possible) that is large enough to accommodate all the materials that you need and your tutee will be using during your session. If you are forced to use a smaller table, place materials immediately required on the table while storing those that will be needed later, in an easily accessible place, such as on the floor next to your chair. If you’re right handed, sit to your tutee’s right; if you are left handed, you may sit to your tutee’s left. This arrangement keeps the tutor’s writing hand away from the tutee, making it more difficult for the tutor to reach in and take over the tutee’s work.
Choose a table, whenever possible, that offers quiet surroundings, minimal distractions, ample lighting, fresh air, and comfortable temperature.
Refrain from eating or drinking during your tutoring session.
Good hygiene and fresh breath can prevent embarrassing distractions. Do not go overboard
with perfume and cologne.
Appropriate attire can impact your tutoring session. No shirts with offensive slogans.
As a tutor, you are not expected to know everything about diversity. There are thousands of books on the subject and many of them don’t agree with each other. The bottom line is that every person is a unique individual, so don’t generalize or stereotype. Instead, use a standard, professional approach with all of your tutees. Then adjust the manner in which you interact as you get to know your tutee as an individual. Treat all of your tutees with respect that every human being deserves. And if something is still on your mind, don’t assume, stereotype, or stare…ASK! People are usually glad to interact if they are sincerely approached.
Greetings are an important part of a tutoring session, and each greeting will differ depending upon how well you know your tutee. It is your job to make each tutee with whom you work feel comfortable. Greetings and introductions are an excellent way to accomplish this. If this is your first time with the tutee, you should start with an introduction. Tell your tutee a little bit about yourself. Mention your major, hobbies, interests, and anything else that could help your tutee get to know you as a person. Likewise, find out about your tutee’s interests, hobbies, etc…Not only will you get to know your tutee better, but often, during a tutoring session, you can relate material directly to your tutee’s hobbies and interests. This could make the material much more easily understandable to your tutee. Find out (if Applicable) who your tutee’s instructor is, and take a look at the class syllabus and text. A class syllabus can often help in planning for future sessions.
If you have tutored your student before, a simple “hello” followed by a little personal chit-chat is about all that is required before getting to work. Keep the personal conversation to a minimum, but be friendly and talkative enough to make your few helpful habits.
When meeting with your tutee for the first time, review all rules pertaining to the tutee: How long will you wait for a late tutee? What happens if the tutee doesn’t show up? What is the procedure for rescheduling a session? How will you get paid? Also, make sure that you exchange phone numbers with your tutee.
A goal can be anything from “I want to learn word problems” to “I want to get a B in this class.” The purpose of a goal is to let you know what your tutee wants to accomplish, either during the session, or as a result of many sessions. In either case, it’s your tutee who must decide on a goal. Therefore let your tutee (with guidance from you) tell you what he or she wants to accomplish. The agenda is your responsibility. As a tutor, you can use your knowledge of the subject into a series of small steps that can be mastered one at a time. These steps will form an agenda for the session. Keep in mind that this is not a classroom session. You are not requires to stick to the agenda and cover a prescribed amount of material during the session. Ultimately, your tutee’s pave will drive the session.
An agenda helps you to break down a task into manageable parts for your tutee. Smaller tasks are much easier to work on. It also lets your tutee see what will be covered and the logical progression. It models positive student behavior. This is important because, in addition to direct learning, your tutee will also learn from your actions and vocabulary. With any luck your tutee will pick up a few helpful habits.
Verbal Communication Techniques
The communication techniques and skills that you demonstrate as a tutor can significantly impact the session. Communication also plays an important role in creating an environment in which your tutee will never feel embarrassed or “dumb” during a session. Your tutee comes to you for help. He or she is having some difficulty with a particular subject. Your job, as a tutor, is to figure out what problem needs to be addressed. This can be best accomplished through a process of questioning and listening. Ask questions that will reveal where your tutee is at the present time. “Show (or tell) me where you are having difficulty,” is a question that will reveal much more than, “So, do you understand this stuff?” Ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response. Your ultimate goal here is to get the tutee to tell you where the help is needed.
Tutees are famous for keeping silent until their tutor answers all of their questions or does all their work. In too many of the tutoring sessions, the tutor does too much talking and the tutee doesn’t do enough. The silent treatment should be employed by you, and not your tutee. You should give your tutee ample time to think about a problem or question and respond with an answer. Remember that your tutee may require more time than you would to come up with an answer. So, be patient! But don’t go overboard with the silence treatment. The whole session can pass by without an answer from your tutee if he or she lacks the skills or knowledge to do so. Give your tutee a reasonable amount of time (10-20 seconds) before interjecting with assistance.
Don’t Lecture – As a general rule, tutors should not lecture. There are times, however, when lecturing can be a valuable lecturing method. Let’s say that the silent treatment bears no fruit. A little questioning and listening on your part reveals that your tutee was never exposed to the particular topic or skill needed to solve the problem. There are times that a short lecture is a very effective way to present new material to your tutee. Keep the lecturing to a minimum; just enough to introduce the necessary materials.
Written Communication Techniques
When lecturing is not working or is not an appropriate way to present new material, drawings or diagrams may be a wiser choice. In any tutoring situation, an occasion could arise when lectures, diagrams, or drawings are simply not working. For these occasions, demonstrations may be what is needed. Think how you would teach someone archery. Silent treatment, lecturing, drawings may not be enough to understand how a bow is strung. One demonstration will do what all other techniques failed to do. Get the point?
