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Tutoring in Groups

One of the goals of tutoring is to promote students’ independence, to help them function productively without a tutor. This means that, as a tutor, you should always ask students to do as much as possible on their own and continually help them learn to do a little bit more.

Group tutoring, even more than individual tutoring, offers a great opportunity to facilitate this growth toward independence. Not only can you, the tutor, answer questions and supply necessary information, but other students in the group can do the same. This means that if one student has a question, another student can answer it.

You might wonder, “What’s the difference who answers the questions in the group, me or another student, as long as the question gets answered?” But there is a difference.

Consider all the following advantages to getting your students more actively involved in tutoring sessions simply by having them answer each other’s questions:

  • Not only is one student getting an answer, but another student is taking a step toward being a giver instead of a taker, independent instead of dependent.

  • In trying to answer the question, the student and the tutor discover if he/she really knows the information. Sometimes we think we know something that we really don’t know. Having a student answer helps the tutor to constantly evaluate as well as facilitate the learning.

  • When students know they have to do a lot of talking in the tutoring sessions, they will probably be more prepared for the sessions and therefore do a lot more learning on their own—which is our goal. This also helps students move from passive to active learning and be more attentive during the session.

  • Students are grouped by course and instructor, and tutors have not always had the same instructor as the students. Another student’s answer to a question may take into account more of what has gone on in class that the tutor doesn’t know about. For instance, students may share an example of a concept or a specific way an instructor has approached a problem. With these associations available to a questioning student, another student’s answer might be more understandable to the questioner than the tutor’s answer would be.

  • When students are doing most of the talking, other students will feel more comfortable talking also. This interaction will assist learning.

  • When a student answers another student, the first student is repeating information that she is supposed to be learning. Repetition aids memory. The answering student is benefiting in this way.

  • When students are talking, the tutor is not. This means that, after three or four hours of tutoring during any given day, the tutor will still be able to speak audibly and painlessly that evening.

  • Most important, with students doing a lot of the talking, students do not grow dependent on tutors; instead, they grow to be independent. Imagine this: a student says to himself, “Gee I have this question about physics. Oh well, I have tutoring tomorrow. I’ll ask my tutor. But my tutor will just ask the other students in the group to explain it, so I might as well ask one of them in class today.” The problem could be solved before the tutoring session ever takes place, and that’s how we want students to behave.

In short, students should be used as much as possible as sources of information within your group tutoring sessions. Students have a responsibility to participate in this way. As a group leader, you should make these expectations clear to them during the first tutoring session because it will make your job easier and more effective at the same time. What more could you ask?

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