Springboard Or Crutch?

An article in the November 7th, 2010 issue of the New York Times (view article here) raises some interesting points about the role of tutoring in the lives of families and students that elect to seek this service.  One of the most important issues raised by the piece is the “line” that a tutor must draw in helping a student.  Put plainly, it asks the question “How much help is too much?”

In our tutoring work with students at QWERTY, this is a question that we have to ask each and every time that a student steps through the door and into the seat across the table from one of us because the answer often changes from week to week.  In the long run with each student, we certainly see our role as the proverbial “teacher of fishing skills,” rather than the “provider of fish,” but we also recognize that the journey toward becoming an accomplished fisherman sometimes requires a “meal or two,“ gratis, if you’ll permit the metaphor’s extension.

What this means is that there are appropriate times for tutoring to provide what we like to call a “give away,” especially with a student that is either reluctant or weary from school associated failures.  Each session’s goal is to provide new skill and engender confidence by the time the student is ready to pack up his or her belongings and leave.  In the case of the reluctant writer, that may mean that we have written the first body paragraph of the essay for the student so that he or she can then go home and write the remaining two.  Or in the case of the uncertain math student, there may be some problems that have been done cooperatively so that a model exists from which the student may learn.

The challenge that faces each of us as educators is to quickly understand where a student “is” and meet him or her in a way which promotes both long and short-term incremental skill acquisition while at the same time helping the learner in a way that evinces a “yes, indeed, I can do this” attitude.

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