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4 Tips for Connecting with New Learners

On November 8, 2011, in General, Teaching, tips, Tutoring, by Scott Cronenweth
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Whether we’re tutors, bakers or candlestick makers, we’re all forming and making “first impressions” every day. Human beings are masters of verbal and nonverbal communication, and it only takes between a few seconds to perhaps three or four minutes to evaluate someone and form an opinion based on their appearance, body language, demeanor, mannerisms and “energy.”

First impressions might be quick to form, but they’re slow – if not impossible – to change. Thus, the time we spend connecting with someone when we first meet him or her is important. This is especially true for tutors because your tutees’ first impressions can positively or negatively influence their subsequent learning performance.

The goal is to make your first meeting with a tutee a positive experience! You want to establish a genuine, open rapport. You can find basic “make a great first impression” tips (be on time, be courteous, etc.) in dozens of places online. Here are some tutoring-specific tips on first impressions gleaned from these offered by the Learning Assistance Center of City College of San Francisco.

Tip 1: Listen effectively

Start by greeting your tutee and giving them your undivided attention. One of the most important ways to create a good rapport with learners is to listen patiently to what they have to say, ask open questions, and be open and nonjudgmental about what they’re saying. Listen with your body by facing the speaker squarely, smiling and nodding your head.

Nonverbal messages are oftentimes the most potent form of communication. If you’re unsure about how your communication style and skills might be affecting your interactions with others, try taking an interpersonal communication skills test. This one with 34 questions from Queendom.com (the Land of Tests :-) is recommended.

Good listening is a vital skill for tutors – yet many tutors probably spend too much time talking, rather than facilitating learning by discussion. Here is some .

Tip 2: Make sure you know why the learner wants your help

You need to know why someone wants your help so that you can better plan subsequent tutoring sessions. Some students know exactly why they need or want tutoring, while others are only aware of general trouble spots. Others can only say that they’re confused. Others may have had failures in the subject area in the past and are fearful or under-confident, and in need of emotional as well as academic support. Still others may have been directed to tutoring for a required subject, but have no real interest in it.

A good place to start is just to ask where the learner is having problems or wants to improve performance. Alternatively, you can start by reviewing the course outline and related materials like texts or assignments. Ask questions that support the learner to say what he or she understands or finds confusing about the material.

Tip 3: Ask the right questions

Good question-asking techniques are vital to successful tutoring. Even your choice of words is important. Try asking positive, open questions like: “What do you understand?” versus “What don’t you understand?” – the latter is much tougher to answer!

Another key to questioning is to wait respectfully for an answer. Don’t be too quick to answer your own questions. Instead, let your tutee reflect if they need to – even if the conversational silence seems awkward.

Keep in mind also that “leading questions” that leave lots of space for a range of responses are often more effective than yes/no questions. Leading questions are often more appropriate when asking a student to demonstrate understanding, for instance.

Similarly, “what-if” questions are great for expanding possibilities for learning. The Socratic Method – teaching through inquiry – is among the most powerful teaching techniques. What better way to learn than to figure things out for yourself?

Tip 4: Show you care

We all know that caring makes a great first impression. How does a student know you care about them? You greet them by name and pronounce their name correctly. You’re able to laugh with them. You commend their accomplishments. And if they test you with misbehavior, you don’t ignore it.

Featured photo courtesy of glennoi.

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