Tutoring isn’t always straightforward. When a student is unhappy, you need to get to the root of what is making them unhappy or disillusioned, if you are to work with them through a problem and make progress.

Academic success or failure is dependent on so many considerations, some of which arise from the students themselves, while others can be attributed to a difficult home life, lack of self-belief, economic and social backgrounds, etc. Tutoring a reluctant student can be challenging but also rewarding. The purpose of this blog post is to provide you with some practical tips for engaging, understanding and inspiring them.  

As a tutor, you may find that your biggest challenges lie beyond the scope of academia. Inspiring a student to commence a new relationship with their studies marked by dedication, discipline and goal-setting, is one that involves research, an open mind and above all, a determination to ensure success both for your student and for yourself as a tutor.

Tips to Encourage Shy Students

You may find the following tips helpful in helping your student associate your sessions with a sense of achievement:

  • Build Rapport: Often, the person hiring you will not be the students themselves, in which case it’s most likely to be their parents or guardians. If your student has not had a good relationship in the past with teachers/tutors or even their family, they might tend to categorise you as just another adult they cannot relate to. Before getting to the nitty gritty of lessons and homework, dedicate your next tutoring session to learning more about your student’s tastes, hobbies, film and musical tastes etc. If you can find common ground, your student will look forward to the next tutorial; if you can build your next class around your student’s favourite themes, you will probably find him/her to be far more cooperative and inspired than they would be if you chose to stick to standard tutor-student lessons.
  • Ask for Feedback: In any successful company, one of the most important ways for both bosses and employees to discover whether or not they are ‘making the grade’ is by requesting and providing feedback. On a fortnightly or monthly basis, request feedback from your students; ask them to grade you from 1 to 5, providing them with a document that asks them important questions like:

1.    Do you feel you are accomplishing your goals in these tutoring sessions?
2.    Are there any parts of the subject I am teaching that you feel is a stumbling block to further learning?
3.    Do you feel that these sessions are interesting? If not, which part of our lessons do you find the least interesting?
4.    Which areas of the subject would you like to spend more time on?
5.    What suggestions in general would you make to enable you to learn better?
6.    Do you feel the class is too slow- or fast-paced?

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  • Talk To Your Student’s Parents: If your student’s parents have hired you, ask them if they are aware of any reasons why your student may be unhappy. Is there a personal trauma they have recently undergone that has burdened them with trust issues? Do they have learning difficulties or conditions such as dyslexia or ADHD? If you discover your student has dyslexia, for instance, you may benefit greatly from the myriad of online resources offering that make the challenge much more bearable. Share any tips you find with the student’s parents. Particularly in the case of younger children, academic success often depends on how much effort and time parents are willing to invest in their children. If children associate learning with bonding time with their parents, they are much more likely to begin forming positive associations between family time and study time. Of course, if you find that a child’s learning difficulty is such that they should be handled by specialised tutors, try to help your student out by pointing them in the right direction, providing them with as much information as you can find.
  • Turn Boring Into Fun: If you are familiar with the Montessori teaching method, then you know that it is possible for children in pre-school to count in the thousands (and higher!). The Montessori method is just one of many that uses bright, colourful equipment to grab children’s interest. The system also aims to teach kids mathematics in a practical way, using specific tools to teach volume, number, size, etc.

When it comes to grabbing younger students’ interest, you should emphasise the practical aspects of what they are learning rather than the theoretical. For instance, to teach a child in Key Stage 1 about fractions, rather than using pen and paper, it is much more fun to make a cake using measuring cups, which enable young ones to learn the simpler fractions (1/2, 1/3, 1/4) .

During tutoring sessions, make sure your student understands why what you are teaching them is important in real life. Division is another task younger students can find difficult. Instead of beleaguering them with numbers and symbols, collect a bag of lollies or coins and show them how to physically divide a set number of these items between a set number of people (used stuffed toys if there aren’t enough people in the room to divide these items among). You don’t need to be an experienced tutor to work out new ways to teach old concepts; just think of the most logical, fun and game-like manner of teaching a concept. This rings specially true for mathematics.

  • Use a Reward System: Find out what makes your student happiest (Playing a computer game? Playing in the park? Baking a sweet?). Set goals for every tutoring session and reward your student with the best thing you can: your time! Join them in their favourite activity and try to make learning so much fun that their chosen ‘reward’ is something like reading an e-book together or playing on a spelling or mathematics app on their iPad.

I hope that you have found some inspiration in this blog post. If you have your own tips for tutoring reluctant students, why not share them with us and our readers in the comments section.

We have been blogging advice for tutors for a while now – our ‘Tips for Tutors’ series. Just in case you missed any, you can find them at:

How to ensure that the first lesson goes really well

Structuring your lessons

8 ways to become a better tutor

12 teaching strategies for more effective tutoring

Developing critical thinking in your students

The importance of teaching values

How to market yourself

Your tax as a self employed tutor

How to set up your website

The best way to tutor University students

Using learning maps

The importance of teaching values

Need a teacher?

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