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If You Don’t Apply these 6 Key Concepts Your Students Are Missing Out!

Every tutoring session is a bubbling crockpot of variables, so it’s impossible to follow the same strict recipe of activities and strategies every time.

That’s why it’s absolutely essential to familiarise yourself with a few key concepts and teaching practices that form the backbone of every quality lesson.

Take a read through these six tutoring commandments, then read them again and again until they come to you as naturally as breathing, to ensure your lessons are of the highest quality.


1. Make the lesson learner-centred

What does that mean?

Put simply, a student-centred lesson involves the learner more and allows them to be the most active participant in the lesson (rather than just the teacher).

In contrast to a teacher-centred lesson, in which the student will simply follow the instructions of the teacher, our students feel as if they are plotting the course of their own educational journey.

Rather than moving onto the next activity because their tutor tells them to, the subject of a student-centred lesson will feel as if they’re moving onto the next activity because it’s their next logical step.

Why do it?

Well, first of all: it works!

Evidence shows that students are often more academically prosperous in the wake of having completed student-centred curriculum.

The extra autonomy afforded to our learners helps to build their critical thinking skills, which are stirred into action the second they are not treated as passive ‘consumers’ of education.

Last of all, it’s fun. Like everything in life, it’s nice to feel you have control over your own destiny. Education is no different.

How do I do it?

Before every activity in every lesson plan, ask yourself this question: Am I giving my student the information here? Or am I giving them the opportunity to discover it themselves? If you answer yes to the former, make some revisions.

Always guide, don’t tell.

Here’s an example: If a student is learning Spanish and they already know that ‘to speak’ is ‘hablar’ and ‘I speak’ is ‘hablo’, show them a picture of somebody drinking water next to the word ‘beber’ to let them work out that it means ‘to drink’. Then, point to them and motion drinking. They may initially get it wrong, but eventually they’ll refer back to prior knowledge and discover ‘I drink’ is ‘bebo’, and the rule is to replace ‘–er/-ar’ with ‘–o’ to use a (regular) Spanish verb to refer to themselves.

What’s more, they’ll discover this fundamental rule of the Spanish language without their tutor even saying a single word! See what I mean about student-centred learning?

The key is to wait as long as possible before giving them the answer. If they discover it themselves, the knowledge will stick. Socratic questioning is every tutor’s friend, here.

When students are taking a moment to absorb new information, it’s incredibly tempting for the tutor to cut in, break the silence and offer support. In reality all you’ll be doing is interrupting and breaking the learning process.

The more a student learns, the longer they’ll need to digest the knowledge. Give them (silent) time and space to do this. Whether you’re teaching face to face or online, the rule remains the same: silence is golden.


2. Keep things varied

What does that mean?

It means, as they say, that variety truly is the spice of life.

A monotonous stream of repetitive activities will bore both you and your student into submission, and stunt progress. The more varied your lesson, the more your subject is kept on their toes, and the more they’re engaged.

Every lesson needs an ebb and flow. Play around with different activities, and you’ll get a feel for it.

Why do it?

Students need different kinds of input. It fights demotivation and gives them more opportunities to learn something.

More than anything, it maintains your students’ sense of intrigue. Put yourself in their shoes – would you prefer to turn up to class knowing exactly what will happen, minute by minute? Or would you be more motivated by potential twists, turns and surprises?

How do I do it?

When you plan your lesson, put yourself in the role of the student. What will it actually be like to do one activity? How does it compare to the last? Are they too similar?

A good lesson has peaks and plateaus. Some points will be high energy (this is where kinetic learning and music/tech comes in), whereas others will be slower-paced and more reflective. In terms of energy output, think of peaks and troughs that rise and fall throughout your class.

Kinetic, book-based, musical, conversational, technology based, visual and creative activities should punctuate a good lesson.


3. Think about who your student is

What does that mean?

‘Every student is different’. That isn’t just a trite motto – it’s a truth based in detailed psychological research.

Educational psychologist Howard Gardner identified eight different types of intelligences:

  1. musical-rhythmic
  2. verbal-linguistic
  3. logical-mathematical
  4. bodily-kinaesthetic
  5. interpersonal
  6. intrapersonal
  7. naturalistic

The more intelligent a student is in one of the categories, the more receptive they’ll be to activities tailored for that type of learner.

It is important to note, though, that this doesn’t mean there are 8 types of students, and that’s it. In reality every student is a disproportionately amalgamated combination of multiple intelligences. The more you teach you students, the more you’ll come to know their individual multiple-intelligence-profile.

Why do it?

Because it helps us treat our students like people, not numbers, and will improve their academic success.

