Contributed by:
Sharp Tutor
The goal of this pdf is to:
A. To appreciate the goal of tutoring.
B. To understand the relationship a tutor has with a student and with the student’s subject matter teacher.
C. To recognize the importance of diagnosing students’ academic problems.
D. To understand tutoring techniques and strategies.
E. Troubleshooting Problems and Evaluating Tutoring.
1. Goals
A. To appreciate the goal of tutoring.
B. To understand the relationship a tutor has with a student and with the student’s subject
matter teacher.
C. To recognize the importance of diagnosing students’ academic problems
D. To understand tutoring techniques and strategies.
E. Troubleshooting Problems and Evaluating Tutoring.
A. Goal of Tutoring
The goal of the tutoring is to help students overcome academic challenges and lead them to
autonomous or independent learning.
It is a special kind of teaching that is different from the teaching performed by teachers, friends,
and parents. You offer students one-on-one attention, individualized explanation, and a chance to
ask as many question as they like (some of which they may not ask people they know) in a non-
judgmental atmosphere. But remember, the goal of overcoming academic challenges must be
realized by promoting academic independence in the tutee and not dependence on the tutor.
An academic problem a student faces may be a very particular challenge, as specific as a spelling
or math question. A teacher who is asked a spelling or math question may respond by saying to
look up the word in a dictionary or the problem in a math book, because they do not have the
time to give the student one-on-one attention. It is likely not be a response which will overcome
the student’s problem or lead to independent learning
Independent learning involves learning how learn. It involves empowering a student to
overcome their own academic problems autonomously. A parent or friend may respond to the
same spelling or math question by spelling out the word or solving the problem for the student.
But such a response makes the student less confident and more dependent on the parent or friend.
It overcomes an academic challenge but does not lead to independent learning.
Tutoring always tries to liberate students by help them become academically autonomous and
not to entrap students by making them academically dependent.
B. Tutoring context and relationships.
The goal of helping students overcome academic challenges and lead them to independent
learning can only be realized is a particular social context and tutor-tutee relationships.
The social context of tutoring refers to the social norms in the setting. Social norms are the rules
in a particular context for what is appropriate behavior. For example people may say and do
2. different things when sitting in church than in a classroom. Questions and comments appropriate
for one setting may be inappropriate in another.
To some extent you as a tutor create the norms for your tutoring sessions. The norms you create
should allow for open, honest, and respectful communication about academic matters and for
casual social and personal dialogue. But you are not the students’ “friends” so you will need to
create boundaries between the academic and the personal. If crossed, the boundary can be
reinstated gently but firmly redirecting the conversation back to the academic topic. However, as
will be discussed later, if conversations arise of a legal or ethical issue, you will have to address
them head on with the proper authorities.
As a tutor you have an implicit relationship with the classroom teacher. You need to know
what the teacher expects of your student. The teacher may have a particular way to teach topics,
solve problems, or manage students’ behavior. Knowledge of such expectations is typically
inferred from what your students say about their teacher. You need listen very carefully to these
comments and if you are unclear, feel free to ask the teacher about these issues.
Perhaps the most important relationship which you have to manage is the one between a student
and his or her classroom teacher. Students have relationships with teachers which you must be
protected and respected. Try to promote trust and respect between the student and teacher, but
stay out of their relationship just as you would in any other relationships between people you do
not know so well. But encourage students to talk to the classroom teacher about confusions or
concerns they may share with you.
Finally, the tutor-student relationship is key one for a tutor to manage in order to be effective.
To form an effective relationship, the tutor should promote an open, honest, and respectful
communication which supports the emotional well being of students.
C. Diagnosing Academic Problems
One of the most important jobs you have is to diagnose your students’ academic problem. Think
of an academic problem as the tip of an iceberg. The specific math or English problem your
student is facing is likely a symptom of a deeper misunderstanding. Think of treating the
academic problem as the short-term goal and treating the deeper misunderstanding as the long-
term goal. By overcoming these misunderstandings, you would be promoting independent
learning – the students will learn to help themselves with their academic problems.
We offer 3 steps in diagnosing such academic problems.
1. Listening for students’ misunderstanding of the academic material: Listen carefully to
students’ own characterization of their academic problems as it may hold the key to their
deeper misunderstandings. Consider this as data for a diagnosis of the broader academic
problem which is undermining the students’ ability to solve a particular problem.
Sometimes the problems will be clear, but other times students may not know
why they are confused. To provide you with more clarification, ask students to perform a
variety of related tasks while explaining their thinking in solving the problem. Use this
as an opprotunity to see whether they reliably go wrong. Listen carefully without
interrupting, supporting them to do their best. It will be important to respect cultural
3. differences in verbal and nonverbal communication. Finally, resist attempts to help them
solve the specific problem. Until you have a sense of the deeper problem which is
causing the math problem. A math problem may be easily corrected, but the correction
may not address the deeper misunderstanding which resulted in the problem in the first
2. Diagnosing students’ academic problems: Students may come to you to get you to do
their work! To them, the request, HELP ME WITH THIS really means the demand that
the tutor DO THIS FOR ME. Your job is to help them understand why they are
struggling to do the work. Understanding what their struggle is may be the most difficult
of all challenges. Deeper misunderstandings reflect problems which occur in different
setting and tasks, occur regularly, and are difficult to overcome with simple instruction.
