Whenever I start tutoring a new student, my first goal is to build some rapport. That is the only time I might rely on video calls.
The initial goal with tutoring
The first few sessions with any new student is for introductions. I use them to figure out how they like to learn and how they react to stress. The first sessions are also an opportunity for the student to understand what they are getting into!
Gauging a student’s reaction to confusing material
In order for my tutoring to be effective, I need my students to be comfortable feeling vulnerable. They should feel safe making mistakes and taking risks with creative solutions. They also need to become comfortable interrupting me when my explanations or analogies don’t make sense.
When I tutor a student in-person I can usually tell if I’ve lost them just by looking at their face. I use that as a cue to remind them that it’s okay to be confused. That helps them open up about what exactly is confusing them and what they’d like to review again. After a few sessions, I don’t have to ask students if my explanations are making sense.
With online sessions, I normally don’t use video calling. But for introductory sessions, I’m okay with making an exception. Video calls and facial feedback can help me better gauge whether or not my explanations are actually getting across. Until they become comfortable asking questions we can use video calls as a crutch.
Luckily for me, my students are rarely shy about speaking up when they have a question or when they need an alternative explanation.
After the introductory sessions, I would default to audio-only sessions as video calls can be distracting.
Gauging a student’s tolerance for homework
Some students learn better with homework while some students don’t need much homework.
Some students recognize that homework helps them, and others think it’s a waste of time.
Either way, I accept that every student is different and treat homework as an experiment.
I tell them how we’re going to use homework as part of an experiment to see if it actually helps improve their problem-solving skills. This gets them on board for whatever the result may be.
If we find that homework is helping them improve they usually get excited about more challenging homework.
Sometimes we find the opposite to be true and try something else with the lessons. For some students, it might be better for me to explain a topic and then assign watching a relevant YouTube video for homework. This gets them exposed to multiple perspectives which can also improve their problem-solving skills.
No matter what, I’ve always found it easier to work with students once I explained what I was trying to do- which is to figure out how they learn best.
Getting students excited about tutoring
Some students will only accept taking on a lot of homework after they start trusting me. Students have a fear of pointless assignments so I like to use some of our time to explain my test prep strategy. This helps them see the bigger picture and understand that the homework isn’t merely for torture.
Once they understand that we have a common goal (to get a certain score on their exams), the whole process becomes easier for everyone.
My online sessions are primarily conducted over an online voice app and an online whiteboard. We rarely use video. When I have online sessions after having tutored them in-person we usually never use video calls.
My voice-only calls probably work out because they already know what I look like. I think it’s important to be able to have a face in mind when you’re only relying on voice. If I’m right, then video calls are definitely crucial for the introductory sessions. However, I still find video calls to be distracting and prefer audio-only calls as soon as they are appropriate.