Gardner’s research has shown that by using his framework we can get the maximum potential out of our students. For a teacher of a class of thirty, it’s still a tricky business. For a tutor, it’s teaching gold.

How do I do it?

The internet is packed to the brim with ideas on how to plan lessons for different type of learners.

When you start tutoring a student, your first step is to identify which intelligences they are strongest in. To do this, simply include 3-4 intelligence-specific activities in each of your first few lessons. If you notice your learner responds favourably to musical and active/physical activities, you know that their strongest intelligences are musical-rhythmic and bodily-kinaesthetic.

Over time, as you build a profile for your student, you’ll be able to deliver their perfect lesson.


4. Teach the student, not the lesson plan

What does it mean?

Imagine a teacher going into a class with a lesson plan, then barely using it. Changing activities off the cuff, scrapping exercises, sort of improvising.

Pretty bad right?

Actually, not really! One of the easiest traps new tutors fall into is to be rigidly devoted to delivering their lesson plan.

The important thing to remember is that tutoring is a profession that is all about human beings, and human beings are unpredictable. Lessons that go 100% to plan are at a premium, so flexibility is a must.

Why do it?

Because a myriad of factors can have an effect on the lesson.

Perhaps you’ve planned a high-energy kinaesthetic lesson – what if your student has come straight from an exhausting sports day?

Perhaps you’ve planned a sit-down lesson with jigsaws and reading activities – what if your student has spent the afternoon sitting mock exams?

A lesson that would work perfectly one day could bomb the next, depending on circumstances. Whilst a tutor should always insist a student gives their all, it’s important to be sympathetic to what they’re actually capable of on any given day.

How do I do it?

It might look like tutors are winging it when they go off-piste, but the operative words are ‘look like’; all good tutors arrive with contingency plans.

I’m not talking about a whole reserve lesson plan – we work hard enough preparing our lessons – just a collection of well-rehearsed, no-prep activities that you can pull out of your sleeve to breathe life into a turgid lesson.

Always have the confidence to pull something out of the hat, and never feel guilty about abandoning your lesson plans. Fortune favours the brave.


5. Have fun!

What do I do?

It’s not so much what you do, as what you don’t – namely, subscribe to the idea that education is a traditional, serious institution that is the antithesis to all that makes us laugh and smile.

Quite the opposite. As long as learning is happening, the more your lessons feel like leisure activities than school work, the better.

Why do it?

As ever, science is on our side. Fun = better concentration and more engagement. Better concentration and more engagement = better learning. Better learning = better grades…

If you can keep things fun, the results will speak for themselves.

How do I do it?

By now you’ll know what kind of intelligences your learner is strongest in, so you’ll have a good idea of what they enjoy.

The internet is a wonderful bank of resources, as is Tutorean’s teacher corner! A quick google of no-prep games and activities also yields a wealth of plug n’ play teaching resources.


6. A professional environment matches a professional tutor

What do I do?

Creating an environment in which students are able to thrive is fundamental, and should be every tutor’s starting point.

Even if you follow all the advice above, a grey dingy office will ensure that you’re fighting a losing battle.

You’re a professional tutor, so your environment and all of your apparatus should reflect that. If the first ten minutes of your lesson is spent with you faffing with a faulty computer, or trying to dig out the right audio file, it’ll be difficult for your student to respect you.

Why do it?

Students respond favourably to a vibrant and dynamic environment. It fosters energy within them, as well as fortifying your own image as a consummate professional.

There are plenty of “tutors” who rip trusting parents off by touting themselves as professional educators on a whim. Unfortunately they can damage the reputation of real professionals like ourselves, so it’s important that we present the right image.

How do I do it?

Painting the walls is a great start, but if you can’t afford a trip to the hardware store just yet, why not consider putting some of the students’ creative work up?

Depending on your learners’ ages, you could also use star charts and colourful posters to personalise your classroom area.

If you’re using any technology – computers, your spotify lists, etc. – make sure that you arrive at least ten minutes early to test drive your materials, and cue audio tracks. Be well-prepared.

Finally, make sure your student knows that this isn’t a one-stop-shop. Tutoring is a journey that lasts for months, so consistency is important both for the tutor’s curriculum and the student’s sense of progress.

They should always bring their portfolio of work (arriving 5 minutes early to class should be mandatory) and keep a record of the work they’ve done. As a tutor you can help by sending them relevant materials after class, or even go the extra mile by emailing a recording of the class (an excellent habit to get into).

When it comes to the world of tutoring, there’s just so much to read and learn about, and so many ideas to be shared.

Whilst it’s productive (and addictive) to head to an online tutoring forum and get some advice on how to teach your next class, the sheer amount of information out there can become a little overwhelming.

Stick to the six basic practices above, and you’ll never fail to deliver value for money.