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What is a Goal? Some first steps to becoming an excellent tutor.Goal 1

Goals, your supposed to have goals. Did anyone ever tell you this? It seems to be fairly common for those who are having trouble with something to be told that they need to set concrete goals. Yet the individual may not know what a goal is or actually may be so threatened by a real or imagined environmental danger in the present time, that all that they can think about is getting through the next ten minutes.

A goal is something that you know about, indeed, it is something that you have decided upon. Now this may seem like an extraneous point to many, but it is a key point, It has been willingly decided upon by the individual. The individual wants it. They have adapted it as their own. It is a known objective, something that is to be attained. Actions are planned and done with the idea in mind that they will lead to the goal. Each action taken is evaluated to determine if it will lead to the goal. If so, it is done, if  not is is ignored. Goals usually take in long periods of time. It is customary to divide the big goals up into smaller goals, things that can be accomplished in one day or one week. In this way we can keep each step a doable step.

My experience with tutoring over the years has taught me that just because someone is sitting down across from me to ostensibly get some help with their school work, does not mean that they are actually there. Many times they are off worrying about something: What is going to happen to me if I flunk this course? What if I am not smart enough to learn this subject? Is my car going to get towed? What will my friends and family think of me if I do not pass this course?
One of the first steps that I must do is establish enough trust that they will actually tell me what is going on with them. So this is the very first thing that you do: establish rapport {“mutual understanding between persons; sympathy, empathy, connection; a relationship characterized by these” from: rapport, n.”. OED Online. June 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/158209?rskey=ESZpcI&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed August 11, 2012). }

1st Goal: Establish Rapport

Find out what the student feels the problem is with their progress in learning the subject. This is basically to get them to tell you, from their viewpoint just what the difficulty is that is being experienced by them. This usually results in an increased willingness to communicate, if you simply listen, and a decreased willingness if you do anything else. Just let them talk. Inform the student that you are there to help them, not to grade them or judge them in anyway. Your task is not to tell them how hard or easy the subject is or is not, just provide an environment where they feel comfortable talking to you. You should come away with a fairly good idea of where the difficulty started in the material being studied and at what point in time.

It is very important that you create an atmosphere of cooperation where the student knows that it is you and them working together to gain an understanding of the material. It is not an adversarial relationship. You are there to help and assist in the understanding of the material.  In the lingo of the current fad in teaching, “you are the guide on the side” and “not the sage on the stage”.  Showing off by demonstrating that you can do the problems or work that they cannot is counter productive as is working many problems while they observe and you talk. The target is to take what understanding that they have and build on it. To do this you must first find out when they were last doing well in the material. Check their understanding at that point to verify that you have the correct starting point, then come forward building on that point of certainty. Get them to demonstrate their understanding by asking questions and validating them when they are correct and showing them the correct response in the materials when they give a response that is not correct. Do not tell them that they are wrong, simply get them to look at the correct response, and then let them conclude on their own if their response was correct or not and to what degree it was correct.

The above is a short summary of how to establish rapport and get a student studying on their own. Depending on the degree of disconnection with the material this can take a short time (a few minutes) or a long time (many hours). The end result is a student that understands and is willing to get on with the learning process on their own. If you have done your job in establishing yourself as an adviser and facilitator who is not there to judge or grade them, then when they have a question they will ask you. If you have not then they will not ask you any questions.


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