Homework Tutoring Tips

Tutoring Tips

Below is some general guidance on how to give tuition sessions, including potential tutee anxieties, notes on encouraging tutees to contribute and a self-evaulation checklist to ensure your sessions run smoothly.

Encouraging tutees to contribute

Many people can be nervous when learning in a one-on-one environment for the first time. It is critical to be patient with them, and build their confidence through encouragement and praise. Your ultimate goal is to help the tutee become comfortable and confident in the subject, even if they occasionally make mistakes.

Potential tutee anxieties

  1. Your tutee may struggle to express exactly what they are looking to gain from lessons, and may doubt their ability to achieve their goals. It is essential to agree on realistic targets based on what they are ultimately hoping to achieve. If a tutee finds it difficult to articulate what they are aiming towards, avoid the kind of 'why' questions that can make someone feel on the spot.
  2. Your tutee may feel obliged to defer to you. Your tutee may be a little intimidated: you should try to encourage them to express their opinions to build confidence. One-to-one sessions, whilst very useful because of their intensity may also be a little overwhelming to someone who is not used to being in the spotlight.
  3. Your tutee may see you as an assessor. This is a difficult perception to overcome, especially if you're coaching your tutee towards an exam. The key here is to be open, friendly, to encourage the tutee's confidence and to make your style of teaching non-confrontational. Be careful that a tutee does not feel unable to express their lack of confidence in fear of incurring your wrath!
  4. Your tutee may be confused as to how to work together with a tutor in a lesson, having never had a one-to-one before. Whilst some people may quickly take the lead and specify what they want from lessons, others will be unsure and will look to you to establish a power dynamic. Here, informal feedback is essential so you are aware if the tutee feels they are not getting what they need.

Encouraging tutees to contribute

Tutees are more likely to engage when:

  • They feel comfortable around you
  • You show them respect and support, especially when they make mistakes
  • Learning is seen as a co-operative exercise, not a confrontational one
  • You both agree upon realistic and achievable tasks
  • They are encouraged to contribute, not just to be lectured to
  • Feedback is frequent so communication breakdowns do not occur
  • They are presented with open-ended questions that are not too 'leading'

Directing discussions

Think about:

  • Regularly giving supportive, constructive feedback
  • Encouraging broader or deeper focus
  • Correcting misunderstanding in a non-confrontational way

Feedback on tutees' skills/abilities

  • Link feedback to specific positives/mistakes
  • Comment on use of particular skills
  • Be encouraging and friendly!

Balancing tutor/tutee contributions

  • Review how often you intervene
  • Balance feedback with space
  • Encourage quiet tutees, but don't overpower them

Closing lessons

To determine how your tutee feels the lessons are progressing, ask open ended questions such as these:

  • What has been the most significant thing you've learned today?
  • Do you have any questions after today's lesson?

If you have any homework for the tutee, spend time discussing how they should tackle it. Remember: the tutee may not have time to do extensive exercises, or indeed may not have the inclination to do so! Homework density must ultimately be decided on their terms.

Not contributing

Avoid spelling out the answer to an unresponsive tutee. Instead, try framing the question in a different way. Give some encouragement: tutees can become disheartened and cease trying if they think their efforts are futile. Re-evaluate the task you are setting them and make sure it's manageable.

Self-evaluation checklist

As you work with more clients you may wish to start self-evaluating to remember what worked/what didn't, in addition to any client feedback you've received on the site. Below is some food for thought to help your introspection:

How well did I .....?Very WellSatisfactoryCould Be Better
Prepare for the session   
Get the session underway (establish aims, etc)   
Ask questions and prompt the tutee   
Handle the tutee's comments and questions   
Respond to the tutee as an individual   
Keep the focus on the main topic   
Help sustain tutee interest    
Provide help when tutees encountered difficulties   
Ensure key points were drawn out   
Bring things to a close and set out homework   

New to Tutoring?

If you are new to tutoring you are welcome to register with First Tutors to attract potential clients. During the registration process you will be asked to declare which subjects you wish to teach, how much you will charge and to tell new tutees about your approach. You will also be required to submit two references and some information for an ID check.

Choosing your subject

We urge new tutors to think carefully about which subjects they offer and the level to which they feel they can comfortably offer lessons. We invite tutees to give feedback about their tutors, so that the tutor benefits from positive recommendations. Obviously, if you are teaching a subject that you are not terribly confident in, this feedback may not be so positive! We recommend you focus on your strengths and build your reputation upon them, instead of being a jack-of-all-trades.

