Carnegie Mellon University

III. One-on-One Tutoring

1. Evaluation of Needs

Each student has different needs and ways to learn.  As you get to know students, you will be able to develop new ways to help them learn more efficiently. Below are some strategies to help you facilitate this process.

  • Ask what they DO know, not what they DON’T know, in order to evaluate where to begin the tutoring session. Have them talk about what they’re working on in school and/or topics they’re most interested in.
  • Develop a personalized program. Set minor and major goals and establish the way in which these goals will be met. Let students help to determine what these goals will be.
  • Learn to understand the communication style and learning style of the student. Some students tend to have an internal locus of control, or believe they are in control of their learning. While other students have an external locus of control and believe that external forces control the outcome of their learning.  Being able to understand what type of learner the student is allows you to effectively teach them.
  • Ask the students where they are having trouble. Some students fear a subject because of past failure. Some students are taking the class because it is a requirement; therefore they may have no interest in the subject.  The students could also be lacking confidence in their ability to master the material, or they might be overwhelmed by the time requirements imposed on them for this particular class. The reason for the tutoring request is important because it will give you a starting point from which to plan your future tutoring sessions.
  • Track the progress of all work. Grading and recording results will allow you to determine when your student has a total command of the material and is ready to move on.
  • Establish and share the needs and expectations. Both you and the student should share needs and expectations you have for each other from the beginning of tutoring.
  • Engage the student by asking their interests. By learning about what your student likes and dislikes you may be able to incorporate this information into real-world examples or build your relationship through similar interests.

Set rules and guidelines at the beginning of the first session and be consistent.

2. Opportunities for Success

Students want to achieve and have successes. Facilitating this process will help to keep them motivated in order to continue to the next problem.

  • Always begin an activity at a point where the student can succeed and provide support when moving to more difficult tasks. Providing support isn’t simply giving the student answers but guiding them towards the answer. You'll want to be able to determine whether the student doesn't understand the material, is struggling to concentrate, or is maybe lacking the appropriate background knowledge for any given assignment.
  • Ask probing questions related to the content. The way that the students answer these questions can also help determine if they learn best by hearing, seeing, talking through a problem, using manipulatives (Ex: counting blocks), or using real life examples. 
  • Repeat tasks as often as needed.
  • Make sure the student fully understands one concept before moving on to another.

3. Right and Wrong Responses

Knowing how to respond to questions is important. This can make the difference between students feeling down on themselves or motivated to work harder to attain the right answer.

  • Acknowledge but do not over-exaggerate success during a tutoring session. Praise effort over intelligence. "I really appreciate how much effort you put into that homework assignment. It may have taken some time, but in the end you were able to complete it by talking through each problem and breaking it down. Nicely done." 
  • Encourage students constantly and praise positive behavior and attitude. Respond to wrong answers supportively. “No, that’s not right, but good try.” 
  • Do not correct a student’s grammar. Instead, provide them with an example by using correct grammar. Do not correct the student on everything.
  • Note mistakes for later, but stay focused on session goals. Create a non-judgmental environment for students where they learn that they can make mistakes. When appropriate and applicable, relate to mistakes by providing personal anecdotes. Point out to the student where they may have made a mistake initially, but then self-corrected and got the right answer. Applaud persistence.

You want students to be comfortable making mistakes around you so that you can provide correct examples.

4. Communication with Parents & Teachers

Sometimes you may need to talk to your student’s parents or teachers in order to provide the best tutoring situation for your student. We think about reaching out to parents and teachers when times are tough, if the student often forgets assignments, has behavioral issues, or simply isn’t certain what to work on during tutoring sessions—but the truth is, touching base with parents and teachers about your student’s successes can be just as helpful. Working together with parents and teachers can help you to create tutoring goals to meet the student’s needs.

Always speak with your leader, faculty member, or supervisor before reaching out to parents or teachers. They may be able to provide some helpful tips, and may have insight into how to address certain issues.

Once you have the go-ahead, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Speaking to teachers ensures that you share the same educational objectives and can work as a team to be sure the student is receiving the best help possible.
  • Ask a lot of questions about the teacher’s expectations and insight, and work towards meeting the goals of the teacher. Email is a great way to reach out to teachers, since they can respond quickly during times that work for them. (They may also want to send supplemental materials, like worksheets or reading materials.)
  • When speaking with parents, be sure to highlight the positives. Ensure parents of your dedication to their child’s success, but do not shy away from discussing any issues your student is facing. Talk about what problems you’ve noticed and ask parents for feedback. Sometimes, they may be able to share helpful information about your student that will allow you to better teach them.

We tend to associate parent-tutor communications as necessary only when there are problems, but it is a good idea to reach out to give positive updates, too. That way, parents will see that during tutoring, their child is working hard, has a good attitude, excels at reading, or other positive traits. It also helps parents to know that you see all the great qualities about their child, while working to correct a specific problem.