Tutoring that Works

Engaging students in learning is one of the many goals that tutors face. We must adapt to meet changing learning needs, styles, interests and delivery formats. The sage on the stage paradigm, where the tutor provided all the knowledge to a passive student, is outdated. Today's students have more need for a guide on the side, who understands that the challenges they face, is willing to experiment with alternative tutoring methods, and acknowledge that engagement and feedback are crucial to a successful learning experience.

One such tutoring methodology that has shown great promise both in the classroom and in structured tutoring sessions is problem-based learning (PBL). This concept has gained national recognition as a way for students to learn by confronting a problem related to the subject or the class material. This means that rather than the rigid and very traditional didactic approach, where a tutor simply “re-teaches” material covered in class through direction instruction or activity, students are given the opportunity to explore a situation or event and learn the material through those explorations.

This model is very similar to Writing to Learn (WL) approaches, where writing is integrated into a course or tutoring program in order to help a student reflect or make sense of the subject matter (Chemistry, Math, Geology, etc.). Unlike in most English courses, where students are Learning to Write (LW), the writing is the vehicle by which momentum is gained in order to learn about the subject. In other words, students are given reading and writing activities to help them think – not as drills to prepare for larger writing assignments.

In this same way, PBL can be used to assign and carry out learning activities that help students learn English skills, clarify and organize their thoughts about those skills, and improve their retention of this content. Using such tutoring activities can give students a strong foundation in basic academic skills. 

PBL is optimized when students are empowered to make their own learning decisions. If a student has an interest in baseball, for example, then reading a level-appropriate book, series of magazine articles or websites with the intention of answering a specific question or addressing an explicit problem in the sport can enthuse a student’s interest. PBL might ask students to:

o take notes
o make lists of facts
o closely examine sentence structure
o write summaries
o create sets of instructions
o answer questions
o fill in graphic organizers
o write short communications (email, Tweet, text message)
o create posters or brochures
o conduct interviews
o compose informative, dialogic or reflective logs or journals.

The goal of these efforts is the accumulation of knowledge on the subject in order to address the problem or situation presented, but with that achievement comes numerous learning opportunities by which reading and writing skills can be practiced, better developed, and then reflected on so that a self-awareness of their natural  strengths and weaknesses emerge. Students who are engaged by this method of tutoring see vast skill improvement and, perhaps just as important, they develop an enthusiasm about study time. Transference of this excitement about learning into increased self-confidence is complete when the tutoring project is successfully completed.


Adrienne W.

Very Experienced & Friendly Reading, Writing & ESL Tutor

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