What’s so good about tutoring?

Jeremy Wilburn / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Do you really need a tutor?   Maybe your teacher at school is very good and you are very bright, so perhaps you can get the grades you need without the help of a tutor?  Certainly some students go through their school years without any personal tuition and still get very high grades.  However in my view, in the UK, this is now a small minority.  But why is this?  What’s so good about tuition?  And why is it worth the trouble and expense?

In my view there are some aspects of tutoring that can make it invaluable in helping students achieve their potential.  In essence, personal tuition is the foundation for deep understanding, and true mastery of a subject.  As such it is no surprise that it forms the basis for teaching at places like Oxford and Cambridge!  Personal tuition has some huge benefits when compared with other methods of learning.  These are the main ones:

  • The tutor is able to meet the exact needs of the student, and pitch the questions and tasks at exactly the right level.  So, unlike at school, the student need never feel ‘left behind’, or alternatively bored and unstimulated.
  • The tutor can focus on those areas where the student needs most help.  A good tutor will be able to identify and concentrate on those areas causing the most trouble, so maximum progress is made in a minimum of time.  In school students often find that too much time is spent on some topics and not enough on others.
  • Tuition enables the tutor and student to form a close relationship based on mutual trust and respect.  This trusting relationship then allows the student’s barriers to learn (distrust, anger towards authority, fear of failure) to be recognized and removed.  In school these barriers are usually ignored and teachers are unable to form such relationships with their students.
  • Tuition ensures that students show they understand. If tuition is effective the student will be constantly thinking, answering questions and solving problems (the foundation for understanding and long-term memory) under the close watch of the tutor, rather than simply ‘hearing the teacher speak’, which too often occurs at school.  This means that while at school students often think they understand what has been taught, in tuition they will know they understand.
  • Students always have the opportunity to ask tutors the questions that are bothering them.  In school environments this is often not possible, due to the number of students and constant need to get through the syllabus.
  • Tuition encourages students to take responsibility for their learning.  Effective tuition encourages the student to consider what they want to learn from the tutor and why they are facing problems in a subject.  But at school students are encouraged to see learning as the ‘teacher’s job’, which undermines this sense of responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong, schools are not all bad, and of course not all tutors are good!  But, done right personal tuition can be a truly transformational experience for students.