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April 20, 2017

Forming tutor-student learning connections

Written by Kyle Decker, AmeriCorps site coordinator for Reading Partners Twin Cities

One normal day in the reading center, a tutor and a student called me over and asked me to look up whether sharks live in Antarctica (they don’t, it turns out).  The pair had been reading through a book about sharks, and a section about sharks’ habitats had inspired the student to ask about information omitted from the book.  Instead of brushing aside the question or providing what she thought might be the right answer, the tutor instead chose to look up the information with the student, working as a team to figure out the answer.

It’s easy to think of teaching as one person imparting their wisdom on another.  After all, the job of the educator is to educate, and the job of the student is to study.  As I’ve worked with students myself and watched many student-tutor pairs excel during my service year with Reading Partners, I’ve realized just how much effective learning comes from a partnership between tutor and student.

Take the above example, for instance.  The tutor could have chosen to brush off student curiosity by choosing to ignore a question or guess at the right answer.  However, a major part of education at any level is practicing good learning skills, and while simply answering a student’s question will teach them one fact about a topic, working with them to find the answer will teach them something far more valuable: the ability to learn more about and explore the topic on a deeper level.  

Time and again, I’ve seen students excel when tutors engage in communal learning.  When tutors act as guides and not ultimate authorities, students exhibit a sense of ownership in their work, a feeling that they get to direct their own learning.  There’s more discussion and thought put into academic work—the goal is to understand the text, not to “say the words that will make the tutor happy.”

The ability to learn with a student as opposed to teaching at a student is one of the benefits of one-on-one tutoring that has invigorated me the most this year.  I’ve watched students learn to be both critical of and confident in their own points of view, and I’ve seen tutors learn things they wouldn’t have otherwise—I myself have a fine collection of new facts, most of them animal-related.

Most tutors do their best to explain what skills good readers use—by learning with students, we get to be those readers.

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