Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tutoring Scenarios: Producing Independent Learners

Tutoring style or methodology truly impacts
who is doing the learning and how independent the
learner will be tomorrow when the tutor isn't around. 

Please read the two tutoring scenes below. Think about the following questions:

  • Who is doing the learning in each method? 
  • Which tutoring method builds an independent adult?

Tutoring Scene 1

Yesterday, a learner asked for help with a fraction problem in Khan Academy. The learner's task was: 

3/5 + 2/3 = n

The tutor immediately looked at the math problem in question and told the learner exactly what to do. The only thinking the learner did was to multiply two sets of numbers (making the denominators common) and adding the numerators. The tutor never asked what the learner knew or provided a framework for the learner to be included in solving the problem. No notes were taken. No examples were set up with annotations in the learner's notebook. However, the learner did get the answer correct in Khan Academy.  

Tutoring Scene 2

Around the same time, another tutor helped a learner examine a percentage-based story problem.

The sale price of a table was $123. 
This price was 20% of the original cost.
What was the original cost of the table?

After the learner read the problem aloud, this tutor asked, "How can you turn these words into an equation to solve."

The learner wrote:  x + 20 = 123

The tutor asked, "Will this equation bring you a reasonable answer?"

The learners said, "I don't know."
The tutor said, "Solve the equation."

The learner next wrote:   x  + 20 = 123
                                              -20     -20
                                               x  =  120

The tutor asked, "When you plug in your answer for x back into the equation, does the number make sense? Then explain it to me."

The learner said, "103 plus 20 is 123. That fits."
The tutor said, "I wonder what the numbers represent. Go ahead and label each number for me please."

The learner wrote:  original price        20%                 sale price
                                         120        +    20               =      123
                                                      marked down

The learner looked at the labels for a moment, then said, "The original price is cheaper than the sales price. What's wrong?"

Then the tutor and learner went on to talk about how sales in stores work, what the learner usually did with a sale, and built meaning around how to write 20% as a decimal, and the math operation needed to complete the equation. 

The learner then went on to write notes on a notes page labeled "Percentages" with examples and explanations for converting percentages to decimals and solving percentage equations. The learner wrote the page number in the index on the inside of the learner's notebook cover. 


  • Who is doing the learning in each method? 
In Tutoring Scene 1, the learner just followed the tutor's directions. The learner in fact learned nothing. The learner still didn't know what to do with the next problem because the learner didn't know what was being done with this problem. The tutor, on the other hand, reviewed her knowledge and selected what was appropriate to share based on the constraints of the problem.

What about in Tutoring Scene 2? The tutor let the learner explore and try out what she thought was correct. The learner showed what she knew. The tutor could see and hear the learner's "wheels turning" (mind working), but she still let the learner follow-through with her thoughts. The tutor offered questions that provided opportunities for the learner to step back from the work to make decisions. The learner was definitely the person learning. With help, the learner then went on to create a notes page that let her consolidate what she'd been doing. Now she has a plan for how to attack future percentage problems. 

  • Which tutoring method builds an independent adult?

Tutoring Scene 2 wins hands down! This scene describes the type of tutoring/teaching interactions we expect from our tutors as they facilitate academic growth. 

How can you tutor/teach more like the tutor in Tutoring Scene 2?


  1. The 2nd scenario is more beneficial for the learner, because the learner has the opportunity to think about how to solve the problem. Also, talking out how they would solve the problem helps a lot, because the tutor will be able to assess what the learner knows and help the learner where he/she gets hung up at. 😊

  2. So true. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.