Improving Academic Performance

Mark Skoskiewicz

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What You Should Expect from a Private Tutor: 25 Rules (Part 3)

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Sat, Feb 03, 2018 @ 08:06 AM

In our previous two articles, we discussed what to expect from a private tutor before and during tutoring sessions. We covered communication, logistics, planning, and specific tutoring strategies and techniques. In this article we’ll finish our series of 25 rules by covering rules 21-25 by exploring what to expect after a tutoring session.

After the Session

The tutoring experience doesn’t end when the clock turns off on the session itself. How you interact with the tutor after the session is important and can help make for a positive or negative experience.

  1. Immediately following the session, the tutor should summarize quickly the key learnings and takeaways from the session and how it fits into the broader “study plan” being followed. This helps reinforce the material in real-time and can take various forms. If the tutoring session was about preparing for the GMAT, as an example, and this was the first diagnostic session with the tutor, the student may not have decided whether or not to continue with the tutor.  Still, the tutor should be able to offer some real-time thoughts on, if this relationship were to continue, and even if it doesn’t, what the student should be focused on. If the tutoring session was related to a specific subject, like geometry, then the tutor should have some thoughts about what topics are likely to be coming next, how what they discussed today relates to those topics, and how to prepare.
  2. An important best practice is for the tutor to send a written summary of the session to the student (and perhaps parent) summarizing what was covered and how it fits into the broader study plan. If this was the first tutoring session, then the written summary could and perhaps should be an actual written study plan documenting how the tutoring relationship will be approached. It is very important to document in written form the plan being followed so a student can reference it and orient themselves to where they are in the tutoring process. In some cases, the tutor may need to do a little research to find online tools or practice problems (i.e., reviewing certain elements of Kahn Academy) to help build a student’s skills in a given area.
  3. If appropriate, you might find a tutor spending some time to research online tools or practice problems to help a student build skills in weaker areas. This is sort of an “extra credit” best practice. If a student is really struggling with something, there are often web-site or additional materials that can help, and an expert tutor can help identify and direct a student towards those resources.
  4. The tutor should include in his or her summary email details on scheduling for the next month or so. Neither party should be surprised that someone’s schedule has changed or that someone is going on vacation. It is important to be highly structured around scheduling and logistics. At MyGuru, some of our best tutors were unfortunately not strong when it came to scheduling and organization more generally. We had students express that the tutoring sessions themselves were excellent, but getting confirmation of times and dates for future sessions was like pulling teeth. We’ve worked hard to address this.
  5. The tutor should be available to respond to simple, easy questions via text or email as part of an effective long-term tutoring relationship. Obviously, “off-line” interaction needs to be kept to a minimum and be within reason. The tutor isn’t being paid for this time, after all, so his or her time needs to be respected. That said, the tutoring relationship should not just exist within the confines of the 1-2 hour tutoring sessions. In some cases, more extensive off-line Q&A sessions via email or text can be a productive part of a tutoring relationship, and something for which we’ve charged students at discounted rates.

Summary

Working with a private tutor is a significant investment. And at the end of the day, it’s on the student and/or parent to “own” the process and put in the work to extract value out of the experience. At the same time, it is right to expect a lot from your tutor in terms of communication, planning, and, of course, instruction. Hopefully these 25 rules have you thinking about how to get the most out of a tutoring relationship.

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Tags: private tutors, 1-on-1 tutoring, tutoring, private tutoring, Hiring a tutor, preparing for the initial tutoring session

What You Should Expect from a Private Tutor: 25 Rules (Part 2)

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Sat, Jan 27, 2018 @ 08:06 AM

In our last article in this series, we discussed that while it’s important to take ownership of your investment in private tutoring, you should still expect specific behaviors from your tutor. We covered what is reasonable to expect before the actual session from a communications, logistics, and preparation perspective. In this article, we’ll explore what you should expect during the tutoring session.

