We often get asked questions about what tutoring is (and a lot more about what tutoring isn’t), so we thought we’d write a quick post to clarify. We will be referring to styles that are not actually tutoring as “tutoring” (with the quotation marks) and styles that are tutoring as tutoring (without quotation marks).

One of the main differences between tutoring and “tutoring” is that tutoring is done individually or in small groups of approximately the same level while “tutoring” can be done with large groups of students like their classroom. The key here is that students should feel they can ask the tutor their questions without feeling ridiculed by their peers and that they can receive one-on-one (or close to it) attention. In large group “tutoring”, the tutor can often act as a marker/second teacher. This is not the best way to help a student learn. If a student has trouble asking a question in class, why would they feel any more comfortable asking it in a group of 20 or more?

Another large difference is who completes the assigned work. Some people will market themselves as tutors, but their services revolve around finishing the assignment/homework instead of the student. In “tutoring”, a student doesn’t receive the help they need to understand how to do the assignment and cannot gain the skills they need to learn. Some people might think that this is an acceptable practise for the “less important” subjects, but the consequences of this type of thinking can be long-term and disastrous.

Completing worksheets is another issue we get asked about a lot. Worksheets can be an excellent tool to cement the knowledge in a student’s mind but completing worksheets without understanding the skills that they are meant to teach is not a productive use of anyone’s time (nor is it tutoring). For example, a student can learn how to complete a worksheet focusing on answering the questions, but if the student has not internalized the knowledge the worksheet was meant to provide, the student did not use that time efficiently. The difference here is only completing the worksheets without internalizing the knowledge only give you a short-term understanding with which to complete your work. Tutoring, on the other hand, lets you cement the knowledge that you learned in school and can be used whenever you need it (even in different subjects/scenarios). The worksheet style of learning can lead to feelings of stress/anxiety during exams, since the student must cram all of the knowledge they should have learned during the year into a short amount of time. Using the cementing style of tutoring, a student has managed to internalize the knowledge they need and can only brush up on some details before the exam, lowering levels of anxiety and stress.

Now, we’ve given a lot of examples of what tutoring isn’t, but we’ve skirted around the real question: “What is tutoring?”. Tutoring will depend on a variety of factors, but it generally comes down a few things: cementing knowledge learned in class, helping students catch up and helping students keep interested in their studies.

A tutor will often go over certain important or interesting concepts that a student has learned in class. For example, if a teacher goes over the periodic table in class, a tutor might help the student with more examples of how it looks, what its main characteristics are, interesting bits of information, etc. This will depend on the tutor and the student combination. By becoming more familiar with the periodic table, the student will have cemented their understanding of what the teacher is trying to teach. Another way to cement knowledge is to complete different questions with the student that test the same things. Often, if a tutor has time to prepare (i.e. they know ahead of time what the topics they are going to cover are), they can create questions to solve with the student that might resonate better than the standard questions that are in most textbooks. For example, instead of asking the standard biological question: “Create a cladogram (biological “tree” which shows relationships between organisms) which shows the relationship between lions, tigers, fish and dogs using the following criteria which are given”, consider a ridiculous questions asking a student to create a cladogram between the Harry Potter characters based on the criteria that are provided (if the student is a Harry Potter fan). In this way, the student has the added benefit of being able to better remember the steps needed to complete the question on a test or later in their schooling.

Sometimes, students need more help in a subject because they missed a lot of lessons, they have gaps in their knowledge, or they simply struggle with the subject. In some situations, students miss a lot of lessons (sports, illness, extracurricular activities, etc.), and the teacher cannot always take the time to help the student catch up. This is where a tutor can help bring the student up to speed and help them to follow along in class. Tutoring can help the student fill in those gaps and succeed. For example, if a student never cemented long division in primary school, they will not be able to divide functions since they are missing the necessary skills. The teacher probable doesn’t have enough time to teach the whole class long division again, so they move on. This is where a tutor can be an excellent resource, working with the student to fill in their gaps to help them catch up with the class. Another area where a tutor can help is if the student is just struggling with a topic or subject. Everyone struggles with something, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help (Take a look at our blog posts detailing how to improve in various subjects here).

Occasionally, students who are very interested in a subject may have trouble paying attention to what is currently being taught because they have learned it elsewhere. A tutor can help the child explore the details of the subject which the teacher may not have time to explain. This will help keep the student more engaged in the material that is covered in class by trying to find the finer details in what the teacher is teaching. For example, if a child is interested in history, the era the class is studying might be boring, but trying to place the era within a timeline and seeing how it relates to the others can be an interesting experience. A tutor can help a student learning about the First World War to connect it to the Russian Revolution and the United Nations or even further in the timeline. This placing of the key events can be used to keep the student interested in what they are learning in class. This can also be a good way to show the teacher that you have a good understanding of the era and the key events that were covered, thus exceeding the teacher’s expectations.

Often, the line between tutoring and “tutoring” can be difficult to differentiate. On the surface, they may seem to be similar or even the same; however, there are a lot of differences in how much they actually help the student. We’ve only given some key differences between the two. Often “tutoring” will try to masquerade as tutoring, but with a little bit of investigating, it can be easy to spot the discrepancies.



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