By Kaitlyn, IvyWise Master Tutor
Online instruction has been growing in popularity over the years because it can connect people from all over the world – and right now it’s necessary as students continue their studies after school closures due to the current coronavirus pandemic. As students connect to instructors online, the demand for virtual tutoring and test prep is growing. But is it effective?
Virtual tutoring is easily accessible by most people, it is convenient because it can occur anywhere and at any time, and it provides access to any number of resources during a particular session. Online tutoring is a valuable tool for students who need additional academic and test prep support, however, some people wonder if online tutoring or learning is as effective as in-person learning. In short – yes, it is!
How Does Virtual Tutoring Work?
With the technology available, including video conferencing (at IvyWise, we use Zoom), cameras on phones, email, and tablets that allow my writing to be projected on my student’s screen, I can virtually have the same type of experience with the student as if we were meeting in-person. I can model an example for the student, have them try a similar example at home, and then have them show me their work and provide feedback. But success in online tutoring is more than just the tutor showing the student how to do it. The real benefit comes from the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are developed from students having to explain how they arrived at an answer.
As an expert tutor at IvyWise, I have found that virtual tutoring and test prep is just as – if not more – effective than in-person instruction and here is why.
Virtual Tutoring Encourages Students to Verbalize Their Problem Solving
I’m going to use online math tutoring as an example. Math instruction typically involves the student watching the teacher model a particular skill and then practicing that skill with immediate feedback from the teacher. This doesn’t seem to lend itself well to the student and the teacher not being physically present with each other. However, online tutoring is extremely effective for math instruction if we are willing to move away from the traditional model of math lessons and move towards a model where students take a much more active role.
Active Learning Through Virtual Tutoring
Dr. David A. Sousa, a leader in educational neuroscience, has extensively studied how the brain learns math. In order for a mathematical topic to be retained by students they need time to “review the information, make sense of it, elaborate on the details, and assign value and relevance” to the material. Online tutoring provides the perfect environment for this to happen. Mathematical topics are more likely to be stored in our declarative memory when we engage in, “elaborative discussions, new ways of looking at things, analysis of situations, and a deep understanding of why we made specific decisions.” These elaborative discussions and analysis of situations happen easily and frequently with online tutoring because students have to be much more vocal about their thinking and their understanding.
In order to encourage these elaborative discussions, much of my online tutoring session is filled with comments like, “Explain your solving process to me” or “Why do you know your answer is correct?” It is through the student’s response, versus the math they have written on their paper, that I am able to gauge how well they really understand a topic. It takes a much deeper level of understanding for a student to verbalize their solution and thought process than for the student to just go through the process of doing the math.
If You Can Teach it, You Truly Know the Material
Sometimes, a student can get to the answer, but their mathematical thinking is flawed. For example, when I was covering area of polygons with a student, she found the correct answer for the area of a trapezoid because a base and a height shared the same length, but when I asked her to explain how she arrived at her answer, I realized she had some misconceptions about identifying bases and heights in trapezoids. We were able to talk about the differences between bases and heights and how to correctly identify them in the future. Had I just asked her for the answer, I would never have uncovered this misconception.
When a student is hesitant about where to begin a problem, I ask, “What are you thinking right now?” Getting the students to articulate their thoughts and then organize them into a solution strategy helps them to build their problem-solving skills, which will allow them to persevere through problems in the future. Taking the inner dialogue of the student, and having the student share it out loud with the tutor, helps the student and the tutor really understand what the student is thinking and highlights any misunderstandings.
Virtual Test Prep Benefits
Online tutoring can be especially powerful for test prep as well because of the inability to rely only on student work and answers when conducting online tutoring. Instead of a student saying that they got answer “A” for a certain problem, they have to tell the tutor why they got answer “A.” Did they simply solve the problem and arrive at the correct answer? Were they able to eliminate some of the answer choices? Did they use test-taking strategies like working backwards or plugging numbers in? Or did they simply guess?
Having to discuss their solution strategy to each problem will do several things. First, it will help the student realize that they have a solution strategy and will help them highlight for themselves areas of strength and areas of weakness.
Similarly, it will highlight for the tutor areas of study or types of questions that the student is struggling with. The tutor might see from previous exams that the student is struggling with questions involving functions, but by working through function problems and hearing the student’s explanations, the tutor may realize that it is not the math that is holding the student back, but that function problems are inherently difficult to understand on the test because of their wording. The tutor can establish a better plan to help the student succeed knowing that time does not need to be spent reviewing the mathematical concepts, and instead time needs to be spent exposing and familiarizing the student to the wording on the test.
Finally, it will let the tutor know what test taking strategies the student is regularly using and help the tutor zero in on the other test taking strategies that student isn’t using yet. Test taking strategies are key for success on many of the high stakes test that students take, so being able to meet the student where they are and help them grow their bank of skills and strategies is essential.
I love that online tutoring encourages students take a more active role in their sessions and I have found that:
- My students are growing more. They are making mistakes, but then growing from them through discussion and study of their own work.
- They are getting to the why of what they are learning and not just the how.
- They are becoming proficient in not just their mathematical problem-solving skills, but also in their ability to explain and defend their work.
- They are able to use proper mathematical vocabulary to hold discussions and to analyze situations.
Overall, online tutoring provides a powerful experience for students that will improve their level of comprehension and retention of the material, whether they’re learning math or preparing for standardized testing.
At IvyWise, we offer comprehensive virtual tutoring for all high school and college subject areas, as well as online test prep for admissions exams like the SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT, GMAT, LSAT, and more. Our team of expert tutors are the best of the best and know how to effectively instruct students in a virtual environment, ensuring the best outcomes and helping students reach their grade and score goals. For more information on IvyWise’s virtual tutoring and test prep services contact us today.