Choosing appropriate example problems can also be an important aspect of a successful tutoring session.
Work With, Not For, Your Tutee
The sign of a truly successful tutor is one who works himself or herself out of a job. Your goal is to get your tutees to the point where they can perform on their own. That means that they will no longer require your services. Not doing your tutee’s work is a great place to start! One of the most violated rules in tutoring is to let your tutee do the work. While demonstrating a problem is helpful, simply doing every aspect of your tutee’s work is not helpful at all. The act of “doing” reinforces learning, and an excellent way to get your tutee to do the work is to give him or her control of the materials. Assess your tutee’s knowledge level by constantly observing their work and progress during the session. Also, use the questioning and listening skills. Don’t ever assume your tutee knows something just because you do! Summaries and demonstrations by your tutees provide an excellent way for you to assess how much your tutee has mastered. Never move ahead in a session until your tutee has fully understood the process on which you are working and has developed the skills necessary to carry out the procedure.
As a good student (that’s generally one of the requirements for becoming a tutor) you should be exhibiting good study habits and good student behavior. Your tutors will learn just by observing your actions during a session. If you are neat and organized, it may influence your tutee. In addition to what you say or do, pay attention to what your tutee say and does. Your tutee may indicate, usually indirectly, that he or she needs help with a particular study skill. When addressing study skills, you should not just present the material and move on. You need to hold your tutee accountable for the new skill.
There are literally hundreds of books available on study skills and techniques. Tutors are encouraged to read more about study skills. Not only further reading in this area strengthen your tutoring abilities, but it will also make you a better prepared student.
Your tutee presents you with a problem that you can’t solve. Don’t Panic! It’s okay not to know every answer to every problem. Just be honest. Inform the tutee that you don’t have an answer. But don’t stop there! A good tutor will find the answer. If time permits, consult another student or tutor, or even another textbook to get the correct answer. Show your tutee that it is okay to consult with other people under these circumstances. It is possible that the answer can be discovered with a little research. Get the tutee involved. If more research or time is needed, move on to another problem. Then, if appropriate, challenge your tutee to do some work or research on the problem and present his or her work at your next session.
Many students don’t take notes. You should introduce the tutee to the importance of notetaking and notetaking techniques. Make sure that your tutee knows that he or she is accountable for notetaking. A good idea would be to ask your tutee to bring his or her notes from the class to your next session. This will not only help the tutee become responsible for taking notes, but it will also give you the opportunity to assess your tutee’s notetaking skills.
Your tutee complains about not being able to remember things during a test. Ask your tutee if he or she remembers the names and phone numbers of friends. Point out that he or she does and can remember information. Then emphasize the importance of a good study environment and suggest some techniques for memorizing new material. To succeed in a subject, you need to memorize certain facts and concepts. There are techniques that will make you more receptive to memorizing information.
If your tutee constantly complains about not having time to complete assignments, you will need to discuss time management skills. Time management is difficult to implement. It requires you to take a good look at how you currently live, and then make changes in your life that will help you achieve your goals. Time management begins with a record of how you spend your time; what do you do each week, and how much time do you spend doing it? Next, goals need to be set. What do you want to accomplish? Goals need to be reasonable and attainable. Once you have reasons for needing more time, you will be more eager to use your time wisely. Next, priorities should be set. Make a list of all your activities and rank them according to importance. Identify your best (on) and worst (off) times.
Tutee problems at the beginning of a tutoring session can range from excuses for being late to serious problems requiring professional help. Whatever the case, the problem must be dealt with before effective tutoring can begin. When dealing with a non-serious problem, such as “sorry I’m late, but…” it’s best to let your tutee talk. Often people need to say something out loud and “get it off their chest”. Let your tutee do so. I addition, people in these circumstances need to know that they were heard. Let your tutee know that you were listening by verbally acknowledging your tutee’s situation. But do not get too involved in the problem. By following these steps, you can avoid adding thoughts of your own that might irritate your tutee or drag you both into an undesirable discussion.
There is more than one “right way” to tutor, and there are plenty of “wrong ways” as well. Anything you do as a tutor that gets positive results is a “right way” of tutoring. Be creative. What works with one tutee may not work with another. Don’t be afraid to try new ways of presenting skills, processes, or material. Also don’t be afraid to abandon an idea that isn’t working and move on to another.
Communication with your tutee is important, but so is communication with other tutors. Talk with other tutors, if possible, and find out what works for them. When communicating with your tutees, be sensitive to their needs for self-esteem. An important responsibility of a tutor is to make tutees feel comfortable and confident. A tutee who feels looked down upon, or inferior, will have a difficult time contributing to a tutoring session, whereas a self-confident tutee will be more likely to speak out and participate in the session. Keep in mind that your tutee is not at your level of understanding, and that is to be expected.
Encouragement, Patience, and praise can help your tutee’s self-esteem. Remember that we all need help sooner or later. And when we need help, we’d rather be helped by a patient and understanding person.
From time to time, think about what you are doing in a session. Are you dominating the session? Who’s doing all the talking? Who’s doing the work? If you can get your tutee actively involved, if you can employ the proper techniques, you will become a more effective and successful tutor. If you avoid the “wrongs” and do the “rights”, you will be on your way to actually producing an independent learner. And the goal of an effective tutor should be to enable the tutee to eventually become independent of the tutor.