Warning: Is Your Tutor Teaching Bad Study Habits?

OK, that title might be a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t really believe that tutors do more harm than good — but I DO believe that there are some bad habits students fall victim to where tutors are concerned. Now that the school year has started, students and tutors are starting their work together; it’s a good opportunity to nip bad habits in the bud.

First, I need to explain that as an academic coach, I do not consider myself a tutor. Tutors are subject-specific content specialists; academic coaches are process specialists. Tutors help explain the pythagorean theorem to a student who doesn’t understand; an academic coach helps the student identify processes in which they can better learn the pythagorean theorem (e.g. use the textbook more effectively, take better notes in class, do sample problems, etc).

Many of my academic coaching clients also see Spanish or math tutors because they need help with both process and content. Too often, though, I encounter a conversation that sounds like this:

Me: So, it looks like you have a big trigonometry test coming up on Friday. What’s your study plan?

Student: Oh, I’ll just study with my tutor. I see her the day before the test.

Me: But what about making a study guide? And reviewing it at least two days before the test?

Student: Yeah, but I don’t need to do that with math. When I study with my tutor, I usually do just fine.

Just the other day, in fact, my client Annabelle (a high school senior) repeated a similar refrain,  “Oh, I don’t need to study for the Spanish test by myself; I’ll just do it with my tutor.”

In the short term, this student’s relationship with the tutor is doing all sorts of good: Annabelle trusts her tutor and is making B’s on all her tests.  I can *assume* this means she’s also learning to speak Spanish, although I can’t say that for sure.

However, when Annabelle relies on her tutor to guide her study process, she is neither holding herself accountable for her learning nor is she practicing how to be a self-sufficient learner. If the tutor guides the whole study process, Annabelle isn’t practicing how to: a) compile all the necessary information, b) make a study guide that works for her, c) save time to review her study guide, and d)  self-assess when she has learned the information well.

All four of these skills are critical for college readiness. The last one — knowing how to self-assess at what point she has learned the information sufficiently — is critical long after she’s done taking tests; it is crucial for helping her be a life long learner.

Tutors provide a wonderful service to many students; however, without sufficient attention to the study processes they are advocating, they can foster dependent students who can’t learn unless experts walking them through every step of the way.

If you are a parent hiring a tutor, I highly recommend that you ask them, not just about their content expertise, but also about what strategies they’ve developed for teaching learning/study processes to their students. Some questions to ask might include:

1. What’s your philosophy about how students learn best?

2. What content do you tutor? What skills do you teach alongside that content?

3. What are your responsibilities when tutoring my child? What are my child’s responsibilities when working with you? How do engage my child in dialogue about these responsibilities?

4. What specific strategies do you teach to help students become self-sufficient learners?

5. Sometimes students can become too reliant on tutors, and they begin abdicating responsibility for their own learning. How do you know when this is happening, and what do you do to minimize this tendency?

Do you have any additional questions you like to ask tutors? Are you a tutor with some reflections about how you foster self-sufficiency in your clients? Are you a student with stories? Please comment! I’d love to hear…

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