On Quora.com, I was asked what to do when a tutoring student has continued to have difficulty, has failed the exam being tutored for, and still wants more tutoring. You can read my full answer on Quora, but I will also post it in two parts here on my Pen and Paper Mama tutoring and learning blog. The first post focuses on possible reasons students fail tests, even with tutoring, and what a tutor should do next. This post will help you, as a tutor, to analyze your tutoring and hopefully be more successful in the future.
As your student’s tutor, besides thinking of why your student is not succeeding as well as hoped, you also need to analyze if perhaps your tutoring has been inadequate in some way, then figure out how to support him in future. This will require some serious self-examination, followed by a discussion between the two of you, and it may also be helpful if you can discuss your student’s test results (as well as classroom participation and homework completion) with the teacher and possibly with his parents. Here are some possibilities to consider:
1. Tutoring session preparation and progress:
Although your student may have attended tutoring sessions faithfully, did he come prepared with work to do, or did you just go ahead and assign work when he arrived? Did you ask him to email you his class assignments or homework before the lesson so you could prepare adequately? Did you check his progress since his previous tutoring session, at the start of each new tutoring session? Did you discuss your concerns with him, and then with his parents or teacher, if needed? Did you just “stick to the academics” or observe his ongoing progress, attitudes, and other issues, and deal with them as they came up?
2. Understanding your student’s needs:
Did your student know the “basics” of the subject before he started his tutoring sessions? Are you sure? Did you take time to analyze any learning issues he might have, such as gaps in basic knowledge which needed to be covered before even starting to work on current content? Did you ask to see previous report cards, and possibly IEPs (individual educational plans) and related documents? You may not always be able to access all these documents, but even seeing some of them, or discussing such issues with parents and/or teachers can be helpful as you plan future tutoring lessons. If you simply went ahead and focused on current work and/or direct preparation for the specific exam, perhaps you missed out on some pertinent information that would help with the tutoring.
3. Involvement of your student’s learning team–and regular reporting on your part:
Do you keep in close contact with parents and/or teachers? Do you send out a short email report after each tutoring session to inform them of what you have covered, let them know of any issues you’ve observed, and ask any relevant questions? Yes, this can take a bit of extra time, but it will improve your tutoring, build your reputation as a tutor, build important relationships with the student and other members of his learning team, give the parents good ideas on how to help the student study at home, let the teacher know how you are supporting the student’s learning, provide yourself with a written record to refer to in similar situations in future–and of course help your student pass his exams.
4. Becoming an independent, motivated learner:
Are you sure that your student understands your directions? Do you perhaps help him go through each problem step by step, but then fail to have him do a few questions on his own to make sure that he is really “getting it”? Are you perhaps “helping him” too much? As his tutor, your job is to help him become a strong, independent, self-motivated learner. You may need to back off a bit with your “help” and insist on him taking a bit more responsibility.
5. Previews as well as reviews:
At the beginning of each session, do you have your student try out a couple sample questions based on the previous lesson, and a couple questions based on the new material you intend to introduce in this new lesson–and then observe how he approaches them? If you just start right into tutoring/teaching, you may be providing information or skills he already knows or may be missing out on basic information and skills that he needs extra preparatory help with. Previewing is often just as important, and sometimes more important, than new teaching and end-of-lesson reviewing.
6. Relational issues:
Have you had difficulties in your relationship with your student? Since you’ve already worked together for a month, you should know each other well enough to both be honest with each other. Your student may have been holding back from you some of the difficulties he is having outside the tutoring time, or he may have been shy to tell you if your teaching methods and personality have been causing problems for him. You also need to be honest with yourself about any frustrations you have been having with him, such as if he has not been coming adequately prepared for the tutoring sessions. If you are frustrated, your student may be picking up on that and becoming frustrated himself but may feel he can’t say anything as he must treat you respectfully. You can and should encourage reasonable openness and honesty while still being professional.
7. Your ability to meet your student’s needs:
When you agreed to work with your student, were you comfortable that you would be able to help him with the level of work required? Did you later perhaps begin to realize the subject matter and/or his learning issues were more difficult than you expected? What did you do at that point? If you carried on with the tutoring, but were stressed, could that have affected both your interactions and your tutoring ability? Should you perhaps at this point refer him to someone else who can help him better, rather than continuing to tutor this student yourself? Or could you take some time to improve your own skills so you can tutor him more successfully?