How to be a good tutor
Excerpted from a pamphlet published by The International Bureau of Education
Question, pause for thinking time and then prompt
Talking at people for a long time is not an effective way of helping them to learn. A variety of tasks and ways of responding to tasks helps prevent tutees and tutors from losing interest. Different kinds of questioning have very different effects on learners. Tutees must be allowed time to understand questions or tasks.
• Avoid lectures. Do not give tutees long, complicated explanations. Keep everything short, to the point and in simple words. Give positive instructions for what to do. Do not emphasize what NOT to do. If necessary, explain again briefly, but in different words.
• Review. Often it is helpful to briefly review what you learned in your previous tutoring session.
• Concentrate. Stay focused on the task in hand. Do not drift off into irrelevant conversation. Tutoring time is precious. Use it well. But have some fun while learning.
• Variety. Mix up: easy and hard tasks; short and long; highly structured and open-ended; talking, reading and writing.
• Question. Do not just ask for a fact or one-word answer. Ask questions that are open-ended and encourage the tutee to talk. But do not make your questions too complicated. Ask questions that will make the tutee think and reveal their understanding (or misunderstanding). Ask questions thatmake the tutee apply, analyze, predict, classify, synthesize, justify or evaluate what they are learning. Some of these questions will have more than one ‘right’ answer. Do not accept guesses.
• Thinking time. Do not expect the tutee to respond to a question immediately. They will need some thinking time. Tutors can give them that, while schoolteachers often cannot.
• Prompt. Do not just tell the tutee the answer. Give them a small clue about how to work out the right answer. This might be a drawing or a gesture (for example), as well as more spoken words. Give just enough support to enable the tutee to be successful with some effort — no more.
Check and correct errors
Errors are a positive learning opportunity if recognized as errors. But if not recognized, errors compound faulty learning. Tutors have more time than schoolteachers to observe carefully for errors. But they might not be so good at actually recognizing them. Tutors also have more time than teachers to intervene in a way that encourages self-correction. Self-correction is widely recognized as an important step towards developing metacognition (understanding how you learn) and self-managed learning.
• Observe tutee performance closely. If errors are not seen and corrected, much faulty learning will take place. Some errors might be just carelessness. But many will show a failure to understand.
• Check for errors. When you see an error, try to intervene positively. Avoid just saying ‘no!’. First, suggest to your tutee that you think they might have made an error. Encourage them to find where. If they cannot find where, give them a clue to help them locate the error.
• Promote self-correction. When they have found it, talk about the nature of the error. In what way is it wrong? Why? How can it be put right? Through this discussion, you give the tutee the chance to put the error right themselves (self correct). This is much better for their learning and for their confidence.
• Correction procedure. Of course, if they try to self-correct but still do not get it right, you will need to intervene more. If all else fails, you might need to: demonstrate or model the correct response; lead or prompt the tutee to imitate this; check that the tutee can produce the correct response without help.
Discuss and praise
Discussion leads tutees to actively process information and develops deeper understanding, rather than just learning facts by rote. Praise is a powerful form of feedback, especially if it comes from someone with whom the tutee has a good relationship.
• Discuss. The questioning and the promotion of self-correction mentioned above should lead into elaborated discussions. This will help to establish deeper and wider understanding in the tutee.
• Praise. Most tutors do not praise their tutees as much as they think they do. Most tutors also criticize their tutees more than they think they do. Try to observe your own tutoring behavior carefully. Tutoring is a private situation that should be within a context of trust. Embarrassment about giving and receiving praise publicly should not be a problem. So give more praise!
• When to praise. Praise for success with particularly hard problems or tasks. Praise for self-correction. Praise for increasing time-span without error. Praise for effort as well as success when the tutee is struggling. Praise ‘better efforts’ even if still not quite right. Praise increasing tutee independence. At the end of the session, give praise for the whole session. Write some praise on any record of the session.
• Effective praise. Praise specifying the reason for it—say exactly what the tutee has done well. Vary the praise—use as many different praise words as you can think of. See if your tutee can think of some more! Praise as if you mean it—sound and look pleased! Smile, at least.
Summarize and review
A summarizing discussion should come at the end of the tutoring session. Reviewing the most important things that have been learned will help the tutee remember. This review discussion also leads naturally into planning what you might do in the next session
• Summarize/review during the session. At strategic points during the tutoring session, and certainly at the end of it, ask the tutee to summarize or review the key or main points that have been learned. You might be surprised at what they think are the main points. You might need to remind them of one or two important things, which they already seem to have forgotten. Have a final discussion and agree about the main points. Do not try to cram in too many ‘main’ points. This is all good preparation for the review or recapitulation that should start your next session.
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