Beginning teaching

Your first lesson with a new tutee counts for a great deal. But before you even get this far, make sure your new tutee has a positive view of you. When a tutee chooses you, reply as soon as you can, even if it is to reject the enquiry. If you've arranged lessons, and your details have been exchanged, follow this up a quickly as you can! Tutees are often anxious when seeking a tutor and will look to commence lessons as soon as possible. Not keeping an appointment, showing up late or arriving ill-prepared are all ways to lose a tutee before you've even started!

Recommended Resources

Below are some resources that you may find useful while beginning tutoring:

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Ignoring a child's school problems or waiting too long to seek help perpetuates a cycle of frustration and failure. Here, an eight-step plan:

Step 1: Reality Check
When you or the teacher identify a problem, take a step back and consider the whole child. "Many factors could account for a child's falling behind. Rushing to hire a tutor should be the last thing you do," says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., co-author of Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less. "Instead of slapping a Band-Aid on the problem, be a diagnostician and figure out the cause.”

"Your child could be tired," says Hirsh-Pasek. "Maybe he needs to go to sleep earlier, and you need to better enforce bedtime rules. Maybe he's not doing well because he's being dragged down by having too many high-fat snacks or fast-food meals. Or maybe he can't complete his homework because he's overscheduled and exhausted from too many extracurricular activities."

Step 2: Get Perspective
Talk to your child as well as his teacher or guidance counselor for their perception of the problem. Does he hand in homework assignments on time? Does he fidget in class or lose focus when the teacher talks? Does he seem unhappy or uninterested in school in general? Is his behavior disruptive in class? Lack of motivation or acting-out behaviors may be a sign that a child is having difficulty either understanding or processing information. Sometimes simply moving a child to a smaller class can make a difference. If that is not possible, ask if he can move his seat to the front row right near the teacher, which may prevent his attention from wandering.

Step 3: Consider the Best Setting
Once you've decided to find tutoring help, you need to determine what form it should take. Some children feel more comfortable working privately with a tutor in their own home; others are motivated by the dynamics of a small group and concentrate more easily when they are away from the distractions at home. They might benefit from a study group or supplemental class at a learning center. Also ask yourself: Does my child do better with men or women? Does he need lots of nurturing or a firm hand?

Step 4: Ask for Referrals
Whether you decide that a once-a-week meeting with a homework helper (say, an older student or moonlighting teacher) is sufficient, or that intensive remediation makes more sense, keep in mind that tutoring is only as good as the person who does it. Check with your child's teacher, the school office, and other parents for names of qualified tutors. Schools may have a list of tutors who work regularly with students, and may even be familiar with the teachers and course curriculum. Your school may also offer some sort of academic help — before, during, or after school.

Step 5: Meet and Greet
Meet the tutor or visit the learning center with your child so he feels a part of the process and you can see if there's a rapport between him and the tutor. Sit in on one or two sessions to be sure. Since anyone can advertise in the local newspaper that he's a tutor, check credentials. Your tutor should not only be knowledgeable in the subject matter, he should have experience working with children your child's age. If your child has a learning disability, the tutor should be trained to identify and work with youngsters with this specific problem.

Step 6: Discuss Plans
A skilled tutor does more than simply check over homework. She will assess your child's strengths and weaknesses, prepare individualized lessons, and use hands-on materials wherever possible. She should also consult and work with your child's classroom teacher. Finally, she should offer positive reinforcement so your child feels good about himself and his efforts. Ask if the tutor gives additional homework besides your child's regular classroom work as well as how she evaluates progress. Does she use standardized tests or other forms of evaluation? How often?

Step 7: Set a Timetable for Progress
Most tutoring relationships last several months to a year (meeting once or twice a week). Don't wait that long before asking for feedback. Talk to your child and the tutor after every session. Does she enjoy the sessions? Are her grades improving? Does she have more confidence with the subject matter? Is she feeling better about school in general? This informal observation, combined with her teacher's input, will help you determine if the relationship is working. And if it's not? It can take several months for a child's performance to improve, but if you sense something is not working, don't be shy about discussing your concerns with the tutor. If he's not responsive, find someone new.

Step 8: Stay Involved
Parents are part of the tutoring equation. Your involvement is necessary to make it work. Make sure the tutor has the phone number or email address of your child's teacher, a copy of the textbook and curriculum she's using (request this from the teacher or guidance counselor), and your child's past tests so he can see areas of weakness. Finally, be sure to reinforce skills at home. Ask the tutor for suggestions, look for ways to fit in real-world practice (cooking together is great for both math and reading), and don't forget to share books and stories often.

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