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How to Be a Good Tutor

Three Parts:Evaluating a Student’s NeedsStructuring Tutoring SessionsBuilding Relationships

Tutoring students is a great responsibility, but it can also be one of life's most rewarding experiences. However, just knowing a lot about a subject area doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a good tutor. To help students reach their potential, you have to assess each one's needs and goals individually. With your individualized attention, any student can improve their understanding of difficult material.

Part 1
Evaluating a Student’s Needs

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    Pay attention to what they already know. When first getting to know your students, you need to gauge what they already know, so you don't waste time in your sessions. Ask the student what they're good at and what they most enjoy about the subject you're working on. Let him or her speak open-endedly about the subject and show off for you. It will make the student feel smart and validated while letting you figure out what material they've already mastered.
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    Ask where they’re having trouble. Students are often quite aware of their weaknesses. They know what types of questions they consistently miss on quizzes, or what parts of class lectures make no sense to them. Let the student explain where they get lost, and make a list of those areas for your own reference.
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    Work together to set up goals.[1] Create a mix of major and minor goals that can be achieved in a reasonable amount of time. For example, a student may not be able to bring up a math grade within a month, but three months would be a good goal for grade improvement. Minor goals should be set for the short term: the student will write a 150-word summary of a major source for an upcoming research paper by the end of the session.
    • Write down the goals on a sheet of paper and have the student keep track of it. Putting them in charge of the "goal tracker" gives them more responsibility for their own improvement.
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    Track the student’s progress. Create a chart that allows you and your student to assess how well he or she is doing both in your sessions and in class. This chart can include entries for:
    • Quiz and test grades
    • Overall class grades
    • Achievement of the goals you set up together
    • Your evaluation of the student's effort
    • Your evaluation of the student's understanding of concepts
    • Celebrate improvement in qualitative assessments like grades with a lot of praise! If the student's grades aren't improving, but you see a lot of effort, your chart will help keep him or her from getting discouraged.

Part 2
Structuring Tutoring Sessions

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    Open with questions about material covered in the last session. Before moving on to new material, you want to make sure your student has mastered the old material. Ask one or two open-ended questions that will allow the student to display their understanding of concepts. If they struggle, you may need to revisit that information before moving on. Also allow the student to raise any questions of his or her own about previous material.
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    Help students meet their in-class requirements. Have your student inform you about projects and essays as soon as they receive their assignments. Break each project down into smaller parts and work through them together slowly, well-ahead of time. Not only will the graded assignment be of a higher quality, but you'll also model for the child how to manage their time effectively.
    • If teachers give out study guides for exams, gear the content of your tutoring sessions toward the material that will be covered.
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    Focus each session on a specific goal. Depending on the student’s needs for a given class, you may be working on a paper or project, or you may be going over concepts from class. After reviewing old material, make a verbal plan about what you will achieve together in this session. Make sure to keep your goals manageable:
    • Today, we're going to work on the organization of this essay. We're just going to take the ideas you already have and put them in the best possible order in an outline.
    • Today, we're going to try to figure out the network of Allied forces in WWII. Next session, we'll work on the Axis countries.
    • Today, we're going to look at all the problems you got wrong on your last math test and try to figure out the right answers. Then, we'll do new problems that test the same concept.
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    Provide opportunities to succeed.[2] While you should be working toward goals, you don't want to discourage your student by setting the bar too high. Every session should include exercises you know the student can complete successfully. From there, you can build on the lessons toward more complex exercises that may prove more challenging.
    • If the student doesn't perform at the level you expected, don't give up! Repeat the exercise until he or she completes it correctly. When they do, heap praise on the student for working through an obstacle.
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    Give your students breaks. The breaks should be no longer than 5 minutes. Working for long stretches time might wear them out and make them lose focus. A 5-minute break is just enough time to refresh students without breaking stride in the work you're doing.
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    Adapt to student needs.[3] You have goals laid out, but sometimes young people get worn down by their work, just like adults do. If your student seems tired or in a bad mood on a given day, don't be afraid to mix things up a little and lighten the mood. For example, if you're tutoring a student in a foreign language, you might listen to and translate songs instead of going through conjugation exercises. You might watch cartoons in that language and see how much of the plot the student can follow.
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    Cater your tutoring style to the student’s learning style.[4] Not all children learn in the same way. Some students work better alone, and will do better if given time to complete activities on their own. Others are more social learners who will learn more if it seems like you're working through the problems with them.
    • Aural students learn best through verbal explanation, so talk to them about concepts. Verbal students need to talk through concepts on their own, so be willing to sit back and listen.
    • Physical/tactile students need to work with their hands. Bring in 3D models if you're studying anatomy, or clay that they can shape into the different organs of the body.
    • Visual students might need graphic aids like pictures, charts, or educational videos.
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    End each session by looking forward to the next one.[5] The end of a tutoring session doesn't mean the student is "finished" for the week. Make clear that you expect them to prepare for your next session in the time you're apart. If there's any work that wasn't finished during the session, assign it as homework for the next meeting. If you have a fun activity planned for the next session, give the student something to look forward to.
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Part 3
Building Relationships

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    Build a personal relationship with your students.[6] Your job is to help students perform up to their potential. As such, you're as much friend and cheerleader at times as you are instructor. By forming personal connections with students, you can more effectively motivate them to succeed.
    • Talk about how the subject makes them feel. Students who perform poorly in class may feel ashamed of it. When they improve, they may feel powerful and proud. Comfort them in their down times and celebrate their successes.
    • Share your own experiences of failure and how you overcame them.
    • Find out what their passions are, so you can make the tutoring sessions more interesting. A straightforward equation might seem boring, but a subtraction problem about fighting dinosaurs might perk up a student who loves dinosaurs.
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    Learn the student’s communication style. Connect to the student on their own terms. If a student is intensely shy, you can't ignore it! It may be that the student communicates best in the days between sessions, when he or she can email you questions. Sometimes students are reluctant to ask questions in person, even though they have many they need answered.
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    Show up for each session in a good mood. Your students will pick up on your moods immediately. If you seem tired or low energy, they will mimic your tone. But, if you show up smiling and optimistic for every session, they'll follow your lead and put more effort into the work at hand.
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    Act as a guide rather than teacher.[7] Teachers and tutors have very different roles. Teachers have many students to oversee at once, and must act as authority figures who pass on knowledge. Tutors work one-on-on, though, and are more like "educated peers" than authority figures. You only have one student to work with at a time, so you don't have to lecture. Let students take charge of learning objectives, and guide them toward their goals.
    • Ask a lot of questions. You don't want to lecture your students. Instead, ask open-ended questions that force them to come to conclusions on their own, with research you help them conduct.
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    Give students room to fall in love with the material. While you need to keep the student on track to achieve their goals, don't be afraid to give up a little control. If, when studying the Civil War, your student wants to spend a lot of time on an unimportant but dramatic battle, let it happen even if it eats up a whole session. A tutor should let natural curiosity grow rather than trying to smother it. The increased enthusiasm will pay off down the line.
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    Communicate clearly with parents and teachers. Without their help, you won't know how to focus the content of your sessions in a way that will help your students succeed in school. Talking to parents and teachers is especially important for younger students. While a high schooler might be able to explain course objectives to you, a third grader won't.
    • Reach out to the parents and teacher(s) and set up a regular schedule for communication.
    • You might speak to the parents every time the student is brought in for a tutoring session.
    • You might agree to email the teacher on the first Monday of each month to get a sense of what's coming down the pipe in the student's classwork.

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Categories: Education and Communications | Teaching