Top Tutoring Tips
Do you homeschool or work with individual students? Do you hear yourself teaching them using the same methods that you were taught as a child? Do you wonder if there are ways to work more efficiently and positively to build confidence and improve the progress that your student can make? Here are tips for improving your tutoring sessions.
- Use your own pencil and paper or whiteboard. Snatching their pencil out of their hand or writing on their paper communicates just how incompetent they really are!
- Sit beside, not across from the student. Sit lower, eye level to eye level. Use a non confrontational body language of support. Ask permission to touch them or help them. “May I show you something?” “Would you read that again for me?”
- Ask them to read the directions aloud to you. Listen for hesitation, a lack of understanding. Afterwards, ask them to tell
- you in their own words what they need to do for this task.
- Define direction words together. Ask the easy ones first. This will build trust that you are not about to ambush them and make them feel dumb. “What does underline mean?” “What does it mean to identify?” Ask the hard ones and be sure they understand them within the new context. Direction words can change their meaning from one context to the next, from one grade level to the next.
- Establish prerequisite knowledge. This will insure success. Begin by reviewing what they already know. You are establishing the foundational concepts that they will need in order to build on the new skill or knowledge. “How did we do the last lab report?” What is a topic sentence?”
- Teach what they don’t know.. If students have gaps in their background or need to relearn prerequisite skills, you can’t figure out what those are unless you ask the right questions. “What do you already know about…?” “What would be the first step in…?” What part do you need help to do?” The student will reveal their own gaps. Then, you can fill in the gaps.
- Don’t do the work for them. There is a difference between modeling steps, and doing the work for them. This can be a fine line. If they have read the directions and sample problems in the textbook aloud, then they can probably predict some of the steps in your modeling of the new skill. Use questions to have them talk through your modeling of the session, so that they are articulating their own words for each step. “So where do I put this part?” What goes here?”
- Let them do the talking. When the student can tell you the steps, they are creating a self-talking script that they will be able to access later on, when you are not there. Kids who need remedial tutoring often need to verbalize their strategies, sequences, process several times in order to refine their own thinking and become confident that it will work for them. Don’t force them to use your language or do it your way. Even if their process is a bit convoluted, it makes sense to them. That is their starting place. Later, their brain will seek more efficient pathways and will make improvements in their strategy.
- Don’t interrupt the brain! Good and healthy struggle is evidence that the brain is creating new neurological connections and growing, increasing understanding. Don’t talk just as the student is frowning and fretting but focused. This is the golden moment. If the moment seems to last too long, ask them “What are you thinking?” “Where are you stuck?” Don’t make assumptions or teach the whole thing again from the beginning. The student will lose the progress that they have already made. Worse, they will see that you believe that they didn’t get any of it. Get them talking!
- Provide positive acknowledgements ten times to every single correction. Positive acknowledgements are simply speaking out loud every positive expectation that the student demonstrates. “Nice heading.” “You really are focusing.” That was neatly written.” “That made good sense.”
- Practice the correct problems, not the incorrect ones. If a student completes a homework task such as a math problem, and gets the answer correct, notice if they were hesitant or lacked confidence in their own process. It is good to use that same problem to do over again, sometimes 3 or 4 times until the student can describe the steps or strategies with confidence before tackling the harder items in the homework.
- Take lots of breaks - The brain needs time to assimilate the new information with the old, and make new connections in the new information. The brain can easily get overwhelmed with new information, and lose its hold on the early stuff while trying to keep all the later stuff straight. Take a break about every 20 minutes when learning challenging new material. Just a 30 second break, deep breath, drink of water, and then start back will increase the rate of learning and will give the student a natural moment to talk about their learning - which is the key to understanding and remembering it.