During the Session

Environment, timing, and focus

  1. You should be very comfortable with the tutoring environment. When you are struggling in a class and have decided to invest in a private tutor, you need to focus on the learning process. If there is too much noise or other distraction, future sessions should occur at a different location. Now, this doesn’t mean that public coffee shops can’t be good places to conduct a tutoring session. In fact, many students are far more comfortable meeting a tutor in a public coffee shop than in their home. A private room in a library is typically an excellent venue for a tutoring session.
  2. There should be open communication about the starting and end times for the session. If the tutor is late, if you spend 10 minutes discussing the weather, politics (probably something to avoid) or sports, or if the tutor must step away for a private call, this time should not count against the hour(s) you’ve purchased. At the same time, if you are late, it’s fair to expect the tutor to “start the clock” when the session was supposed to start, although we encourage tutors to be flexible. Also, at MyGuru, we ask tutors to report time in 15 minute increments, rounding down. So, if the tutor has been working with you for 65 minutes, it would be very reasonable to discussion whether a) things should be wrapped up in the next 5 minutes so you are billed for an hour or b) you continue working together for 15 or more minutes, so you are billed for 75 or 90 minutes.
  3. You should feel and observe that the tutor is 100% focused on your learning during the sessions. If you feel the tutor is distracted (i.e., checking his or her phone, not listening to you, etc.) then you are not receiving the attention you deserve. Your tutor should be 100% focused on you.

Planning and organization

One of the keys to a successful tutoring relationship is the development of a customized study plan. If you are receiving tutoring in a specific class, this becomes quite a bit less important, as the syllabus for the class can be followed. But even then, your strengths and weaknesses might necessitate a different “path” to learning the material for the class.

  1. You should be aware of the plan being followed in the tutoring relationship overall. Generally, the first session is somewhat diagnostic. The tutor is identifying and confirming strengths and weaknesses and coming out of that session, creating a plan for you.
  2. You should be aware of the plan being followed in any session. The tutor should explain the key objectives of the session, and highlight the major topics and expected takeaways. A student should never feel as if they aren’t sure where a session is going or why something is being covered.

Tutoring techniques

Every tutor has their own style, and there are different ways to connect with a student to help them understand difficult or new concepts and build new skills. That said, it is reasonable to expect the following from a tutor:

  1. Some upfront investment of time should be made in establishing a personal rapport with you. Tutors are generally well served by getting to know their clients/students a little bit. What are they motivated by? What do they like/dislike? This helps both parties get more comfortable with one another and can even be a source of useful analogies in explain the material. This article on edutopia.org lists the personal relationship first in a list of keys to a successful tutoring relationship.
  2. Students are far more likely to learn when they are asked to actively engage with the material. If the tutor is talking for most of the session, or simply working out problems while the student watches, then the learning that is occurring is likely to be passive. Instead, there should be a give and take of questions, answers, problems being completed in real-time by the student, etc. You should be an active participant in the session, not just an observer.
  3. You should be getting clear feedback associated with your mistakes. Whether it’s during real-time review of problems or as you are reviewing practice sets you completed on your own time, your tutor should be providing you with clear feedback around why you missed a certain problem and what to change moving forward to complete the problem correctly. Even if you feel the tutor explains things well, you are still not maximizing the value of the sessions if clear, targeted feedback isn’t provided. This is an excellent article about the importance of feedback in building study skills and learning new things.
  4. Your tutor should generally be able to explain most concepts in more than one way. One of the major benefits to 1-1 tutoring vs. reading a test prep book or taking a test prep class or sitting in any given math or English class is the high level of customization that is possible. If something isn’t clicking with you when explained this way, the tutor can approach the problem that way, etc.
  5. Concepts should be broken down into small pieces where possible and brought back to their more basic underlying components. A common issue teachers or tutors face in connecting with students is using language or concepts that seem basic to them, but which the student does not understand. There should be a constant drive to break things down to their more basic, foundational parts, and then build them back together.  If a student is missing foundational conceptual knowledge, the tutor needs to identify that gap and find a way to fill it. This is an excellent article on the importance of creating increasingly larger “chunks” of information over time when learning new things (but by starting with very small ideas and concepts).
  6. Your tutor should be giving you “mini tests” during the session to check your understanding. Studying with heavy use of “mini” ‘quizzes is critical. Even if you are actively engaged in the session, asking questions, etc., it’s always possible that you aren’t truly understanding the material. Frequent “mini tests” can serve two purposes. First, research shows that “mini tests” are an excellent way to retain information because it is a highly “active” form of learning as described in this article. Second, “mini tests” help identify whether or not you truly are understanding a concept.
  7. Your tutor should be forcing you out of your comfort zone. To be getting the most of a tutoring session, there should be a certain level of discomfort. If the whole session is very comfortable and you completely understand everything that was discussed, then what really was the point of the session? If it seems like you are having no trouble at all in understanding the questions or concepts being reviewed, an excellent tutor will move on to more advanced material in the same area to push the student’s thinking.

In our next and last article, we’ll discuss what to expect after a tutoring session.

