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Find a Tutor: Tutor Best Practice

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Agree a consistent time, target tutee’s real-life goals, and balance support and challenge should start at the tutee’s current point of understanding.

Tutors must establish where this is, and uncover relevant misconceptions. Tutoring must then proceed in small steps from this point. Learning strategies is more important than memorizing subject content. Schoolteachers do not have enough time to talk with individual learners about their strategies, or explore deep understanding. This is where tutoring can be especially helpful (see Booklets 1 and 3 in this series; Gage & Berliner, 1998; Topping & Ehly, 1998). Practical applications include:

  • Consistent and regular time. Tutor and tutee must agree how much time they can give to working together. How often will you meet each week? How long is each session? Over how many weeks? Where? Do not start anything you cannot keep up or finish. Regular meetings are needed to build up a trusting and comfortable tutoring relationship.
  • Target tutee’s real-life goals. Tutees often have strong ideas on what they need help with. However, these ideas can be very short-term. Tutees might think more of getting their written homework done ‘correctly’ (so their teacher is not angry with them), than of really understanding the subject.
  • Tutors have to start with the tutee’s immediate concerns. But tutors should talk with tutees about their goals, encouraging them to consider wider and deeper understanding. Of course, this does not mean that tutors make tutees learn what the tutor is interested or expert in, or to think just like the tutor.
  • Explore understanding. Tutors need to find out what tutees already know—and what they think they know that is actually incorrect. Talking to explore deep understanding is the way to do this. Explore varied examples to make sure tutees can really use what they know in different contexts.
  • Small steps. Tutees often need to learn in very small steps. Do not expect them to make big leaps. Tutors often forget how long it took them to really understand something themselves.
  • Balance support and challenge. Tutoring is intended to be supportive—to help the tutee in their struggle to understand. But tutors should not just give tutees the right answer, or  just tell or show them how to do something. This might feel helpful, but it will only result in mechanical learning without real understanding—remembering what. Understanding the process of how to find the right answer is the most important thing. So tutoring should be more than repeated drill and practice. Sometimes tutors will find that tutees have fixed ideas that are too narrow or just wrong. Then the tutor must challenge the tutee (in a gentle and helpful way), to help them loosen and then reorganize and improve the quality of their thinking.

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