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What Tutoring Is and What It Isn’t

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines tutoring as “to teach or guide usually individually in a special subject or for a particular purpose : coach”.

I especially like the use of “coach” as part of the definition because that’s how I approach tutoring: my goal is to deepen students’ understanding so they can do the work on their own.

If parents hire a tutor with the sole purpose of helping their kids increase their grades, they are being short-sighted. A good tutor should help students learn to help themselves. Better grades will result because students have a deeper understanding of the subject matter, not because they were given answers to questions.

Tutoring is not homework help or test preparation. Tutoring is not giving students rules and procedures to follow. Tutoring is not supplying the answers.

Tutoring is asking students questions so they can discover the answers for themselves.

Let’s look at an example.

During a reading session, a student comes to a word she doesn’t know how to read. The quick fix would be to just tell her the word. But what happens the next time she gets to a word she doesn’t know how to read? If I keep telling her the words, I’m sending her the signal that she needs others to help her because she’s not a good reader. More than likely she already thinks of herself as a struggling reader so that will just make her feel worse. Instead, we talk about how she can break the word apart into sounds and chunks. But she has to do the work. She has to try out the different sounds and put them together. So next time, she will be armed with the knowledge and the confidence in her ability to figure out an unfamiliar word.

This could just as easily be about not knowing how to do long division or subtraction. Just telling a student how to get the answer is a disservice. Instead, the student can use the foundational concept of place value that we’ve previously spent time on and I’ll ask guiding questions to help him arrive at an answer to the question.

What has the student learned along the way? It takes willingness to make mistakes and the perseverance to keep trying. It takes a growth mindset.

Learn more about how a growth mindset can make a difference.

By taking on the role of a coach, the student’s confidence starts to grow… and yes, grades get better too.

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