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Tags: private tutors, 1-on-1 tutoring, tutoring, private tutoring, Hiring a tutor, preparing for the initial tutoring session

What You Should Expect from a Private Tutor: 25 Rules (Part 1)

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Sat, Jan 20, 2018 @ 09:00 AM

This is the first in a series of articles about what makes for an effective private tutoring experience. The series will be written such that we assume most of the onus is on the tutor to create a positive experience. And certainly, when a parent or student invests $60, $70, $80, $90 or more per hour for private tutoring, they should expect a mentor and guide throughout the tutoring process. The tutor should certainly be the expert telling the student / parent what to do and providing clear advice.

That said, always remember that working with a private tutor is not a silver bullet. You, the student, are still responsible for taking ownership over the relationship, buying into the approaches, strategies, and tactics, putting in the hard work, and ultimately performing well in the class or on the standardized test. At the end of the day, it really is on you, not on the tutor, to perform in the class or on the test. CEOs of huge companies hire high priced private consultants all the time to provide them with advice and ideas, but they are obviously responsible for the performance of the company. No investor, employee, or customer ever really gives credit or blame to a consultant.  Similarly, you should expect a lot of focus, ideas, advice, and guidance from a tutor, but you should not plan on giving them much credit or blame if you succeed or fail. The tutoring process is driven by the student’s desire to work hard and improve.

So what should you expect when investing in a relationship with a private tutor?

Of course, a private tutor should be an expert in the academic area in which you are struggling. Or, at least, they should be an expert relative to your current level of understanding. If you are struggling in pre-calculus, they should have a clear mastery of pre-calculus. I hope this is obvious. But an effective private tutor should be much more than a master of the content, and there are a range of behaviors and actions a parent and/or a student should expect when working with a private tutor.

In this article, we’ll share some “best practices” around the tutoring experience. These best practices should double as reasonable “expectations” for a student or parent investing their time and money in working with a private tutor. In my experience, most tutors do not follow each one of these guidelines. But, we try to ensure MyGuru tutors do, or at least try, to follow a clear majority of them.

Before the Session

Communication and logistics

  1. You should expect that the tutor (or tutoring company) gets back to you within 24 business hours of every email you send, text message you write, or phone call you make. In 2017, with the pace of most people’s lives and the ubiquity of smart phones and lap tops, you should not have to wait 48 or more hours in between email responses. If the tutor is unsure of his or her schedule or the company is still in the process of coordinating, you should be receiving an update every day or so.
  2. The tutor should be clear in his or her communications about his near and medium-term availability and travel limitations. It is fair to assume that the tutor should accommodate your schedule and, if you are seeking in-person tutoring, travel very close to you. That said, it’s also reasonable to expect that you might need to be flexible on timing and location as well. You shouldn’t be caught off guard that he’s on vacation for a week (as an example).
  3. You should be presented with the option to do the session in your home or in a public location. Unless the tutor is clear about travel or logistics limitations, the session should be in a location that’s convenient and comfortable to you.
  4. The tutor should initiate the exchange of cell phone numbers and be clear about the exact time, place, and location of the session, as well as his or her physical appearance so you can identify the tutor. You should not feel stress about figuring out where to meet or who to meet on the day of the session.
  5. If either party needs to cancel the session, at least 24 hours of notice should be provided. It wreaks havoc on everyone’s schedule when a session is cancelled on short notice. At MyGuru, we have a 24-hour cancellation policy. If the student cancels within that timeframe, they can be charged for the session. If the tutor cancels on very short notice, it’s often reasonable to expect a free session.

Preparation and objectives

  1. While the tutor should have clear mastery of the material, they should also ask about your assignments, materials, syllabus, and teacher’s approach etc. in advance such that they can familiarize themselves and prepare. Every teacher or professor is different, and reviewing the material, at least briefly, in advance is key to understanding it completely and delivering an effective lesson. It may even be appropriate, as the tutoring experience progresses, for some interaction between the tutor and the teacher to take place, even if indirectly through the student or parent, such that key concepts or approaches can be clarified and explained to the student by the tutor in line with the teacher’s perspective. This understood.org article addresses the importance of tutor, parent, and teacher interaction.
  2. The tutor should ask you about your expectations for the session, and proactively establish objectives in advance. You are probably paying by the hour. So, within reason, students shouldn’t spend an entire 1-2 hour tutoring session reviewing only 10% of the questions in their homework. At the same time, if you are missing core conceptual or foundational knowledge to excel in the class, the tutor should communicate this clearly and explain why he or she needs to go slowly. For standardized test prep, objectives can vary widely. Are we diagnosing strengths and weaknesses and focusing on exploring what you need to know for the test, such that we can write out a customized study plan?  Or, do you have three specific concepts and a list of missed problems you want to review?
  3. Speaking of the development of customized study plans, they are almost always a critical component of a tutoring relationship and a very important objective to be met. Unfortunately, helping students develop customized study plans is a skill that few tutors have really mastered. We too often hear something along the lines of “the sessions were great. But I left without a clear understanding of what to do next on my own. There was no structured plan to follow.” Particularly when it comes to tutoring for standardized tests, a core objective should be to walk away from the session with a study plan. Here is an article that does a good job of discussing the importance of developing a quality study plan.

