No classroom experience can meet every individual student’s needs at all times. Though teachers use a variety of approaches to reach different students and give them multiple chances to “get” the material, sometimes a student’s needs are so particular that a teacher just can’t address them in a crowded classroom.
Recommending a student work with a tutor can allow you to leverage your own expertise. You tell the tutor what you’ve noticed the kid needs to spend more time on. The tutor works with your student to help them internalize material and prepare for tests.
During the process, the tutor will share their observations about your student—information which may help you in your classroom interactions. And this kind of open and specific communication between you and the tutor will make a huge difference for your student.
Good tutors work with you as a team to accelerate and amplify what you’re already doing in your classroom. And while some teachers fear that a tutor will do their student’s work for them, a good tutor will encourage your student to take ownership of their work using specific, explicit strategies.
Here are some suggestions on when a teacher should recommend that a student get a tutor.
The student has major gaps in knowledge.
Maybe a student missed a couple years of math because they went to a bilingual school and were supposed to learn fractions in French. Maybe a student shows up in your Algebra 2 class having never learned long division because they went to a school where they were supposed to “figure it out themselves.”
When a student struggles with major gaps in material from previous grade levels that other students have down cold, a tutor can give a student the opportunity to really learn the foundational material.
Moreover, a student who might never admit to their official teacher how much they don’t know might feel comfortable sharing their problems with their tutor. The tutor can discreetly pass that information on to you, and you can use it to make the most of your classroom interactions with your student.
The student needs more one-on-one time.
If a student doesn’t have a lot of gaps in their prerequisite knowledge but they’re still struggling to keep up with the pace of the class, working with a tutor can be beneficial.
Tutoring can be a safe space for a student to ask more questions than they might want to admit they have in front of their peers. Also, one-on-one tutoring can allow your student time to drill or explore something as much as they need, instead of feeling like they have to “get it” right away.
More one-on-one time has another benefit. Often, when a student gets customized instruction from a tutor, they start to understand how they learn best and become more active learners both in and out of the classroom.
A student needs more differentiated instruction than can be provided in the classroom.
Maybe you already have a strong sense of your student’s learning style, but it’s hard to meet their needs in the classroom. Perhaps you’ve got a student with a diagnosed learning issue or disability, or a student who just marches to a completely different drummer. Maybe they need to experience the concepts in a way that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else in the class.
A good tutor can provide a completely differentiated learning experience, customizing their instruction to the individual student.
For example, a kid who feels pressured by flashcards might do a great job learning his multiplication facts by building squares and rectangles out of Legos. An ADHD kid who struggles to sit through a whole class period might thrive with a tutor who takes frequent breaks to shoot hoops. A dyslexic kid who’s overwhelmed by FOILing binomials might master the technique using a more visual box method.
When a tutor is successfully customizing your student’s learning experience, that student will be able to more effectively participate, contribute, and succeed in your classroom.
Tutoring boomerangs back to your classroom
An example: recently, I started working with a new tutoring student who, at the outset, was disinterested in learning math. But after a few weeks together, she started engaging more in her own learning. She spontaneously made up new lyrics to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” to help herself remember that numbers that end in zero are even. A few weeks later, I heard that she was so engaged in trying to answer questions in math class that her teacher remarked, “I think I see a mathematician!”—referring to this same previously disengaged student!
The best kind of tutoring—the kind where you, your student, and the tutor are all communicating openly—can help kids transform. These students become more active self-advocates for their own learning. They participate more, engage more, and ask more questions in the classroom.
When a frustrated or overwhelmed student renews their love of math in part because of the tutoring experience you’ve helped them co-create, they’ll probably bring that new enthusiasm and confidence right back to your classroom.
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