As a tutor, one of your more important roles is to be an effective listener. A good tutor is able to listen to the concerns of the student and reflect those back. If the tutor cannot listen to the needs and questions of the student, then the conversational aspect of the session degrades into an instructional teacher-student relationship.
Tips for Effective Listening:
- Resist assuming you know what students are going to say. Let the students completely finish speaking before you answer. Speakers appreciate having the chance to say everything they would like to say without being interrupted. When you interrupt, it looks like you aren't listening, even if you really are.
- Listen carefully through distractions, such as other students in the hallway. Give your full attention on the person who is speaking. Don't look out the window or at what else is going on in the room.
- Make sure your mind is focused. It can be easy to let your mind wander if you think you know what the person is going to say next, but you might be wrong! If you feel your mind wandering, change the position of your body and concentrate on the student's words.
- Avoid emotional involvement. Listen as objectively as possible. Begin listening to others from a neutral, open-minded state. This allows you to really concentrate and focus on what others are saying to you.
- Give extra time. Avoid upstaging students or answering before a student has finished speaking. Instead, give the student extra time to consider and respond to your questions. Allow yourself time to finish listening and think about what the student has said or written before you begin to speak. You can't really listen if you are busy thinking about what you want to say next. (see reference 6)
- Notice subtext. Pay attention not only to the logical content of what someone is saying but also to how they say it. That is, how they feel about the subject under discussion. It turns out that how people feel about an issue or a person is a key determinant in decision-making. If you listen for emotions rather than words, you'll notice an interesting thing - you'll absorb both and understanding will be deeper.
- Show you are listening. While a student is speaking, use your body language to show you are listening.
- Show respect for the other person. Respond in such a way that proves you are taking the other person seriously. Demonstrate respect for their point of view. (see reference 7)
Ask Effective Questions
Another key role that a tutor performs is to ask effective and stimulating discussion questions. By asking the right questions, a tutor can help create a dialogue for the student that the student can replay later by him/herself.
As you listen, you will naturally find yourself asking questions. Ask questions to engage the student, to clarify what has been said, and to show that you've been listening (see reference 8). Effective questioning helps to continue to build rapport as well as provide information about the work at hand.
Tips for Asking Effective Questions:
- Be sure the question you are asking is clear in your own mind. Think through what you want from the student before you ask the question. Avoid ambiguous questions. Questions should be purposeful and direct. Since tutoring sessions are usually brief, questions need to accomplish a lot in a small amount of time.
- Ask only one question at a time.
- Use "probing." Probing is the use of further questions to force the student to put together his or her partial knowledge into a more complete answer. Probing often involves the use of follow-on or leading questions to help the student answer the initial question or to provide a more complete answer. (see reference 9)
- Avoid leading questions. Questions, such as "Don't you all think that ... ?" will not encourage students to offer their opinions and views on the subject. Students often believe that they should wait to be told the answer and that they should think the same way as the tutor.
- Avoid yes/no questions and questions that require only a one-word response. It is difficult to get a discussion going or foster an active learning environment by asking students questions that only require a one-word response.
- Admit when you don't know the answer. You'll lose more credibility by trying to fake an answer than by stating that you don't know. If you don't know the answer to a student's question, say so: "That's a good question. I'm not sure about that." Follow up by looking for the answer to demonstrate good study habits by showing the student how to find answers in the textbook. (see reference 10)
- Try to use natural language. Students tend to be intimidated by technical talk.
- Try to focus on what is needed rather than what is missing (e.g., "You need an analysis section" vs. "You failed to analyze . . ." ).
- Acknowledge. Make sure that each comment is greeted with some gesture of acknowledgment: a head nod, a smile, a verbal "Good" or "Interesting" or "I see what you mean."
- Look for chances to give positive feedback (e.g., "Now that's an intriguing way to look at it" or "Exactly, you've hit the nail on the head"). Use more positive than negative language in verbal responses. Use encouraging statements to show your interest and to keep the student talking about an important area. These include the simple "I see", "uh-huh" and "Yes, keep going."
- Handle "wrong" answers by dignifying students' responses. Dignify an erroneous response by indicating what question for which the answer is correct, and then clarifying why it's not correct for the question you asked (e.g., "That would be correct if X were true, but remember that this situation is different because of Y," or "I see why you might think that, because the terms are easy to confuse. However, keep in mind that we're talking about Z."). (see reference 11)
- If a student does not or cannot respond, don't force the issue. Try rephrasing the question or probing to get to the question you have asked. Avoid answering the question yourself. Allow the student plenty of time to think and respond. Show the student how to find the answer in the textbook, or ask her/him to check her/his class notes.
- Look for chances to refer back to a student's earlier contribution to weave into the current discussion (e.g., "That ties in nicely to what you said earlier about X").
Make Effective Verbal Responses
As you are working with and listening to your student, you will want to continue to progress through the task at hand by building the dialogue and showing that you are interested and involved. Making effective verbal responses will also help to clarify the materials being discussed as well as reinforce the rapport you are building.
Tips about Making Effective Verbal Responses:
- Praise. Remember to give praise whenever possible.
- Restate. Restating means that you repeat what you have heard to validate that you understand.
- Summarize. Summarizing means that you take a lot of information and restate it in a very high-level way to again validate that you heard correctly.
- Reflect. This is similar to restating, except that you bring the student's feelings into the mix. This includes statements like "I see you are passionate about this idea. Let me make sure I have the information right," or "You seem to feel that ...," or "My perception is that you don't think this is a good idea." (see reference 12)
- Encourage the student and compliment any strengths. Positive feedback is important in developing an enjoyment of learning. We always want to let the student know that he or she is working on an engaging topic, or, for example, has excellent ideas and solid organization.
- Try to determine the reason the student has trouble with a certain area. For example, maybe the thesis statement is missing because the student thinks of it as a stupid part of some teacher's mechanical formula for writing a paper. We might then explain that a good thesis statement will tell the reader what the paper will be about, and will help the reader develop an interest in reading the paper to see how the thesis is supported.
- "Always ask." Asking questions ensures that the student is thinking along with us and increases the probability that he or she will remember what we have discussed. Once students get used to answering questions, they will also start to ask the questions themselves, so the questioning technique helps avoid the problem of students becoming over-dependent on tutors.
- Do not assign or anticipate grades. Our tutorials are based on the learning process as a whole. While some self-evaluation from a tutor may prove to be beneficial in helping to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the student's understanding of a particular concept, tutors should not allow themselves to be tempted into predicting what grade an assignment will receive. Let instructors worry about grades. (see reference 13)
- Try to avoid evaluative language. Using words like "good" or "bad" implies a universal truth. Instead provide feedback based on your own opinions of the assignment (e.g. "I like how you used transitions here").