The Successful Tutorial

So, you're pretty confident in your writing skills, possibly just as strong in your grammatical skills, but are you ready to tutor? The good news is that you're half-way there! There are some very effective tutoring methods which can benefit both you and the student with whom you are working. The first step is defining "What is a Tutor?" Keep in mind two important ideas:

  1. Personal Qualities - An effective tutor needs patience and sensitivity when working with a student. So, you've explained five times that a comma goes after an introductory clause. When you ask your student to correct a sentence, she stares at you like she's never seen you before. Panic! Frustration! No. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that not everyone works at the same pace. Ask your student (in an understanding tone) what she doesn't understand. Try new methods of teaching the student proper comma usage. Remember: Many students will feel vulnerable and defensive about their works. Be reassuring and supportive!
  2. Academic Qualities - This includes preparation and subject knowledge as very important parts of the tutoring process. Review areas in which you do not feel confident and in which you work most frequently with students. If you feel confident with your subject matter, your student will feel confident in your tutoring abilities, thus establishing trust between the two of you.

Now that we've discussed what constitutes an effective tutor, let's figure out why we need to master these concepts. What are our goals as tutors? Most importantly, a tutor's goal is to HELP STUDENTS LEARN TO HELP THEMSELVES. Here are three of the many ways to accomplish this goal:

  1. Active Learning - Have structured activities for students to do. Work hard to build interest on the students' parts. Ask questions. When a student comes to you and says, "I have a paper to write on Oedipus Rex, and I don't have any ideas about what to write," remember this is not true (in most cases). Of course the student has some ideas. Show interest; ask questions. Get the student involved in his paper. This involvement will build confidence in your student, the most important step in the writing process.
  2. Independence - A confident student will become an independent student. Help the student develop ideas and proofread papers. Then, encourage the student to continue to incorporate these lessons into her own work. It is a waste of both the tutor's and the student's time for the student to come into the Writing Center every time a paper is due. An effective tutor works to build confidence and independence in students.
  3. Motivation - So, how do you convince the student that he can and should work hard to become an independent writer? College students have a lot to consider and to plan futures. Explain to your students how determination now will pay off greatly in the long run. Communication skills are very important in every career. A little (or a lot of) work now will help students get good grades and prepare for successful lives after college. That goal should be incentive enough!

The next step in becoming an effective tutor is Diagnosis Through Observation.

  1. Tutoring Strategies - What techniques are most effective with your students? Do you usually work on the computers or in the workbooks? At 9:10 PM on a Tuesday night, your appointment shows up a little late. She is carrying a heavy bag and her arms are loaded with books. She looks exhausted. Use your common sense. After your student plops her books down on the table, do not put another book in her hands. Discuss her assignment or encourage her to do a computer exercise. Be in tune with your students' needs and capabilities.
  2. Physical Observations - Be a keen observer! Note facial expressions, body language and enthusiasm or lack of it. If a person looks confused, he probably is. If another student nods every time you make a comment, but doesn't make any responses, she is probably lost or bored or worse yet, both. The students in these examples are not learning. Pay attention: If the student is showing signs of frustration, confusion, distrust, lack of confidence or boredom, check your own behavior. Ask yourself:
    • Am I talking too much, listening too little?
    • Have I been speaking in a condescending tone or speaking over the student's head?
    • How can I get the student involved?
    • What activities should I have planned?
    • What questions should I ask?
    • Do I need to clarify myself? Or maybe it's time to move on to another subject?

    Asking these questions will put you on your way to better understanding of and relating with your students.

  3. Learning Skills - Help your students to have a successful tutoring experience by giving them every opportunity to learn to retain information. Use back up materials, educational songs, computer programs, or even note cards to provide reinforcement of the lessons learned. Sentence generation is often one of the most effective reinforcement techniques.
  4. Group Tutorials- Don't discount the help of peers in tutoring a student. Several times in our sessions, Teacher Preparation Program (TPP) student A has taught a lesson on comma usage or pronoun usage to TPP student B. This technique works well because many students feel they can relate better to people who are in the same proverbial boat as they are. Group tutorials are helpful in three specific ways:
    • Group tutorials encourage participation by asking students to explain their ideas to others.
    • Group tutorials encourage quiet students to participate and control more dominant contributors.
    • Group tutorials can redirect discussions and summarize students' ideas.

We have considered what a tutor is, what a tutor's goals are, and now, Who Is a Tutor? The tutor will often play the role of counselor to the students. Here are five things to keep in mind:

  1. Be Empathetic - Be considerate of your student's needs. Try to anticipate problems before they arise. If you sense discomfort, ask your students questions to break the ice. For a effective session, you cannot just go through the motions of tutoring.
  2. Be Aware of Your Own Body Language - Remain comfortable, alert and confident. This behavior will encourage your student to act the same way.
  3. Confront Problems Immediately - If there is a disturbance within a group tutorial or a one-on-one tutorial, confront the issue immediately. In this way, you will have the greatest chance of rectifying the problem without discouraging the student.
  4. Remain Objective at all Times - Do not allow your particular opinions or beliefs to affect a paper. If you feel the need for your opinions on the specific subject matter to be made public, then write your own version of the paper. In the meantime, help the student develop his ideas.
  5. Consider the student's referral - Did a teacher or advisor suggest that the student visits the Writing Center? Why? What specifically do you need to know to help the student efficiently? Get answers to these questions before you begin. Then, if you and your student are not making progress, you can bring the problem to the referral for advice and for guidance.

All of these tutoring methods were designed to enable tutors to create the best learning atmosphere for the students. Our goal of helping students to learn to help themselves should always be at the front of our minds going into every session. These strategies, as well as other helpful ones on tutoring ESL students and bridging ethnic gaps, can be found in the video series The Tutor's Guide [LB 1031.5 T7 1986] (also found in Lynchburg College Knight-Capron Library). These videos are excellent references and provide many examples of the ideas and strategies discussed here.

Created by Jessica Grecco