Firstly, let me say congratulations on getting employment at LSS! I hope that you are excited for your new job. I’ve been working at LSS for about a year and a half now, and have gained so much from the experience. I’m currently a third year Electrical Engineering major, and have been a tutor and MSI Learning assistant for multiple Computer Engineering courses. However, I believe the advice that I’ve provided in this letter can be applied to a large variety of academic subjects. It’s my hope that this letter will give you a little perspective and information that you can consider while you are running your own sessions that you can use to fit to the situations you will face as a tutor.
There is a lot to be said about working as a tutor or MSI Learning Assistant. You will learn a great deal about becoming an effective educator through LSS, and hopefully this letter will provide some insight as well. However, tutoring is not always predictable, and there are skills you won’t be able to learn and master without some practice on the job. Fear not though, I’m confident that as long as you put in effort to grow and strengthen your tutoring skills, that you will be a very successful tutor. You will find that you never stop learning as a tutor, as there are countless strategies to approach students who have a wide range of learning styles and backgrounds. With practice, you will be able to gauge what strategies will be the most effective way to communicate with your students and assist them to learn.
The most important piece of advice I can give you is this: put the learning process in the hands of your students whenever possible. Vague as it may sound, it’s really a vital component of tutoring that can be the difference between studying a concept and mastering a concept. While you may feel overwhelmed by the task of getting your students to actively participate in the learning process, it’s not as hard as it sounds as long as you are willing to be a leader in your tutoring sessions. Here’s an example: rather than lecturing and going over practice problems on the whiteboard in front of your students, you can give your students problems from their homework and have them work independently or in pairs, and make yourself available for questions.
A really good way of getting students involved in the learning process is to put a student in the role of a teacher. The rule is simple: if you teach someone a concept, you understand it. This has proved to be one of the most effective strategies I’ve used in my own sessions. Encourage your students to assume the leadership position by employing activities where students teach each other and allow your students to explain concepts rather than doing it yourself. You might also have one or two students come up to the board and work out a problem for the rest of the students in the session, a strategy which works well for small group tutoring. If you are an MSI Learning Assistant and have 12 students in your session, you can have students get into groups of three and have each work on a problem, and then have each student go over their problem for the group and answering the questions from their peers. Also, if you know that one student has mastered a concept, and you have another student asking a question pertaining to that concept, have your first student teach it to his/her peer. You will have to be directive to carry out these activities successfully, but the high majority of the time your students will be very receptive to your directions. Not only will your students gain a lot from this approach, but it will also encourage a communicative, comfortable learning environment in your sessions, which is also a very important component of tutoring sessions.
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot through training at LSS about allowing your students to be active and not to spend your tutoring sessions lecturing on the board. This can be frustrating for new tutors and Learning Assistants, as a lot of times they feel like their students expect them to lecture and go over problems and will not be receptive to educational activities. However, you will be surprised to see how receptive your students will be to your directions. While some students do indeed expect a tutoring session to be more of a small group lecture, they will likely be pleasantly surprised to have more involvement in during tutoring and will learn more from a session that employs strategies that will make them an active learner. It is your session and you are entitled to run it as you like, so do it in such a way that helps your students learn the most. This is not to say you should never be at the whiteboard and going over concepts with your entire group. This can also be effective, especially as a way to go over new and challenging subjects that your students are struggling with and get everyone on track. However, I would advise you to limit this time as much as possible, and to have such “lecture” time be more of large group discussion. Ask your students questions throughout this discussion, allow them to ask questions, and you can fill gaps of knowledge as needed.
As I said, most of your learning will come with practice. There may be times when you feel like your students aren’t learning or your strategies aren’t as effective as you may like. Don’t be discouraged! Use it as motivation to look into new strategies and communication methods. By the end of the quarter I can guarantee you will have learned a great deal and have gained a lot of confidence as a tutor, educator, and leader.