In tutoring, what works is the one-to-one relationship between the student and tutor. With only one person to focus on, tutors can try a variety of teaching techniques in order to work out the most effective way of helping the student understand a topic.
The purpose of this blog post is to provide some inspiration to tutors by pointing them towards alternative and sometimes complementary ways of tutoring.
What follows are twelve teaching strategies which we feel could work well for tutors.
- Keeping it real: For many students, set subjects such as calculus, physics or even literature have little connection to their lives. Yet the same subjects they find so boring are a source of great passion for many thinkers the world over. One of the most valuable lessons tutors can share with their students is a passion for learning. Perform a chemistry experiment that will make learning about molecular structure a source of fascination, share your passion for an interesting historical figure like Caligula or Augustus, read them a poem by Whitman or Blake – the kind of poems that speak straight to the heart yet use a language we all understand.
- Fostering independence: As useful as you are to your students, your ultimate aim should be to teach them to become independent learners. The buzzword in both high schools and universities these days is critical thinking: encouraging students to analyse subjects in a deeper, more analytical manner. You may do this by asking questions that don’t just have a ‘yes or no’ answer or by applying the Socratic method to point out illogical conclusions made by your student. Set them assignments that go beyond testing their knowledge/comprehension of a matter; encourage them to voice their opinions on the intelligence of historical figures or on the talent of a famed writer. Critical thinking does more than give rise to more responsible, creative and profound thinkers; it also raises students’ self-confidence since, perhaps for the first time in their lives, they can feel like their opinions are meritorious of consideration by their tutor and indeed, by other thinkers on a given subject. This leads to a unique relationship between tutors and students in that it fosters a mentoring approach that makes students feel supported and cared for.
- Assessment through games: After teaching a particular topic, test your student’s comprehension through additional problems and games. Luckily, there are a wealth of online games for everything from children’s mathematics to science for adults.
- Utilisation of the Pause Procedure: Good tutors are characterised by allowing their student’s voice to be heard more than their own. To ensure your students do not tune out and lose interest in what you are teaching, use frequent pauses to ensure the student has understood what you have just been explaining. For instance, ask them to summarise the idea you have just espoused and if you are teaching a group tutorial, ask students to summarise what they have just learned to each other. Alternatively, during pauses, ask students to answer a short test or complete a problem using the skills you have just explained.
- Utilisation of the Think-Pair-Share Technique: If you are tutoring a small group, this technique can work very well. It begins by providing information to your students by asking them to read a short text, listen to a short lecture or video. The tutor should then ask one question, instruct students to reflect on it, write an answer down and share their response with another student. Finally, tutors should ask each pair to provide a single answer they have come to after discussion/debate.
- Use of Fast-Paced Drills: If you are tutoring your student in a subject that involves a significant degree of memory work (such as Biology), drill your students frequently on particular points to ensure they retain important facts and information.
- Use of Multi-Media Tools: Fill your class with interesting video presentations, songs or works of literature that cover the theme you are teaching. If you are teaching mathematics, show your student interesting videos on, for instance, the Mayan mathematics or the Montessori method, which shows how easy it can be to grasp a basic knowledge of mathematics when a hands-on approach is taken to learning.
- Introducing humour into the tutoring session: Studies have shown that the use of humour can have highly positive effects on students, greatly increasing their level of engagement and interest. Encourage student to bring comics, funny quotes or jokes to class and dedicate a few minutes to having a good laugh.
- Analysing sources of information: Part of critical thinking is analysing the sources of information you are consulting in order to come to one conclusion or another. Tutors should be encouraged to conduct research into the backgrounds of people who have contributed in a significant way to the subject being studied (historiographers, philosophers, scientists, authors, etc.) to increase the student’s chances of making an emotional or intellectual connection with these people.
- Encouraging students to create: One of the easiest way to engage students in a subject is to encourage them to create website or blog covering the themes covered in tutorial sessions. Being responsible for a blog involves constantly updating one’s knowledge publishing new findings and even being prepared to receive comments from readers. It is also a great way to connect with other students or intellectuals in one’s chosen field.
- Changing class settings: A primary consideration for long-term tutors is keeping boredom at bay. Once a month, try to hold your tutoring session in a different place: at a museum, a park or an historical site. Simply being in the Great Outdoors can significantly mitigate stress, thereby promoting a relaxed, fruitful learning environment.
- Requesting feedback: The consequences of your chosen tutoring strategies are likely to be far-reaching so make sure that you request feedback from your student regularly. You may have a preferred strategy that does not work particularly well with a student because of their preferred learning style or because of an issue of time. The ultimate aim is to make the most of your student’s limited time and resources, so their own views on the structure and content of your class should always be of primary importance.
We hope that you have found this blog post useful. If you have any additional teaching strategies that have worked for you, then please feel free to share them with us via the comments.
You may also be interested in some of our articles in our "tips for tutors series". Some of them are titled as follows:
8 ways to become a better tutor
Developing critical thinking in your students
How to market yourself
Your tax as a self employed tutor
How to set up your website
Using learning maps
The importance of teaching values