A Flexible Framework for Tutoring

“So, what’s the best approach to tutoring?” is a question that often comes up in discussions about tutoring. While there isn’t a single answer to that question, there are differing approaches. Let’s look at three that most tutoring falls into:

  • Scripted or highly structured tutoring programs provide tutors with lessons or steps to follow in each tutoring session. Many of these include some kind of assessment that helps determine a learner’s needs and reading level. The tutor and learner begin with a lesson at that level and continue from there–lesson 1, lesson 2, lesson 3. This approach takes much of the guesswork out of planning.
  • Flexible or adaptive tutoring programs provide a structure but don’t prescribe a sequence of lessons. The structure often takes the form of a lesson plan, but leaves it to the tutor to decide what to plug into the lesson plan. The idea behind this approach is that learners’ needs differ and so much their tutoring sessions. Programs taking the adaptive approach need to provide tutors with training on how to identify learner needs (comprehension, sight words, fluency, for example) and how to create lessons to meet those needs.
  • Serendipity or “winging it” is another approach to tutoring. This is what happens when there isn’t a structure (rigid or flexible)  for a tutor to use. It’s the approach that is used when a tutor does not have resources or training. For example, when a volunteer goes into a school or program and is asked to work with a child. Perhaps a teacher gives the tutor a book or some class work and asks the tutor to help the child with that.

Each of these approaches to tutoring can have positive effects on a child’s reading and literacy. Research shows that help of most kinds has some benefit over time; however, we don’t suggest winging it when you can get support, training and resources from a quality tutoring program.

We take the middle road in our approach to tutoring–the flexible or adaptive approach that seeks to meet a child at his or her point of need. The choice is rooted in our experience that no two children (learners) have the same needs in learning to read. Some learners struggle with comprehension–they read it but don’t understand it–while others need help with fluency or sight words or decoding. Most struggling readers need help in more than one area. A structured approach that is flexible provides a framework for tutoring that allows a tutor to identify the learner’s needs and create lessons that address those needs.

The flexible approach also works better in our experience for tutoring that takes place in different contexts. ReadWriteServe (RWS) tutors do their tutoring with different grade levels, in schools, after school, one-on-one and in small groups. RWS is a tutor training and support program that helps tutors at their point of need. It’s not a program located at a single site.

The basic framework is simple and lays out a pattern for tutoring that can be used with fiction or non-fiction books or content-area material (like science or social studies) that often comes from a child’s school. The RWS lesson plan addresses three aspects to literacy tutoring–pre-reading and learning, during-reading and learning, and after-reading and learning. Here’s a description of each aspect:

  • Pre-reading and learning. In this part of the lesson, the tutor introduces a text or material that is the focus of tutoring and seeks to establish a purpose such as reading for pleasure, for information or to accomplish a goal (getting an assignment done for school).  It’s also important at this point to motivate and engage the learner in reading and learning and to activate his or her background or prior knowledge. Pre-reading and learning activities include conducting a book walk or picture talk of a book or previewing a textbook chapter or article, making predictions, and talking about key vocabulary.
  • During-reading and learning. This is the heart of the tutoring session and usually involves some sort of guided reading in which the tutor guides the learner as he or she reads through the text and seeks to make sense of it (comprehension and learning). The goal is to support the learner and make reading active. Activities often include guided reading strategies like Say Something or using strategies like 3-2-1 or Double-entry Journals (note taking), or something as simple as using sticky notes to jot down ideas as you read together.
  • After-reading and learning. This is where the tutor helps the learner make sense of what they’ve read or learned. The goal here is comprehension but also to extend and elaborate ideas. If the tutoring has focused on a school assignment this is where the tutor helps the learner complete that. After reading and learning activities include discussion, writing a summary or creating a word map or graphic organizer to connect ideas and new terms (vocabulary).

We add the word learning to reading and learning to signal that not all literacy tutoring focuses solely on one type of text of subject. While much tutoring may focus on reading books (fiction usually), it can address non-fiction and reading material from subjects like math, science, and history. The goal is to guide and support the learner and make learning active. As you can see (below), the RWS lesson plan follows this format. In our next blog post we’ll share examples lesson plans and decisions tutors need to make to help meet learners’ needs.

The RWS lesson plan format provides a flexible structure for tutoring.

The RWS lesson plan format provides a flexible structure for tutoring.

Here is a PDF version of the plan you can download:  RWS Lesson Plan

For more information about ReadWriteServe and our approach to tutoring or for access to strategies and resources, check our RWS Tutoring website. Have questions or thoughts? Post a comment to this blog post.


About bluegrassjb

I am an academic with a love for language, literacy and learning. The focus of my work is on student success at the K-12 and college levels. Outside of my professional interests I enjoy travel, photography and antiquing with my partner and wife. We like to hit the road in our travel trailer with the dogs and when at home party with the cats.
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2 Responses to A Flexible Framework for Tutoring

  1. Mattijs says:

    Great blog you have here. I read most of the posts and could really use the tips and tricks mentioned to improve my own, Dutch based website. Most usefull was the framework you mentioned in this post. I keep your blog reading!

  2. dialogicblog says:

    Thanks, Mattijs. We have learned a great deal from others and want to share. I hope you can check in with us and let us know about your program in the Netherlands. Bruce

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