Tutoring by humans...It works!
End of post.
Okay, not end of blog post. Given that this is published under the auspices of a student academic services and tutoring company, it probably makes sense to flesh this claim out a bit.
It’s just that this is one of those things that people who work in education know to be true because they have been intimate with the evidence over and over.
In my two decades of teaching writing, I’ve experienced the power of being able to work individually with students on their writing. Being able to spend 15 or 20 minutes in direct exchange with a student over their work can have a transformative effect.
Don’t take my word for it. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has advocated for students to receive an additional 90 minutes each of weekly tutoring in order to make up for time lost during the pandemic. A recent study found that personalized tutoring explicitly meant to address the effects of the pandemic led to student gains.
This is on the backs of a much larger meta-analysis of over 1000 studies on the effect of tutoring, which showed strong positive correlation between individual tutoring and increased achievement.
People who are familiar with my writing about education and teaching writing know that I am not often overly impressed with measurements that rely on assessments that seem to have tenuous connections to what’s meaningful about learning. However, I think what they do show is that whatever part of the educational process we are talking about, there is no substitute for human contact.
The biggest hurdle to more progress appears to be finding enough qualified tutors to do the work.
While extended one-on-one tutoring is a great way to help students, the fact is that it is hard to find the time and resources for this sort of activity. In my work teaching college level first-year writing, I would be fortunate to be able to schedule two 10-15 minute individual conferences with each student during a semester. Even that would require me to cancel at least two class periods.
Students are plenty busy, too, with school, extracurriculars, work, and life responsibilities. When I would offer open slots during office hours, I had many students who would say they wanted to stop by, but had some other more pressing engagement at the time.
Technology can alleviate some of those logistical hurdles now that we’re all familiar with meeting over Zoom or other video platforms, but we also need to find ways to make tutoring more accessible and available to students.
This is particularly true for students who need tutoring, but may be reluctant to self-advocate or just plain shy about asking for help.
When I was in the classroom, my favorite way to get more tutoring into the curriculum was to reserve class time for a kind of “micro-tutoring.” The method was simple. I’d set students loose on whatever assignment we were working on, asking them to use the time available in whatever productive way they wished.
Then, I would watch. It’s amazing what you can notice when you take a minute to just kick back and observe students working. (Or not working, as the case may be.)
Some would immediately launch into gear, knowing how they wanted to use their time. Others, you could just see the hesitation and uncertainty on their faces. That’s where I would start.
The key for the students who look like they’re either spinning their wheels or stuck in the starting gate is to come at the issue a little slantwise and make sure to get them engaged in an open-ended conversation.
If I ask, “Do you have any questions about the assignment,” I’m likely to get a perfunctory “no,” not because they don’t have any questions, but because they don’t know where to start with their questions. Instead I’ll say something simple, “How’s it going?” and then follow up with “What thoughts have you had about what you might want to write about?”
If they have yet to have thoughts, the student and I both know where they need to start their writing process. If they have some thoughts, but aren’t sure how to proceed, I can help them work through that roadblock in real time.
After that, I move on to the students who look like they’re on track. Ninety-nine percent of the time they are tapping away on their computers, and I will be rude and hover, reading over their shoulders. If things look good, I will say so and ask if there’s anything they’re concerned about. If there’s something that concerns me, I will address it with a construction like,“Have you thought about…?”
Each conversation is maybe 60 to 90 seconds, a little nudge along the path. This too is tutoring, and while it would be tough to quantify, my experience is that it saves lots of time for both students, as they’re working on their writing, and for me, as I’m assessing the results.
At Educational Endeavors we do something similar with the RBI Scholars at Lindblom Math & Science Academy, by staffing study halls for student athletes with tutors who don’t just wait to be asked a question, but instead circulate, engaging with the students one-to-one, being a proactive resource that encourages good use of that time.
As we look at the kinds of initiatives that will help students emerge from the challenges of schooling during the pandemic, good old, reliable people power — human beings doing the work of teaching — is what will get the job done.
Need a tutor? Educational Endeavors has twenty years and countless numbers of hours of experience sending tutors into the world to work one-on-one with students to help boost their knowledge and achievement. Call or email us today!