Mar 04
Blog: Orientation to Tutoring

These days it seems as if anybody can tutor.
Open any student newspaper, or skim the notices
on campus bulletin boards, and chances are you'll
see at least a feui advertisements for private
tutoring in subjects ranging from computers to
Spanish. volunteer tutors work in schools,
libraries and church groups. Even elementary
school students are encouraged to tutor their

lilhat does this explosion of tutoring services
mean? Can just anyone hang out a shingle as a
tutor? What does this increasing demand for
tutoring on all levels of study imply about the
nature of learning, the function of classroom
instruction, and the nature of the support
students need to succeed in their classes?

Recently, educators have come to realize that
classroom instruction alone may no* meet all the
needs of all the students. In class, course
content is pitched to the broadest possible
spectrum, and so it can't be tailored to each
individual student. One teacher can't always
work intensively with each of thirty or so
students in a fast-paced class, and accommodate
the diverse learning styles of all these
individuals. Or, textbooks and readings may be at
a higher level than the student can handle. In
other situations, a student may simply have a
gap in the knowledge that's assumed to be a
prerequisite for the class. Whatever the cause of
the student s problem (and as we'll see, a part of
the tutor's job is to find out), intensive and
customized help may be impossible for the
classroom teacher to provide.

Enter the tutor -- an indiuidual with a good
knowledge of the content area that's causing the
difficulty, usually a student who's recently taken
the classes to be tutored. For many less
structured tutoring efforts, the session can
consist of practically anything the tutor and
tutee want it to be, from exam-cramming and
rehearsing memorized material to rewriting a
homework assignment. The ouerall effect of this
array of miscellaneous actiuities is that of the
old "Band-Rid" effect -- a quick fin for a
superficial problem, which may bring the student
back again and again as often as a new problem
arises. In these situations, neither the student
nor the tutor takes the opportunity to explore
the other side of the tutoring function — the
interpersonal side that has the potential to
empower students to manage their own learning
problems and increase their self-confidence and
ability to cope with any challenge to learning in
any situation.

In the past few years, educators and learning
specialists haue begun to examine tutoring as a
distinct skill area, with the same need for
standards and qualifications as other kinds of
teaching and student support. They'ue obserued
that in many cases, tutors don't ha'je any training
in the issues connected with the tutoring process
itself; they pass on the knowledge they haue by
intuition, or by deliberately applying techniques
they'ue absorbed from their own experiences as
a student. Euen in more formal academic
settings, tutors are often hired on the strength
of their grade point auerage in the subject they'll
be tutoring, not on the basis of their ability to
pass on that information to someone else. This
suggests that one of the essential components of

a student s academic support system might be
represented by a random array of actiuities,
skills, techniques and philosophies, leaning
students to take potluck when it comes to
seeking help.

Its now belieued that competence in the
subject area is just one attribute of a successful
tutor, and perhaps the most superficial one at
that. Behind the subject knowledge lies a pool of
concepts, skills and competencies that may haue
an euen greater impact on the long-term success
of a student seeking tutoring help. Rnd to make
sure tutors are able to dram on these
competencies to deliuer effectiue assistance to
any student, current studies of tutoring as a
professional learning assistance skill suggest
that tutors need to prepare for their role by
increasing their awareness of this ewtra
dimension of tutoring.

In many situations, the tutor is the mainstay of
students at risk for failure. The tutor can spot
problems teachers miss, listen to concerns a
student mould neoer uoice to the teacher, focus
learning toward indiuidual needs and problems,
and see the student as a multidimensional
indiuidual instead of only a name or a face. The
tutor can answer questions students are too shy
to ask in class, and they can giue personal, direct
feedback on learning. The tutor can make the
difference between failure and finish for a
student ready to giue up on the system.

With this kind of role to play, it's not surprising
that so much effort is now being directed to
preparing tutors for their work — work on which
students and teachers alike need to be able to
depend. With all these functions in mind, a tutor
can be uiewed as an indiuidual who's midway
between teacher and student, working with both

sides to make sure students receiue the support
they need to succeed. Before we eKamine the
scope of the tutor's role and the essential
elements of good tutoring, let's take a look at the
tutor's relationship to the other elements of the
basic learning triangle - teacher and student.


Although a tutor's primary relationship is with
the student seeking help, that student's regular
classroom instructor is also a factor in the
tutoring process. In priuate tutoring, the
student's teacher is a distant figure who enters
the picture only through the student's comments;
tutors don't encounter the teacher face to face.
Euen tutors in large learning center labs don't
usually work directly with their students'
teachers. Howeuer, in program-specific tutoring
situations, tutors know the faculty and can
interact with them as needed to address student
problems and issues.

When you became a tutor, you joined the
learning support team. Vou and the teachers in
your department are on the same side now, and
you'll be relating to them in a more professional
way than when you were a student in their
classes. So take time to get reacquainted with
the teachers in your department in your new
capacity as a tutor.

Make euery effort to let teachers know that
you're responsible, reliable and committed to
working with them to help students realize their
dream of becoming nurses. Show them that
you're capable of keeping confidentiality, that
you'll offer responsible feedback and that you'll
work with them to deuelop the best strategies to

deal with student problems. Teachers need to

know that they can discuss a student s academic
status freely with you, and that you'll put this
information to positiue use, rather than using the
tutoring session as an occasion for gossip and

If you can, uisit the teachers who teach the
courses your tutees are taking. Euen if you
already haue all the class materials from your
own student days, ask to see the syllabus. Find
out if any new texts or materials are being used,
and examine them if you can. Try to arrange a
time to chat with the teacher. Rsk about areas
that seem to be causing particular problems, and
find out how the teacher presents this material.
The context of learning is as important as the
content — and knowing as much as possible
about the enutronment, attitudes and behauiors
that accompany learning helps the tutor to take a
holistic uiew of the student and the problem.

fit the core of the learning triangle is of course
the studeett-teacher relationship, one in which
the tutor doesn't directly participate. Howeuer,
the student (and in some cases the teacher too)
may bring this relationship to the tutor. Students
who are frustrated and angry ouer their
difficulties may shift the responsibility to the
instructor — the person who's supposed to make
learning happen: "She neuer answers our
questions." Likewise, teachers can be frustrated
too, or irritated by student attitudes and
behauiors — and they can communicate these
feelings directly to you, the tutor.

Ulhateuer the nature of the relationship
between your students and their teachers, your
job as tutor demands objectiuity and
detachment. Don't encourage negatiue feelings

on either side, and don't allow your tutoring
sessions to degenerate into a forum for your
student's anger at the system or the instructor.
This isn't to say that your student's perceptions
and beliefs aren't a ualid subject for exploration
-- you can certainly use them to deuelop a
complete picture of the student's difficulty: does
the student's attitude suggest a reluctance to
take responsibility? Does it reflect reality in any
way? Howeuer, once aired, these feelings need
to take a back seat to the real purpose of the
tutoring session -- soluing a particular problem.
Getting inuolued in teacher-student conflicts only
reduces your effectcueness as a tutor and
compromises your position as a learning support





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