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Hey everybody, new to blogging, so here we go!  I joined WyzAnt at the end of last year, and in 6 months, I've somehow managed to be one of the more active tutors in my area.

Part of my approach with my students is to reeeeeally make the session into a dialogue.  I tutor math.  As an example of what I mean, if I have a student who is about to learn formulas for the area of various shapes, I don't just blurt out "Area of a rectangle is length times width, got it?  Now do a problem with that formula."  I start by asking them what "distance" is.  That's something that they can relate to.  Or, I ask them how tall they are, and how that's measured.  Or, how long a marathon is, which is measured in miles or kilometers.  So, all of those are "distances," which we measure in feet, or inches, or miles, or whatever.  But, what if we're talking about how big the top of a table is, or how big a room is, or how big your back yard is...those aren't distances.  They're something different.  How would you describe what we're trying to find?  And once they can describe it, e.g. "it's how big something is, or the space it takes up, or a shape," then I talk about the fact that what they're talking about, in math-speak, is "area."  And I know they're with me, because they've been talking the whole time.  I try to drag the student into the process of understanding what a subject is about, and as they learn to solve problems, I continue to ask them questions.

I cannot imagine just spoon-feeding them answers, or giving them strong guidance, or yapping at them for minutes on end.  I think this does two things that create issues:

1.  It makes the student think they understand it, even if they don't.  Even if I ask them to replicate something I've done, or try a similar example, it's like riding a bike with the training wheels tightly screwed on.  Eventually, you have to take the training wheels off, and that's when you find out if you have any balance.  This usually happens on a test, when the student realizes that they don't have any balance.  :)  Why not help them learn to ride the bike by letting them get off-balance, keep them from falling, and let them feel what it's like to regain your balance?  That's what builds those core muscles you use to keep your balance in the first place.

2.  It makes the student think that learning a subject is the tutor's responsibility.  If I'm the one doing all of the thinking for them, then I feel like it sets a bad example.  Why not set the expectation, right up front, that we're going to talk a lot, ask lots of questions, and build the understanding together?  Then, when the student goes to take a test or do homework on their own, they realize that it's their responsibility to answer the question, not the tutor's.  And it's rewarding when they're able to.

So, here's my question.  If you even partially believe what I've said above, then what value does a resource like "WyzAnt Answers" have?

Even though I know that there are some responsible students out there who will take those answers, really work hard to understand them, and then be able to apply their understanding for themselves...that's gotta be the exception, no?  Maybe I'm being too negative, but won't most students just copy those answers, or just go through the motions in solving them?  They won't learn to ride the bike, and worse, by re-writing an answer, they could even think that they know how to ride the bike.  It feels like they can, because they have "solved a problem."  In my opinion, I think it could actually be doing the students a disservice...and setting false expectations about what the value of tutoring really is, which I see as coaching/guidance, not answering stuff for them.

I find myself more and more frustrated whenever I look at the WyzAnt Answers, given that it's the opposite of what I try to achieve as a tutor.

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-- Michael