Three Easy Tips For Tutoring
When you accept a tutoring position, or when a friend or sibling comes to you in need of some homework help, it can seem like a big task. Not only does it feel like you have to anticipate how the teacher will grade the assignment, but you also must catch all of the errors and be able to explain why you are correct. The reality is that even the most experienced tutors cannot do all of this–and knowing all of this wouldn’t be in the best interest of the student anyway! The goal is to be a sounding board for your tutee so that he or she is coming up with the answers, you are there to merely guide them in the right direction. What follows are three tips to improve your tutoring skills.
- Try asking more questions rather than making more statements.
This makes sense for two reasons: the first is that there is no reason to pretend that you’re the expert at what your tutee is doing because you aren’t. He or she knows more about the assignment, more about the teacher, and (most likely) more about the subject. Asking questions reminds your student of what aspects of the assignment are important (“How many pages did you say this should be?”). This way, you’re gaining information on what is important, and you reaffirming what’s important to your tutee. Asking questions about the assignment can also prioritize goals for your tutee, which is especially important in a time crunch. For example, ask the tutee to talk about his or her concerns about the assignment.
The second reason you should consider asking a lot of questions is that questions provoke thought, but statements do not. Use your questions as best as you can to provoke your student to ask “why” or “how.” For essays, ask questions that penetrate as deeply as possible. For lab reports, question basic methods, ask probing questions about the results, or the methodology.
- Remember to keep your reference books handy, and don’t feel that you have to “know all of the rules.”
Many new tutors, no matter what subject they tutor in, feel like they have to present an outward appearance of being “all-knowing,” to make the tutees confident in the tutor’s knowledge and ability. Regardless of whether this works, it’s not in your (or your tutee’s) best interest to give tutoring without making sure that you are correct. No matter what you tutor in, always carry a style or other reference book with you to double-check yourself. It does take a little more time, and the silence that ensues as you are thumbing through the pages can be awkward, but you can feel confident in your answer, and, after you’ve looked it up a few times, you’ll know the answer by heart.
Also, keep in mind that there are some questions that you should not give an answer for, and some opinions that you should not give. If your tutee ever asks you about their projected grade or what your opinion on what you think the teacher might want, do not give an answer. There is no way that you can predict the grade for an assignment or safely presume what a teacher might want out of a student, so always politely decline to answer, and direct the student to call or e-mail his or her teacher.
- Stay upbeat, take an interest in your tutee, and keep the energy level up.
The last–and best–tip I can give to a new tutor is to stay positive. According to Ken Bain, in his book What the Best Teacher’s Do, students perform better when they believe that the person teaching them cares about their personal development and wants them to succeed. You can apply this to your tutoring by smiling, by being upbeat and excited about tutoring, and by remembering your tutee’s name. Show that you care about your tutee’s development as a student by asking him or her to come back to see you for the next assignment. If you struggle to develop a rapport with a tutee, that is OK, of course, but, next time, try to match them in posture and voice level. This makes it easier for a tutee to trust you since you have adjusted your mannerisms to match theirs more closely.
Keeping your energy level up also helps for longer tutoring sessions, when tutees are more likely to become frustrated or to ask you to supply the answers for them. Keeping your energy up helps tutees to keep theirs up as well.
So there you have it, three easy tips that anyone can follow to make their tutoring sessions more productive, or to use as a foundation for guiding your first few tutoring sessions.