Updated: Oct 10, 2019
Continued from Tips for Tutors, Part One
Assessment In Tutoring Sessions — a.ka. 'Never Assume ANYTHING'.
It's a cliché, but for a good reason, and in teaching it's absolutely paramount: NEVER make assumptions. There are two major 'no-nos' in this regard:
(a) Assuming prior knowledge, thus embarrassing the student.
Most of us have been on the receiving end of presumptuous statements like "obviously you've heard about Foucault". Whether in day-to-day life or in teaching/learning situations, we know how gut-wrenching it feels when people automatically think we know something about which we are in fact clueless.
Imagine how much worse that experience is as a young impressionable student — that feeling of foolishness and the impossible decision between correcting the person who made the assumption (thereby exposing your lack of knowledge) or pretending to show signs of recognition and possibly getting caught out later.
Why put a student in that position and undermine the safe space for learning which you should be trying to create? Not only is such behaviour inconsiderate, but it could also negatively impact on the student's progress, as they are wasting time and mental energy focusing on how they may come across to you, instead of focusing on the content itself.
(b) Assuming newly acquired knowledge, thus failing to convey the topic successfully.
At its most extreme, this manifests itself in 'talking at' or 'lecturing' the student without assessing their acquisition of knowledge in any way. Assessment falls into two types: informal (i.e. asking ad hoc questions to check the student understands what you're teaching) and formal (i.e. setting tasks, quizzes or tests).
Tutors from a lecturing background who are new to one-to-one teaching can be particularly prone to falling into this trap of underestimating the need for continuous assessment, because effective one-to-one tutoring requires a very different technique to effective university lecturing (sadly we see this happen fairly often in our tutor interview process and we have to fail such lessons, even when the content itself is clear, well-structured and interesting).
But it's not just lecturers — even experienced one-to-one tutors can fall into this trap. We can all have moments of laziness, just like expert drivers who know they should have both hands on the wheel at all times but occasionally slip into lazy habits. You may have well-meaning reasons — perhaps you want to get through the topic quickly so you can move onto something more important — but this is a principle you can't ever afford to overlook.
On the small number of occasions where I've deemed it necessary in my teaching to cover a topic by 'narrating' the topic to the student, I've always at the very least asked the student to narrate it back to me in their own words, and I would only ever undertake such an activity with a high-achieving student who has a good track record of letting me know when they don't understand things (many students will nod along even when things make no sense, to avoid embarrassment).
Carrying out continuous assessment will usually require a fairly even balance between informal assessment (questions) and formal assessment (tasks), in order to keep things varied. Few students will respond well to being constantly given tests, and few will respond to constant discussion-style questions without ever having a formal test. A mixture is clearly best for most students and teaching situations.
Ensuring regular assessment also has a couple of key side benefits beyond satisfying yourself that the student understands.
Firstly, it's not just the tutor/teacher that wants ongoing reassurance that things are going well — students need it too! Think of the personal satisfaction and ego boost for the student that comes from constantly proving that they understand you. That feeling of continuous progress will almost always keep their motivation up, and therefore their performance.
Secondly, regular questions/interaction with your student will also ensure that they are still engaged. If you don't interact with them, they could be zoning out, but if they are constantly required to do things (even if it's just talking to you), you know they're still with you!
Further tips for tutors from Joe will be published in future posts!
Blog Post Crafted by Joe
Subjects Taught: Latin, Ancient Greek
Background: Joe Hytner owns and runs Titanium Tutors, managing our assessors and staff. Joe graduated from King’s College, Cambridge in 2009 with a degree in Classics and then trained as a teacher at Queens’ College, Cambridge, graduating in 2010. Whilst setting up Titanium Tutors he taught Latin on a part-time basis in three schools — Parkside Federation, Impington Village College and South Lee School (where he started up the Latin department from scratch). Joe has also taught Latin and Ancient Greek to numerous Cambridge University undergraduates.
Fun Fact: Joe has read Harry Potter in Latin from cover to cover.