I Talk Too Much


(That WAS me on the right and a student on the left.)

I wasn't always so talkative.

In elementary school, unlike many of my friends, I almost never got in trouble for talking during class. (Back then, if you did get in trouble, you had to spend the first part of recess standing silently while the other kids played. Cruel? Sure. Effective? Definitely.)

The one time I did get in trouble, I stood there with the other kids for a minute, but then the aide let me go early (my clean record must have helped). Don't ask me why, but I think I remember what I was wearing that day: a bright yellow and green-striped shirt, so perhaps she appreciated my 3rd grade fashion sense as well.

Now, I talk more (and wear fewer yellow and green shirts, thank God). Because after being a full-time tutor for 9 years, I have a lot to say during tutoring sessions. But I got a reminder last night from one of my GRE class students who is also doing some private tutoring with me.

"I think I want you to just watch me do some math problems next time," she said. "That way, she can see what I'm doing."

This reminded me of a question I've thought about before: what are the best practices for tutoring? How do we best get our students to know what we know and do what we do?

The answer, I think, involves striking a balance between explaining and observing. 

I think it goes without saying that education should involve teaching.There's a conceptual foundation to things like math and grammar. Similarly, many of the rules the SAT, ACT, and GRE play by are definable and need to be taught. (It drives me crazy sometimes to hear what happens in some Common Core schools - students put into groups and then told to teach each other shouldn't be the first way to approach most subjects.)

But as tutors, we also need to know what a student is thinking. How do we do that? We watch them work through new material. We ask questions about what they're thinking and what steps they're taking.

And we remember to shut up sometimes and just listen.

The Bottom Line

Good tutoring isn't merely a lecture or a series of demonstrations. There's some of that, but there also needs to be conversation. Although it can be hard to sit back and watch when you have a lot of good advice to offer, we need to remember to do so to give students a chance to come to their own realizations and to notice what they're thinking so we can correct their course when needed.

And maybe, we need one of those elementary school aides to sit in once in a while so they can tell us to stop talking.

- Vince

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