In our next article, we’ll cover what you should expect from a tutor during a session.

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Tags: private tutors, 1-on-1 tutoring, tutoring, Hiring a tutor, preparing for the initial tutoring session

Using the Science of Habits to Improve Performance in School: Part II

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Fri, Dec 29, 2017 @ 08:30 AM

In a previous article on the power of habits,  we discussed how habits are a tool our brains use to be more efficient. Instead of consciously analyzing every situation, thinking about various courses of action, and then deciding what to do, we use habits to automatically do this or that to save time. In theory, this allows us to decide to use our brain power to focus on things that really matter and really do require conscious deliberation. This is sometimes a good and sometimes a bad thing. It’s good when the habit is brushing our teeth each morning and night, or looking both ways before we cross the street. It’s bad when we grab a few cookies without even thinking about it when we are bored, or react negatively to constructive feedback.

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Tags: mindset, study skills, how to improve my grades, improve study habits, study tips, study strategies, improving academic performance, habits

Using the Science of Habits to Improve Performance in School: Part I

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Fri, Dec 08, 2017 @ 01:00 PM

We write a lot on this blog about how academic success (and other types of success) is much more a function of the choices you make and the effort you put in than a function of your intrinsic or genetic talents. In other words, most recent research suggests, and we firmly believe, that academic skills are built through practice and success comes through developing better strategies and making better choices. 

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Tags: mindset, study skills, how to improve my grades, improve study habits, study tips, study strategies, improving academic performance

Books Every Student Should Read – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Thu, Nov 30, 2017 @ 10:52 AM

As many readers of this blog know, MyGuru tries to be much more than a place where parents and students can look for a private tutor. We are trying to build a community of parents, students, tutors, and other experts where ideas about how to be healthier, more productive, and academically successful are exchanged.

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Tags: growth mindset, mindset, Carol Dweck, study skills, improve study habits, psychology of success

Want to Do Better in School? Develop Plans, Set Specific Goals, and Monitor Progress

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Sat, Nov 25, 2017 @ 10:19 AM

 

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Tags: study skills, improve your grades, improve study habits, improving academic performance

Breaks, Mini-Tests, and Multi-Task Avoidance: Three Ways to Study Better

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Wed, Nov 08, 2017 @ 09:40 AM

Few people like to do homework or study for a test. But it’s obviously important to do these things to perform well in school. And if you must engage in these activities, you might as well be as efficient and productive as possible. You want to get as much benefit from each hour you invest in studying as possible.

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Tags: study skills, improve your grades, how to improve my grades, improve study habits, time management, Brain Rules, improving academic performance

Focused Training: The Key to Building Academic Skills and Improving your IQ

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Wed, Jul 05, 2017 @ 10:43 AM

Over the past few years I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and a fair amount of writing on this blog, around what truly drives academic performance. One of my favorite (and most important) insights has been that IQ, or natural intelligence, is far less important than people assume it to be. This article considers that insight from a different angle, and introduces an interesting new book about how it may be possible to improve your IQ through targeted training.

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Tags: IQ, deliberate practice, Strategy Development, effort

An Introduction to Grit: A Key to Academic Performance

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Thu, Mar 30, 2017 @ 10:00 AM


Over the past five years, I’ve done a fair amount of secondary research (reading articles, books, etc.) on academic performance. Two of the most interesting and actionable discoveries I’ve made are that A) a student’s mindset is far more important in explaining academic success than I would have imagined and B) a concept called Grit is what seems to power the performance of a student with the right mindset.

 

The “Growth Mindset” is a concept invented by Dr. Carol Dweck, a Standford Psychologist. Her research shows that individuals can generally be placed into one of two buckets: a) those that have a growth mindset and b) those that have a fixed mindset.

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Tags: growth mindset, deliberate practice, grit