Tutoring is an incredibly rewarding part-time job. Helping students understand a complicated concept or helping them feel confident walking into an exam is no doubt a great way to spend your time.
With this, it is important that tutors have the skills and resources to help all types of learners and to have the confidence to find creative solutions to help students get to that ah ha! moment.
This week we had the opportunity to chat with Amanda Manning, the Student Accessibility and Accommodation Coordinator at Bishop’s University about different tutoring skills and how to make tutoring sessions accessible to all learners.
This conversation is loaded with fantastic tips, but two key take aways really stand out:
- set an agenda before the session so both the tutor and student know what needs to be covered
- The tutor should put emphasis on having the student explain answers or solve problems – this makes it much easier to see where there are gaps in knowledge, and allows tutors to give that personalized feedback.
Is it appropriate to ask if the student has any accessibility needs?
I wouldn’t necessarily go straight into the asking, it could very well be that the student openly discloses that, but that could also be something that they wish to keep to themselves.
I would even just start by asking “What would you say that your learning style is?” or “How do you learn best?” or “What are the things that you’ve identified that work best for you in terms of learning something or retaining something or studying something well?”
Get the student to identify what’s been for them or if they’ve had previous tutoring sessions, what worked well for them and what didn’t work for them.
I always start off by having the student identify what’s worked well for them and what hasn’t. It could also be that they don’t know yet, so the student and tutor can work out some strategies as they go along.
How would you recommend working out learning/tutoring strategies?
It can be a trial and error thing.
There’s a book by Todd Rose called The End of Average and it just talks about the sheer variability of learning needs. (He also developed it into a lecture, you can watch here.)
The starting point might be really unique for each individual. So just trial and error and getting feedback consistently from the student is probably one of the most important things. Whether that be an anonymous form or just like a quick check in – What worked well? What would [the student] maybe like to try next time?
Once, I was meeting with one of my students who very much needed tutoring in math and I was asking what their tutoring session looked like. [It turned out] the tutor went through the questions step by step and just them how to do it.
This was a very shy, just wanting to please kind of student [who wouldn’t interrupt to say they weren’t understanding something]. So, we shifted the way the tutoring worked so that they demonstrated to the tutor – they would go through the question or what steps that they would take to answer it and then have the tutor watch. That was a bit of a turning point for him in his tutoring, he started doing much better.
How can a tutor set up a good session?
There are two things a tutor should do. The first is, before you get into the tutoring session, set an agenda. This can be done in the first five minutes of the session, or even ahead of time of email (or the Nimbus messaging App).
- What does the student want to cover?
- How much of the time should spend on each part?
- What are the top three things the student wants to go over?
- What is it that the student absolutely cannot leave this session without doing?
Especially when it’s peer tutoring, there can be a manner of chatting and getting sidetracked. I think that if you’re entering into a formal contract tutors need to identify what are we going to do today and stick to that agenda.
The second thing is, I think that tutors tend to take a student’s word for it when they say they understand an answer. Instead of saying – Okay great, give me a brief overview of that.
That’s important because a lot of students don’t want the tutor to feel bad or there’s an element of shame. It could very well be that they don’t want to feel stupid in front of in front of the tutor or they feel like wow, this person really broke it down and I still just don’t get it. Having the student demonstrate it allows the tutor to assess where’s the problem. Those are the two most important things.
Establish why the student is in the tutoring session
Sometimes students will only get a tutor leading up to the exam – just for study purposes. If that’s the case, figure out what the format for that exam will be and how the student would like to go about studying. What do you want to do?
Should we do cue cards together? Should we do verbal studying or should we do more visual?
A lot of students with learning disabilities are highly visual – so using something like an icon or a diagram can trigger a memory connection. Easier than just reading a series of words that make up a definition.
What sorts of tools and things can tutors access?
There are some free programs – Landmark college, are a college exclusively for students who learn differently – does a lot of professional development.
There is something called an assignment action plan. It’s just a spreadsheet that you identify what the course is, what the assignment is, description of what you have to do, when the final due date is, etc. Then there are other boxes that you break down into smaller chunks and you put you associate due dates with those smaller chunks. This way, the student isn’t doing one big project or one big paper or something like that
Quizlet is also good – you can generate your own cue cards.
There is also an app called forest. It’s for time management if you’re easily distracted. It could be during possibly during a tutoring session or it could also be something that the tutors recommend as a resource for them to use when they’re studying on their own. You set the time, for let’s say 15 minutes, and the app ‘plants’ a virtual seed. If you complete the time without leaving the app, without checking your phone, or if you want to really be accountable to yourself if you get out of the chair or anything like that, the tree grows. If you leave the app for to check your texts or your emails or then the tree dies.
If the student is a very kinesthetic learner, do they want to go for a walk and talk about the concepts?
There’s a ton of neuro-diversity out there, even outside the context of autism and learning disabilities. Just be creative and work with the student to find what works best.
I mean there’s so many diverse ways of learning, and there’s, you know some things are going to work better for others but it doesn’t have to look like the traditional sit down.