Tutoring 101: A Crash Course
February 15, 2011 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Tutoring 101: A Crash Course

I will be tutoring for the first time this semester while doing my MA research at Auckland University. I'm very excited about it (I have realised that I'd want to lecture in future) but also quite nervous.

The paper in question is a second year Children's Lit course. As I understand it, tutorials are led on the basis of material supplied by the lecturer. My question is whether there are certain things expected of tutors to either do/not do without being specifically instructed.

Bonus points for general tips on how to make tutes interesting to tired students.
posted by New England Cultist to Education (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Our university has a lot of resources and info online for new tutors. Some of it will be relevant to tutors at other universities too. I bet Auckland has similar resources somewhere if you know where to look, but meanwhile hopefully these will help a bit.

The models of teaching
approaches to learning
learning styles
and describing learning

are all pretty basic and a bit buzzwordy, but maybe useful.

Hints and tips is maybe more practical.
Clarifying your role as tutor might also be good to read.
posted by lollusc at 7:22 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

First off, congratulations! It's such a neat experience to work with students in any capacity; I hope you have a great time being a tutor this semester. In response to your request for "tutor do's and don'ts," I'll give you the #1 item on my list: Please Don't Tell Students What Grade You Think Their Paper/Project Deserves.

It doesn't happen all that often, but every now and again I've had issues with a student who has gone to our university's writing center and been told that their paper deserves an A (or B, or whatnot). On a personal basis I can very much empathize with the desire to make a student feel good about their work - especially when you're dealing in the hypothetical and not actually having to assign grading - but as an instructor it's frustrating to have to address not only the things you recommend they do to improve their grade in the class, but also your reasons for giving them a different grade than the writing center person said they deserved. Even if you think the TA/professor is a harder grader than you would be, saying so will leave the student focusing on the fact that "My instructor is a jerk" more so than anything they might otherwise have learned in the course.

This is a good time to start figuring out things you like or dislike about others' teaching style, but be sure to save those takeaways for when you're responsible for teaching your own course. Again, good luck!
posted by DingoMutt at 8:59 PM on February 15, 2011

Congratulations - that sounds like a great class!

A lot of advice you might get here will be from US profs. But New Zealand students have a very different vibe. I tutored English at Victoria back in the day, before I moved to the US. Here's what I found the most unnerving: the silence. As in, 16 people all sitting staring at you and none of them brave enough to speak up. Your job, in addition to covering whatever reading you're doing that week, is to get them comfortable enough to talk and exchange ideas.

As far as expectations go - it depends who your lecturer is. They will usually set the assignments, and you'll probably grade them. They may or may not have lesson plans - if they don't, one way to use the class time is to use in-class exercises to talk about the readings. At the end of each session, request that each student come in the following week with a WRITTEN question about the lecture or reading. Ask them to trade questions, give them some time to write a response, and then pick out a few to talk about. This gives them something to focus on that's not just you.

Your biggest resource is your fellow tutors - especially the non-grad-student tutors, i.e. people doing it for a living. You could even ask if you could sit in on an experienced tutor's session and watch what they do. The best advice I ever received from a fellow tutor was: when you walk into that classroom, no-one knows who you are. That frees you up to be whoever you want to be - it's a performance.

Seconding DingoMutt: never give informal grades. Refer them to the grading rubric (if there is one).
posted by media_itoku at 9:23 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ah yes, the eerie silence. After a tutoring a few different classes, it won't bother you. You might even find yourself, as I did, making jokes about how nobody ever has questions in tutorials and yet nobody ever gets 100% in their exams either. But until then you will indeed find it quite disconcerting.

Initially, I used to tell my students that there were no stupid questions and that if they didn't understand something then they could be rest assured that most of their class wouldn't understand it either. That had a little success, but not much.

What worked out much better for me were two things. Firstly, I would emphasise that they would be graded on class participation (in my case, this had the added benefit of actually being true). Students love easy grades, so when you tell them that all they have to do is make some minimal contribution each week they'll usually comply. Secondly, I spent some time beforehand generating a list of pre-prepared questions. Things which I thought they should know and/or were relevant to the tutorial in question. I would threaten to bring them out and drill them if nobody had any questions, and then proceed to do exactly that when the silence continued. Thus, when nobody said anything, I had a back-up. This will help you keep your composure and keep up the impression that you know exactly what you're doing and how to handle the tutorial. Nobody wants a tutor who can't take control of the room.

I'm sure you'll do fine ;-)
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:41 AM on February 16, 2011

One of the most useful pieces of advice I've ever been given:
Once you're standing in front of them and talking, they believe you know everything.
And it's works. (Unless you absolutely blunder), they automatically assume you are qualified to be there, know everything about the topic. That helped me a lot over my insecurities.

Preparation will make you feel more confident, but don't overdo it. It's a job, not your life.

Always be ahead one week in your preparation, if possible. Shit happens.

If shit happens (people not respecting you, people harrassing you about grades,..), talk to a supervisor as soon as possible. Things get worse, not better.

As stated above: You do not know about the grades, you do not know what is >not< on the exam, and if they complain about anything, it's "policy" and not your fault.

Talk to your fellow tutors.

If you want to do something extra - give good feedback to your supervisor. Create a word document, write down the date, and quickly jot down what kind of exercises / instructions didn't work, what was easy or difficult for the students, and what was unclear from the material.
Don't make a drama out of it, don't be a know-it-all, just send them that file at the end of the semester with a short description.
However, if the lecture hasn't changed for years, you could step on some toes.

Consider handing out sheets at the end of a session:
What was the muddiest point today? (Hmm.. I'm from a technical subject. Google classroom assessment techniques, and find something that suits you and your style.)

I started giving out these feedback sheets around midterm when I was a TA (and still do):
What do I do that helps your learning? What do I do that hinders your learning? Give me one piece of advice on how I could improve this class.
Ignore single bad comments - work on things that are written down there by a statistically significant number of students.
posted by mathemagician at 4:54 AM on February 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, for the links supplied and all the helpful tips. Much appreciated.
posted by New England Cultist at 10:56 AM on February 16, 2011

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