As COVID has disrupted class time, so has it disrupted tutoring time. Sitting down shoulder-to-should with a student and watching them work out a problem is no longer possible.
At the same time that tutoring became more challenging, it also became more essential. High-dosage tutoring is one of the most effective education interventions at closing achievement gaps, and will be a critical tool in climbing back up after the covid slide.
I am lucky to work with some of the highest performing schools in the country at EdLight. Here are some of the lessons we have learned about making remote tutoring highly effective from our partners, and also from our own tutoring practice. (Yes, EdLight staff tutor students!).
Giving effective individual supports during independent work time is hard even under the best scenarios. It’s doubly hard this year.
Recognizing this, we are seeing schools choose to cover the same content during tutoring that was covered during class. This ups the level of support teachers give to individual students who don’t meet the lesson objective during class.
Aligning tutoring with class content keeps the rigor of tutoring tasks high. With so many gaps emerging, we cannot have a generation of students effectively repeat a grade because well-meaning tutors focus exclusively on below-grade work. Keeping tutoring focused on the meatiest part of the core lesson ensures that students are working on rich material and helps target supports at the specific prerequisite skills needed to master that material.
One other benefit teachers appreciate: repeating content in tutoring saves on planning time, which is at a desperate premium this year.
Let’s be real, engagement is one of our biggest challenges as educators this year.
Putting tutoring blocks at the end of the day requires students to sometimes, but not always, come back to their Chromebooks. This is unpredictable and competes with the siren call of Tic Tok. We know from trauma informed practices that predictability is key. Getting students to sign in again once you release them is fraught.
An alternative is to place tutoring as close as possible to instruction.
The best I’ve seen this done was Ashley Anderson at CICS Avalon, who extended her break time between classes from 8 to 12 minutes. From her monitoring of work, she knew that three students were not able to set up their problems correctly. Her voice reached through the screen and grabbed these three students before they could slip away to break, and she did a quick 5 minute review of the task. In the 5 minutes they did several rounds of revisions until the students could set up the task correctly, and she released them to break.
Ashley blew me away with her quick, targeted tutoring, aligned to the day’s task, that didn’t require students to show up for something extra.
Effective feedback during tutoring is targeted and precise.
There are so many Ed Tech tools out that with creative ways of showing you a student’s answer. It’s easy to get pulled in to these fun tools and lose track of the student’s work.
The reality is deeper learning comes from deep engagement with the process of working out a challenging task. If all that we are looking at is students’ answers, we aren’t engaging with this process, and we don’t know how to target our feedback.
Here’s an example of targeted feedback from a 5th grade ELA tutoring session:
This feedback is targeted at the learning objective of the session (name a characterization change), names the error, and gives minimal scaffolds for the student to correct their work.
It’s easy to pat ourselves on the back after giving feedback. It’s so hard to make time for individualized feedback. We did it! Done and done.
In person, there is no gap between feedback and revision. We give feedback and students revise. That’s what tutoring is.
Unfortunately, we are seeing many schools stop at feedback when tutoring remotely.
With Remote, there’s a whole other step of re-submitting revised work. Revising work is hard. It’s where the learning happen. We need to show that students we see their hard work and we care by planning lots of time to celebrate revisions.
Here’s how the student revised her work from the previous example, and the tutor’s praise.
When remote tutoring is aligned to class, with targeted feedback, and celebrates revisions, we have its efficacy approach that of in person tutoring. It will be interesting to see what happens to these trends as more and more students return to in person learning. Will schools continue to align tutoring to class? Which of the technology tools will stay and which will go? Does effective remote tutoring open new possibilities about who can tutor students?