3. Overcoming student misconceptions: To be effective, students should be made to
reflect on their misunderstanding and understand what makes it a MISunderstanding.
This may take some discussion and explanation not to mention modeling appropriate
performance. The goal is for them to reflect on and revise their misconceptions and
D. Practical Tutoring Tips (from: www.services.unimelb.edu.au/lsu/)
Three key tips:
1. Use questions to enhance teaching:
Questioning can be useful to establish rapport, build confidence, find what a student knows or to
share experiences. Recognize and use different types of questions:
Closed questions can be useful for finding out information, and can provide of structure to a
situation, BUT they can result in a yes/no answer that leaves you none the wiser. For example:
Do you like maths / computers / writing essays?
It’s possible to emotionally load the question so heavily that people are pressured into lying to
you to save face. The following questions are all closed questions that are likely to receive a
negative, or defensive, reply.
Can’t you do this exercise?
Have you finished all the Homework I gave you?
You must know how to do logs!
Haven’t you done referencing!
Be sensitive to your student and avoid using questions to point out deficits.
Open-ended questions stimulate a longer response than one syllable or one word. Open questions
encourage discussion, exploration of ideas, and sharing. It’s also important to ask questions that
are non-directive - the student should not feel pressured into answering in a particular way. The
use of open ended questioning techniques to get students to reflect on their own work, can assist
students to improve their understanding and become more independent learners For example,
4. instead of “Haven’t you done your Homework yet?” how about “What’s the Homework
Use questions as an opportunity to build up confidence, “You’re really good at long division,
how do you feel about multiplication?”
Try to create a context in which students will feel like sharing their concerns, “I always hated
doing book reviews, what instructions have you been given?”
Questions need to be asked at an appropriate level. Easy questions may be considered
patronizing and questions that are too difficult may be threatening. Lack of response to a
question may indicate poor phrasing of the question, rather than a lack of understanding on the
student’s part. If in doubt, try rephrasing the question.
Allow an adequate time for a student to respond to a question, even if this involves an awkward
period of silence, rather than jumping in and providing the answer. A big part of your role as a
tutor is listening to the student. Encourage him or her to talk about their knowledge and study
Finally, respond warmly, naturally and positively to all student answers. If a response is
inadequate, it may be possible to praise part of the answer while also indicating sections which
need further elaboration or correction.
Students should also feel comfortable to ask questions. A two-way dialogue is indicative of a
positive relationship between the tutor and student.
2. Assist Learning by Demonstrating Skills
Model styles of thinking, analytical and critical reading, argumentation or problem solving in
your field. This can include modeling:
a. how to present material, e.g., Structure of an essay, method of setting out a problem
b different writing styles e.g., reflective and personal vs analytical and objective
c different types of evidence e.g., an example to illustrate a point vs. reference to a
primary source.
d use of vocabulary specific to the subject e.g., alliteration, irony, satire
e appropriate referencing procedures e.g., footnotes, how to incorporate references into
f the style and standard of work expected.
3. Provide Quality Feedback and Evaluation
All students gain from continual evaluation. For students who lack confidence, constructive
feedback on their work will really help progress.
5. From the general (“well done”; “that’s great”; “you’re really good at that”) to the specific (“that
paragraph was very effective”; “good choice of words”; “you have a prodigious knowledge of
place value!”)
Evaluation is an important part of your teaching. Both you and your student need to feel you are
progressing. Make regular checks of your student’s performance against the objectives you have
set (e.g. improved writing skills, knowledge of topics, improvement in spelling, increased
complexity in sentence structure, vocabulary development, or problem solving abilities).
4. Keep Records
Record details of your tutoring sessions, particularly if you are tutoring more than one student.
Include the date of the session, what you planned to cover, what you actually covered, suggested
follow up ideas and a record of progress. This record can be useful if disputes arise over
incomplete work, lost drafts or inadequate preparation by either you or the student.
E. Troubleshooting Problems and Evaluating Tutoring.
1. Know the limitations of your role and skills.
Knowing your role and the limitations of your responsibility. As a tutor you are not a special
education teacher, psychologist, or social worker, a teacher, an administrator, or a parent. Many
problems arise from wrong expectations. If the student (or his or her teacher or parents) expect
you to provide something beyond the responsibilities of your role you can often feel responsible,
even when you’re not responsible. Speak and act from your understanding of your role and not
from any wish to be friends with the parties concerned. It is very important that you talk to the
supervisor or professor about any concerns you may have.
2. Evaluate your own performance as a tutor
The following checklist of questions may provide a useful starting point to reflect on your own
tutoring practice and may help you to identify your strengths and areas to be improved:
• Was an academic problem diagnosed as reflecting a deeper misconception?
• Were the deeper misconceptions dealt with as effectively as the academic problem?
• Were you adequately prepared and familiar with the material to be taught?
• Did the plan work? If not, why not? If not were you able to adapt flexibly?
• What were the most successful and least successful aspects of the sessions?
• Would I do it differently if I were tutoring this student or topic again?
• Did the session cover essential concepts or did you get sidetracked?
• Did you try and deal with too much?
• Was the student prepared? If not, how can you encourage him or her to be better prepared in
• Who did most of the talking in the session?
• Did you draw things together at the end of a session?