Questions you should always ask in tutoring

Our approach in the ReadWriteServe tutoring programs does not rely on scripts or formulas. We don’t talk about one-size-fits-all approaches because we don’t work with students who have the same needs. We don’t have a formulaic approach to most things but we do want to share two questions that all tutors can ask and use in most sessions with students.

Here are the two questions:

  • Does that make sense? The point of reading is to comprehend. Fluency, decoding and vocabulary are important aspects of comprehension but the overall goal is understanding. Regardless of what students need help in, we can and should ask them, does that make sense? This applies to reading and learning science, social studies, English, language but also learning math. Learning–by definition–is about making sense of things. When we ask a learner (a student), does that make sense, we foster a conversation about comprehension and open the door to helping students do something when they struggle with understanding. This leads to the next question.
  • What can you do? Let’s face it, in tutoring it’s tempting fix things when a student struggles. When a learner misses or mispronounces a word, we want to jump in and give them the word or correct pronunciation. Resist that temptation! It’s better to help a student develop the skills to fix their own struggles by asking them, what can you do? For example, if a learner is reading a book or passage about the branches of government and doesn’t know the word judicial, ask them, “What can you do?” Get them talking and try to help them make connections. They might not know judicial but probably know judge or judging or judgementIf you are helping with an algebra problem or talking about a book and the student understand what they’ve read, ask what can you do and help them develop strategies for solving the problem or developing an understanding.

There’s an old adage about teaching a person to fish is better than giving them a fish. Tutoring is not about fixing problems one time but helping students learn to face challenges and develop strategies and tools they can use again and again (teaching them to fish).

The RWS Tutor Handbook and the Tutoring Website hosted by the Center for Adolescent Literacies offer the kinds of tools to help struggling readers and learners learn “to fish”–to become more strategic in their learning. Does that make sense? 



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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