Tutoring sessions with adult students

This is post #3 in the series: Tutoring adult learners

Tutoring sessions with adult students:

The tutor is your collaborator, mentor, and guide: Adults do not want to be treated like children.  They have had many life experiences in which they have been respected,  responsible, independent, self-motivated decision makers.  A tutor must relate to them as the adult peers they are.  Adults learners often do better in job/career style settings that make them feel like they are working together, rather than being “taught.”  the tutor is a collaborator, mentor, and manager/guide for the adult student’s learning.  The tutor wants to assist the student to take on an increasingly personal active role in developing their own skills, solving their own problems, and furthering their own learning.

Small group tutoring may work well:  As adults are often accustomed to working as part of a team, a tutor may who has 2 or more students with a particular need/goal may suggest that they do group tutoring sessions, at least part of the time.  As adult learners often learn better through discussion and a team approach, the students may in some cases actually learn better in a group, with the tutor as facilitator, than in one-to-one tutoring.

Identifying needs:  If the adult learner is taking a class related to the tutoring, the tutor will ask how the course is going – tests, new concepts, assignments.  They will ask the learner what he/she specifically wants to cover in this session – a particular concept, certain knowledge, test preparation, help with a particular assignment, and so on.  While the tutor will have material prepared, there will be opportunity for the adult student to identify particular needs.  The tutor will help the student with those needs, and try to discern if there are underlying concepts or skills which first/also need to be worked on in order to succeed with the needs the student identifies.  The tutor may also do a quick review with the student to reinforce what the student already knows before going on to the new material.

Breaking big ideas into steps:  Often, a student is overwhelmed with “big ideas,” especially in college level courses.  The tutor will help the student break complex ideas into understandable and manageable steps in a process, or into inter-related parts of an idea.

Working through a problem:  If the student is having great difficulty with a particular process, for example, an algebra problem, the tutor may do one or two examples first, explaining each step.  Then the tutor may present two similar problems, and tutor and student will work through them side-by-side, step-by-step.  The the student will attempt a similar problem on his own.  Finally, the tutor may ask the student to verbally explain the completed problem to the tutor (back-teaching).

Help student personally solve the problem:  In working with adult students, tutors will focus more on asking questions that help the students think through the problem themselves, than on simply presenting information.  If the tutor is working with a small group of students, he/she will encourage them to work out the problem together, with the tutor acting as a reference and facilitator as needed.

Thinking and analysis skills:  The tutor will often sit back and quietly wait while the student works through a concept.  Thinking and analysis is a very important learning skill/habit, and tutors will model and encourage the development of this skill. 

Learning styles, approaches, methods:  The tutor will try a variety of learning approaches and methods  to find what will best help a student with a particular learning problem.  The tutor will be watching to see what the student’s favored learning styles are, and use them to help the student, while also helping the student develop other learning styles as well. 

While an adult is not a child, adults still often learn well with methods that are sometimes “playful” (learning games, for example), or are entertaining or otherwise appealing to the student.  Visuals, graphs, analogies and anecdotes, mnemonic devices, hands-on/kinesthetic, listening and verbally responding, and many other learning activities work well for adults just as they do for children.  While university classes often focus on the “lecture” approach, it certainly isn’t optimal for all adults; it is not a matter of “maturity” but much more of learning styles and life experiences.

Challenged and moving forward:  If the adult student shows they have understood a concept, the tutor will move them on to a higher level.  The tutor does not want to waste the student’s time, and also wants to keep the student challenged and moving forward.

Re-teaching and summarizing:  At the end of a session, a tutor will ask the student to summarize (and/or quickly re-teach) what he/she has just learned.  This helps the student review and remember, shows the tutor what may need to be covered in more detail next time, and instills a sense of accomplishment in the student. 

Goal setting and planning:  Then the tutor will talk with the adult student about the next session, setting some goals and plans; and the tutor and student will also agree together on some learning activities (preferably including practical, real-life applications) the student can engage in between sessions to reinforce and apply the learning.

The tutor will also give the student an opportunity to share their reactions and feelings about the tutoring session, what worked for them and what didn’t, and what they’d like to see in coming sessions.  Again, the situation is two (or more) adults working together as a team, rather than a top-down process.

Series: We hope you will enjoy this series, “Tutoring adult learners.” Be sure to check out the rest of the series.

Penticton tutor: If you live in the Penticton area, and are looking for a tutor, be sure to check out my Penticton tutor information page!

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