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The Tortoise and the Hare at School

A recent survey question from the WyzAnt people got me thinking. The question asked how many hours of tutoring in took, on average, to help a student go up a letter grade. I found myself hesitating before answering, because I have done two different types of tutoring, with two very different results. In the end, I decided to answer based on my favorite type of tutoring: 7 to 10 hours.

Let's think a little bit about what this means. With most students, I meet once or perhaps twice a week. So, in the best case scenario, 10 hours of tutoring means 5 weeks, or over a month! This might sound like a lot, but it really is the type of tutoring that I prefer. It's the "tortoise" modality, instead of the "hare" one. Let me explain what I mean.

In the story of the race between these two animals, the hare simply starts running as fast as possible. Surely enough, he gets off to a great start, leaving the tortoise far, far behind. It is indeed possible to take an approach to tutoring that matches the hare's. Tutors can "teach to the test," focusing only on those details that will be in the exams, teaching the students to watch out for the things they'll be sure to find, and showing them a couple of tricks to get a higher score. This, when done well, can certainly help the students increase their grades very quickly. The problem appears when it's time for the hare's nap.

Like the hare in the fable, who forgets to consider anything other than his own speed, students studying only to take a test are leaving behind and ignoring a multitude of very important and very useful tools. More importantly, they are turning their tutoring into a one-purpose-only experience, whereas they could be incorporating knowledge and skills that would help them with a range of other classes and situations. The tortoise-tutor would take longer to bring those grades up, but the ideas and abilities the student takes away from such a tutoring session will mean the next grade up will come much more easily, and the next one even more. What's more, after some good quality, tortoise type tutoring, the student might not even need a tutor anymore!

It seems to me that speed tutoring creates some type of addiction. The student won't really learn how to reason and solve problems on their own, so they will always need to go back to the tutor, so they can learn the next bag of exam tricks. The student will literally become dependent on the tutor to keep those good grades that were so quickly obtained. Like the hare, the race to success will consist of quick bouts of intense hyper-specific learning, followed by a nap of sorts, where the student won't be able to run the race at all. Following the tortoise method, on the other hand, might mean that the first race will be won very slowly, but it also means the student can keep going at a steady pace, without the need to stop and ask for more help every step of the way. Only the tortoise student can truly master a subject.

So next time you're looking for a tutor for quick help, ask yourself: do I want to be successful at this test, or do I want to be successful in school in general? If you choose the latter, find a tortoise tutor.