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Find a Tutor: What is a Tutor?

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Are you in need of a tutor? That assumes you know what a tutor is and what their role is in your learning or in the learning of your child. Below are some tips on what the tutor’s role is and what to look for in a tutor.

Tutoring can be defined as people who are not professional teachers helping and supporting the learning of others in an interactive, purposeful and systematic way. It is most usually done on a one-to-one basis, in a pair. Tutors can be parents or other adult carers, brothers and sisters, other members of the family, other learners from the peer group, and various kinds of volunteers.

Children as young as 5-years-old have learned to tutor effectively. Everyone can be a tutor—everybody can help somebody with something. In helping others to learn, tutors often learn themselves. Tutoring is a very old practice. It was common in Ancient Greece and Rome, and is recorded in ancient texts even before then. Over the centuries it has gone up and down in popularity, but it has never gone away. Tutors do not need to be ‘experts’ in the content or skill they are tutoring. But it is usually best if they know a bit more than their tutees.

(The word ‘tutee’ will be used in this booklet for the learner who is tutored.) However, if tutors are much more advanced than the tutees, they are likely to become bored with the content the tutee has to learn, and will not gain much themselves. Tutoring does not necessarily need any special materials.  Tutors should not try to imitate what they think a professional teacher might do, because they do not have enough background knowledge for that. Tutors should not just support, prompt or ‘scaffold’ the tutee towards the ‘right’ answer. They should also challenge and extend the tutee’s fixed ideas. Maybe there is more than one ‘right’ answer. Tutoring might be effective in different ways for different pairs. Compared to professional teaching, it can give:

  • more practice;
  • more activity and variety;
  • more individualized help;
  • more questioning;
  • simpler vocabulary;
  • more modelling and demonstration;
  • more local relevant examples;
  • higher disclosure of misunderstanding;
  • more prompting and self-correction;
  • more immediate feedback and praise;
  • more opportunities for generalization;
  • more insight into learning (metacognition); and
  • more self-regulation and ownership of the learning process.

Both tutees and tutors can also: learn to give and receive praise, develop social skills and wider contacts, develop communication skills (listening, explaining, questioning, summarizing), and develop greater self-esteem. Simplistic forms of tutoring, focusing on drill and practice, do not exploit the full potential of tutoring. However, tutoring has its dangers.

While a tutor can offer a greater quantity of individual support than a professional teacher can, the quality of that support is likely to be significantly poorer than that of a professional teacher. The detection of errors and misconceptions by tutors might be much less reliable than that by a teacher. Tutors might tell or show their tutees something which is actually incorrect, i.e. reinforce mistakes. Tutors might become impatient and just tell their tutee the right answer, or do the task for them, in which case the tutee will learn very little.

Tutoring can be done to help with work from school or college, or with any kind of learning work from anywhere. However, the tutor might not be sure exactly how the school wants the work to be done—especially if it has been a long time since the tutor was at school. Remember tutors are not expected to know everything. They should always be ready to say ‘I am not sure’ or ‘this is my way, but it is not the only way’.

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