Effective Tutoring Strategies

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While tutoring is similar to classroom teaching, it is important to note the differences. What works in a large group may not work in small groups.  Research has shown that tutoring can be a powerful teaching tool that comes with its own set of effective techniques. Starting with the most obvious, tutoring takes place in small groups or in one on one settings. The power of ratio is extremely evident when it comes to learning. Nearly everyone can think back to a time of confusion caused by an activity or lesson. Unfortunately, we can also recall the feeling of being isolated in our puzzlement of what others seemed to understand effortlessly. Small pupil to instructor ratios allow for comfort in exploring tricky ideas and asking questions that remain unanswered.  

     Whether a student is struggling, trying to get ahead, or is simply passionate about retaining and applying education to life, tutoring is a proven effective resource. The expectation today is that students learn at a greater pace and develop higher levels of critical thinking skills than ever before. Students and teachers feel the stress of meeting learning objectives alike. Although many students can keep up with the demands, many students also fall behind. Learning timelines cannot, and will not ever, be flexible enough to give every pupil the comprehension of every topic that they need. Unfortunately, these small gaps of misconception in a subject area can grow over time. Here is where the benefits of effective tutoring bring hope into the classroom. Look at tutoring as one would a multivitamin. An individual’s schooling could be strong and nourishing; or it could be lacking in some areas. Either way, tutoring can act as an educational supplement; ensuring gaps are filled and true comprehension mastered given the time and attention required for each student.. 

     How is tutoring different from simply extending the hours in a school day? During the regular school day, teachers are required to teach prescribed content on a predetermined timeline. Even when teachers identify students, struggling with misconceptions they are simply not afforded the time and luxury to stop and apply all the diverse strategies necessary to reach and reteach every individual on a personal level. Effective tutoring fills in those gaps the classroom teacher cannot. 

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     So what are effective tutoring strategies?  The founder of Tutorhub (an online source to connect students with tutors), Jon Ellis, has written a great article on this very subject.  His article titled, Tips for Tutors: 12 Teaching Strategies for Effective Learning, contains 12 separate and insightful strategies for tutors. Ellis specifically addresses the benefiting capacities of a tutoring session as opposed to that of a classroom. Ellis encourages tutors to use the Pause Procedure. Ellis states, “Good tutors are characterized by allowing their student’s voice to be heard more than their own”. This is powerful because it is so different from what teachers are normally able to accomplish. Teachers face the pressure of covering vast amount of material in limited time often resulting in lecture style teaching. Research shows an engaged student retains much more. The Pause Method requires the instructor to stop every 10-15 minutes to ask the pupil for feedback, a critical thought, or questions. This is where a tutor can foster meaningful connections in a student’s mind that otherwise would not have been available in a lecture style lesson. 

      Another tip that Ellis suggests is for tutors to change the class setting. This is nearly impossible during the school day. It is difficult for teachers to take their entire class and the lesson elsewhere.  However, tutors do have this flexibility. Avoiding boredom and getting some stress relieving fresh air are two reasons Ellis encourages tutors to change it up. Alleviating boredom and stress leads to students being more focused which supports long-term learning. (http://blog.tutorhub.com/2014/01/10/tips-for-tutors-12-teaching-strategies-for-effective-learning/) 

     Other effective strategies that tutors can more easily incorporate into lessons are Active Listening and Active Probing. Gallaudet University has published article Tutoring Techniques meant for tutors of college students. (http://www.gallaudet.edu/tip/tutor-training/crla-level-1/tutoring-techniques.html)  Gallaudet University stressed the importance of these two techniques. Similarly, to having an engaged student, an engaged instructor makes all the difference. Body language is extremely important in active listening. The importance of making eye contact, leaning in and using appropriate facial expressions positively effects of student learning.  “When a tutor listens actively, it shows students that they are important enough to have your undivided attention.” This brings us back to the comfort often lacking in a large class setting that isolates students and stunts the learning process. Active Probing is slightly different but very much intertwines with active listening.  This is especially useful when the tutor in not the students day-to-day teacher. This technique allows tutors to identify gaps of understanding and misconceptions a student may have. Gallaudet University listed some guiding questions that tutors should use as examples of active probing. Here are just a few: 

•    “How did class go yesterday?”
•    "How did you come to that answer?"
•    "How does that apply to this?"
•    "Why do you think that's the answer?"
•    "Why do you think this happened?"
•    "Why do you think the teacher said this?"
•    "Where would you go to find the answer?"


These questions are not only a good example of how to use the active probing technique; they are also illustrate of one of the major objectives of tutoring: improving self-study habits. Effective tutoring strategies also encourages students to become learners that are more independent. Classroom direction rarely includes detailed instruction on effectively processing new information.  When tutors ask probing questions students build important critical thinking skills, which leads to learning that is more independent. Tutors help students transition from what they have learned inside the classroom, then to process the information on their own, and relay that information to someone else. Students are able to realize on their own, they have full understanding of new concepts or that they actually have gaps in comprehension. During that tutoring time, students are free to ask those delayed questions while tutors immediately correct misconceptions.

     Overall, research supports effective tutoring requires small groups where students build a trusting relationship with supporting adult. These strategies focus on effective communication where the student’s voice can heard. Critical thinking skills taught in conjunctions with academic skills. Alongside schooling, tutoring techniques can supplement and foster a healthy approach to lifelong learning for all students.

     Computer based software is a great way to track the effectiveness of tutoring initiatives.  A web-based option is even better.  Often, tutors have students from multiple classes or even grades at one time.  The technology should support your tutoring efforts, not define them.  Programs that allow for flexible group structures and easily allows students to flow in and out of the best group for them should be at the top of the list.  Lennections is a great option for most tutoring programs.  The key point is you do not want the technology to drive your tutoring program; you want the technology to streamline the effective processes you have established.