To be a good tutor, you must understand how your students learn.
Was there a time when a lesson that made sense to your friend seemed like gibberish to you? Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in large classrooms. Overworked teachers may not have the time and resources to work one-on-one with each student and accommodate their unique learning needs. When this is the case, some students turn to a tutor for extra help — which means you must be prepared to adapt your lessons to a variety of learners.
Everyone processes information differently, so reciting the same standardized lesson to every pupil who seeks your services will inevitably leave some behind. It’s essential to meet students where they are and tailor your methods to uplift them, not force them to adopt a learning style that doesn’t support how their brain works.
If you struggle to accommodate different learners, we can help you brush up on diverse teaching techniques. After all, even tutors need to learn new skills. Here’s how to identify the type of student you’re working with and bolster their academic success.
The 4 types of learners
At some point, you likely realized you retain information best when it’s presented in a particular way. Perhaps you find lectures far more engaging than readings, or remember facts from documentaries better than those in podcasts. However you prefer to learn, you’re not alone — most people have an easier time grasping new concepts and skills when the lesson aligns with their “learning style.”
Tutors and teachers commonly use the VARK learning style model to explain these differences in retention and understanding. The model divides learners into four categories: visual, auditory, reading or writing, and kinesthetic.
Of course, most students can learn in various ways — a predominantly visual learner might also benefit from hearing their teacher talk through a slideshow. But understanding how you learn, even in such broad strokes, is a powerful tool. With this knowledge, students can absorb content more effectively, better prepare for tests, and leave class feeling accomplished.
As a tutor, you can use the VARK model to adapt your teaching to a pupil’s preferred way of learning. Here’s how people who fall into each type of learning style process information.
Visual learners thrive when ideas are presented through visual communication. These students prefer it when teachers accompany verbal or written explanations with drawings, graphs, flow charts, or images.
To support visual learners, you should give them time to process visual aids and diagrams without overwhelming them. For example, if you’re using a slideshow presentation, pause on each slide and allow the student time to examine any visual information without auditory distractions.
Auditory learners like to listen to information rather than see it. As a result, they prefer it when their teacher verbally explains a concept over reading about it in the textbook.
Instead of assigning long passages for students to read, try to work through the lesson in a lecture format. And rather than assigning heavy readings, offer auditory resources that cover the same information, like a podcast episode or YouTube video. This type of student might also benefit from hearing themselves explain the content — provide them with opportunities to review each lesson by explaining its contents back to you.
Reading and writing learners
Students with this learning style like to learn from books, papers, and essays. They prefer to explain their ideas in writing and retain concepts better when they put them to paper.
To accommodate reading and writing learners, structure tutoring sessions with time for them to read about the content on their own and take notes. These students also tend to be strong self-directed learners who prefer to work through concepts before coming to you with questions. If this is the case, you may choose to use most of the tutoring time to help them work through the content they struggled with and assign readings to complete between sessions.
Kinesthetic learners are physically active. These students may get antsy in the classroom but excel when learning by doing or participating in tactile activities.
The kinesthetically inclined tend to retain information better when performing a hands-on task or moving around while learning. To accommodate their needs, provide students ample opportunities to use their bodies. For example, in a chemistry tutoring session, you could have them build molecules using a molecular model kit rather than listen to a presentation.
3 kinds of pupils who seek out tutoring
To do your best teaching, it’s important to understand why a pupil has chosen to seek help from a tutor. Here are three types of students you might encounter and how to support them:
- Students who are struggling academically. Not everyone thrives in a traditional classroom. For some students, this might cause their grades to slip. Whether they struggle with the subject matter or how it’s taught, it’s your job to reframe the content in a way they understand.
In this scenario, it’s key to identify the student’s strengths and pinpoint what they find hard about the subject or how their teacher presents the material in school. What about the student’s classroom setting isn’t working, and how you can improve on it? Then, you can collaborate with the student on a study plan that suits their needs better.
- Students who are preparing for a big test. College admissions tests and course finals can be significant sources of anxiety. Even the best test-takers and the most knowledgeable students can struggle with these exams, and many seek out the help of a tutor to put in extra hours of preparation. As a tutor, you’re tasked with helping your pupil nail down the material and improving their exam preparation strategy. Ask the student about how they’ve been preparing independently and any roadblocks they’ve encountered. Then, use their strengths and learning style to craft a study plan that helps them learn the content more effectively, mitigate frustration, and improve recall.
- Students who are homeschooled. Some parents choose to educate their kids at home. When their child learns about a concept the parent is less familiar with, they may call in a tutor for support.
For these students — who have the same teacher every year — a tutor also offers a fresh perspective. You can help them grasp complex concepts they didn’t fully understand the first time around by breaking the ideas down in new ways.
Tips for getting to know your students
You may be an expert in physics or have years of experience teaching English, but if you don’t understand your students’ needs and motivations, you aren’t maximizing your impact. Here are three tutoring tips for connecting with pupils:
- Collaborate on goal setting. Before sitting down at your first sessions, discuss goals with your pupil. Students seek out support for a number of reasons, so try to learn what they hope to accomplish through your services. Are they aiming to raise their grade from a B to an A? Ace the SATs? Go over concepts they struggled with in lectures? Once you understand where they want to go, you can map a course to support them along the way.
It’s not uncommon for students to set out-of-reach goals, so this conversation is also an excellent opportunity to help them create achievable ones. Doing so helps avoid frustration, discouragement, and burnout down the road.
- Identify problem areas. Understanding where your pupil struggles is the key to making the most of each session. Instead of replicating the same challenges they face in the classroom or while completing work at home, you can support their learning in just the right way. For example, you may learn that a pupil is hardworking but has poor time management skills or is an overachiever who gets caught up in perfectionism.
Many older pupils, like high school and college students, have strong self-assessment skills. Sit down for a chat and discuss their educational strengths and weaknesses. If you work with younger students, talk with the child’s parents or guardians about why they decided to try tutoring, what obstacles the student faces at school, and what other learning strategies they’ve tried.
- Watch the student work. You can learn how your students tackle problems by watching them. Let them loose on a set of questions to gauge how they work through problems. Does their process align with their problem areas, or reveal something new about how they learn?
For example, you may find that a math student has devised a workaround for solving a specific type of equation instead of taking the most efficient route because of how they process information. Or perhaps you notice kinetic tendencies in a student fidgeting as they work and decide to shift your tutoring style to include more active tasks.
Support your tutoring practice with the right tools
As word gets out about your pupils’ successes, more parents and students will come to you for support. To keep on top of your thriving tutoring business, you’ll need a helping hand. That’s where Practice comes in.
Say goodbye to scattered spreadsheets and clunky calendars and let us handle the administrative side of your business. Practice’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform allows you to securely store data, schedule sessions, send documents (like tutoring contracts), and receive payments — all in one place.