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Beginning in October
2011, Information Age Education will be publishing a series of
newsletters exploring educational aspects of the current cognitive
neuroscience and technological revolution. Bob Sylwester and Dave
Moursund will provide two introductory articles. These will be followed
by a long series of “Guest” articles written by a broad collection of
experts in the field.
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Tutoring in Informal and Formal Education Part 1: Overview of Tutoring
“I have never let my
schooling interfere with my education.” (Samuel Langhorne Clemens,
better known by his pen name Mark Twain; American author and humorist;
IAE Newsletters #73 and #74 draw on the free book “Becoming a
better math tutor” by Moursund and Albrecht (2011). Note that one of
the authors of the book is also an author of the IAE Newsletters.
The first of these two newsletters provides some general ideas about tutoring. The second focuses on tutoring in math.
Most people think of tutoring as something that is designed for
students who need or want some extra, personalized help in their
schoolwork. A school might provide tutoring as part of a student’s
Individual Educational Plan (IEP). Parents often hire tutors to help
their children with homework. Indeed, this is now a large market, with
services provided in personal one-on-one sessions and/or via the Web.
Also, of course, you are also familiar with the idea of a child taking
music lessons or receiving personal instruction in other areas.
Socioeconomic status plays a big role in such individual or small group
Still more broadly, think about the individual tutoring a child
receives long before starting school. The child’s brain is wired to
learn natural languages, and the individual “tutoring” of parents and other
native language speaker’s in the child’s environment is usually
successful in helping the child become proficient in oral communication.
For an historical perspective, think of the apprentice-like learning
environments of a child growing up in a hunter-gather or agricultural
environment. The child learned by observing and imitating, perhaps
receiving some formal instruction, practice, and feedback. The feedback
came from a combination of the learner and the person providing the
individual instruction and feedback.
This apprenticeship type of teaching and learning went on for tens of
thousands of years, until eventually reading and writing were
developed. Reading and writing required a new approach to teaching and
learning. Initially this new approach was mainly one-on-one or small
group tutoring and was made available to a very tiny percentage of the
population who served the government and/or wealthy people.
Content, Practice, and Feedback In some sense, teaching and learning are simple. The learner
receives content from external and internal sources. The learning that
occurs is used in a manner that allows the learner and/or others to
observe the results. The learner and the observers provide feedback.
With the development of reading and writing came the idea that a
student could learn to read well enough to begin to read to learn. Add
to this the eventually mass production of books and other written
materials, paper, and writing instruments, and we have the opportunity
to accomplish educational goals by helping students learn to “read
across the curriculum” and “read to learn,” and then turning them loose
Back at the time of the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson promoted
the idea that all citizens should gain a third grade education and that
this sufficed for most people. (The more talented and/or wealthy could
go on to further education.)
Nowadays, children are expected to have learned to read well enough by
the end of the third grade so that they can begin to gain a significant
amount of their education by reading. By the end of the 7th grade,
reading becomes a routine aid to learning the content being taught in
school. Still, the “stand and deliver” oral presentation remains a
well-ingrained component of instruction even in higher education. More About Individualization of Content and Feedback
We all know about the need for prerequisite knowledge and
skills in learning, and the ideas of constructivism in which new
learning is built upon previous learning.
The research of Benjamin Bloom (1984), his students, and others provide
convincing evidence that for a high percentage of students, individual
tutoring produces significantly faster and greater learning than does
large group instruction such as is provided in the regular classroom or
the higher education large lecture classes.
Our public education system strives to teach “standardized” curricula
content. Of course, there is some opportunity for individualization.
Providing easy access to good libraries is one approach to
individualization of content. The idea is to educate students to learn
by reading and to learn to make use of feedback from themselves, the
peers, teachers, parents and others. In this type of instruction there
can be a strong emphasis on learning to do self-assessment and learning
to take advantage of a wide range of feedback opportunities. In
addition, there can be a strong emphasis on students learning to take a
steadily increasing level of responsibility for their own education as
they grow toward cognitive maturity.
It is easy to find examples of self-taught individuals and/or
individuals who made use of formal schooling and self-instruction to
become highly educated. Perhaps you are familiar with the Mark Twain
statement “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
given at the beginning of this Newsletter.
We are all lifelong learners. Some of us are much more successful at
this endeavor than others. In your authors’ opinion, our formal
schooling system could do much better at fostering the idea of learning
to learn and becoming a self-responsible learner.
A Tutoring Team
Nowadays, tutoring is often done by a team that might include:
The tutee. Remember, the goal is to help the tutee in many
different ways, including learning to make effective use of a tutoring
team, learning to be a better learner and a more self-responsible
learning, learning faster and with greater understanding, increasing
long term retention, increasing transfer of learning, and so on. The
Moursund/Albrecht book contains an Appendix written specifically for
One of more adults who are responsible for the tutee, such as
parents, grandparents, and so on. The Moursund/Albrecht book contains
an Appendix written specifically for such caregivers.
Computer systems that provide access to content and that provide
instruction. The Web is like a gigantic multimedia library, and it can
provide individualized content to learners who need such content and
can make use of it. A combination of computer-as-tutor and human tutor
is now available from a number of commercial sites on the Web.
Intelligent computer-assisted learning systems are now widely used in
schools and can be purchased for home use. In addition, there are many
free resources of this sort available on the Web.
paid or volunteer tutor. A paid tutor may be hired through the school
or a caregiver. Tutoring might occur at the tutee's home or school.
Volunteer tutors include
adult volunteers at school, peer tutors, and cooperative learning
environments mainly working through a school or through a club.
Someone who coordinates all of the above. If the team includes a
paid tutor, he or she is likely to be the team coordinator. In other
cases, the team leader may be the supervisor of the volunteer or paid
A tutor is a teacher. It takes a great deal of knowledge,
skills, and experience to be a well-qualified tutor. Here is a list of
some desirable qualifications of a human tutor.
Content Area Standards. Know the school, district, and state academic standards below, at, and above the level at which one is tutoring.
includes areas such as: a) being able to “reach out and make
appropriate contact with” a tutee, and b) being able to develop a
personal, mutually trusting, human-to-human relationship with a tutee.
Empathy. Knowledge of
“the human condition” of being a human student with life in and outside
of school, facing the trials and tribulations of living in his or her
culture, the school and community cultures, and in our society.
Learning Theory. A tutor
needs to be a content learner and know the learning theory in a variety
of areas relevant to the area being tutored. Of course, this includes
content pedagogical knowledge. Two other important areas are:
Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Among other
things, this included an understanding of the computerized
communication, social networking, and entertainment worlds that are a
routine part of the lives of a great many students.
An introductory knowledge of brain science (cognitive
neuroscience), with special emphasis on the effects of stress on
learning. (Moursund and Sylwester, 2011)
Diversity. A tutor needs
to be comfortable in working with students of different backgrounds,
cultures, race, creed, and so on. In addition, a tutor needs to be able
to work with students with dual or multiple learning-related
exceptionalities, such as ADHD students who are cognitively gifted.
Bloom, B. S. (1984). The 2 Sigma problem: The search
for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring.
Educational Researcher, 13(6), 4–16. Retrieved 9/8/2011 from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_198405_bloom.pdf.
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