Improving Academic Performance

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

Note Taking and Memory: Put Down the Pen!

Posted by Stephanie Ingraham on Wed, Jan 17, 2018 @ 02:00 PM

Note-taking, once the activity de rigueur of learning and memorizing facts and new information, and an activity that certainly appears, well, active, is fast becoming replaced with newer forms of active engagement. Taking notes has long been lauded as a tried and true approach to memory and retention, as well as the best option for having recorded documents with which to refer after an initial discussion, but note-taking in and of itself might not be the best strategy available and can often become its own mindless, passive, or even distracting activity. Instead, active listening with a more strategic approach to obtaining information allows the brain to stay focused on the lecture while still capturing highlights and overarching ideas.

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

Five Tips to Prepare for Exams

Posted by Stephanie Ingraham on Sat, Dec 30, 2017 @ 10:11 AM

As you move into the end of a semester, the pressure of exams can daunt even the most successful students. It’s a busy time of year in general, and the mounting strain of a large looming test can feel outright agonizing! Fear not. Here is a list of go-to tips to help you be your most prepared and confident self going into those final exams (or any tests, at any time!)

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Tags: study skills, improve your grades, improve study habits, grit, Grit drives academic performance, improving academic performance, exam preparation

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

Getting 'Gritty' With It

Posted by Stephanie Ingraham on Fri, Dec 22, 2017 @ 09:53 AM

Failure ain’t what it used to be. Or, at least, failure is understood differently today, as we examine more closely how much it actually helps us in the long run. When we allow failure and setbacks to be learning experiences and jumping off points for the development of resilience and grit, our lives transform. We refine our character all the more, but like a fine work of art that benefits from revision and reframing. Nowhere is such an experience in growth more valuable and applicable than education.

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

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

The Writing Process: It's Actually a Process!

Posted by Stephanie Ingraham on Tue, Nov 28, 2017 @ 10:19 AM

When a paper is looming, it can be easy to get into absolutes and assume that, unless you can get something really fantastic down in the next couple of hours, you’re doomed. But let’s remember the old adage Rome wasn’t built in a day - and neither was your essay, short story, or research project. All good writing comes from rewriting. Even the greatest writers on earth will admit that their first drafts and ideas were often lackluster. Sometimes downright terrible. So don’t be discouraged. Be willing to write poorly, and then be willing to improve! (Remember that growth mindset!)

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Tags: study skills, Writing Sample, improve your grades, improve study habits, Improving Writing, improving academic performance, improve my writing, how to write an essay, essay writing

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

The Motivation to Learn: What Inspires It?

Posted by Stephanie Ingraham on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 @ 12:06 PM

Have you ever wondered what motivates students to learn something new, especially when the subject or material might be rather complex or difficult? What helps students stay focused, engaged, excited, and diligent? According to data gathered from various schools and grade levels, there are three major areas that impact a student’s likelihood to stay motivated and tackle complicated subject matter.

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Tags: study skills, improve your grades, how to improve my grades, improve study habits, improving academic performance, motivation, motivating students