Re-establishing Manageable Expectations in Tutoring

Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor


shutterstock_3629801Here at Kaplan University, our respective support centers housed within the Academic Support Center are lucky. I say this  simply because we possess the ability to share experiences, challenges, and, of course, triumphs between our centers. With this, however, comes a very unique conversation, and one that I found most interesting while creating training tutorials.

Prior to even working on the tutor training project,  my biggest concern  revolved around using neutral language when writing the material for specific tutorials and resources. Because I work only in the Writing Center, my expertise, to be fair, is a bit limited. I tend to write for writers about writing, so I needed to establish some sort of common ground between all of our respective centers. Instead of focusing on the subject matter between each different center and catering the training materials accordingly, our team identified the commonality  that each tutor wrestles with constantly—time, or for that matter, figuring out how to best use the time we have with students.

At first glance this may appear rather simple.  A student enters a tutorial service seeking assistance, each session lasts a specific amount of time, and the student moseys off to accomplish his or her  task upon concluding the tutorial session. Sure, those occasions happen periodically, but what of those situations where a student may not know what he or she  needs assistance with? What if the student has never explored the given concept and, despite your invaluable skills, accomplishing an overview in 20 minutes seems impossible? More often than not, these situations become reality and require a bit of appropriate action in the form of a friendly refresher. With the help of many of the fantastic folks here across the Academic Support Center, these three, very pragmatic reminders  help shed light on the appropriate way to guide our students toward academic success.

1.) Establish what you can accomplish in the time frame of the tutoring session—be realistic.

To put things into perspective for the student, understand his or her reason for attending tutoring first and foremost. A simple greeting, of course, goes a long way, but understanding the student’s  intent for attending academic support services remains key to getting the session started. In the rarest of cases, tutors may also need to usher students to other support centers, so take this time to be sure the student is in the appropriate location. Next, after understanding the student’s intent, rationalize a bit. What can you feasibly accomplish in the time frame allotted for the session? If the student comes in seeking a review of a paper reaching the 40-page mark or an equation that will take hours to complete, rationalizing what can feasibly be accomplished from the get-go allows for a more productive and focused session. Sure, you may not accomplish all of what the student sought after, but at the very least the tutor used the time wisely. This also allows for a bit of reciprocity as the tutor may suggest that the student continue work on what he or she  produced in the session before returning for more help. We can do a fantastic amount of great deeds for our students, but, unfortunately, we cannot extend time. Therefore, simply be honest with your students; they will appreciate it when they come back in the second and third time.

2.) Remain consistent with your session format: Greet, assist, conclude, and invite back.

Of the three suggestions, this tends to outweigh the others in that, regardless of the student or the assignment at hand, each session should conform to a general model. The best and simplest way to ensure accurate timing involves sticking to a rather rigid routine with the freedom to adjust accordingly during the tutoring itself. In terms of percentages, ten percent of the session should be devoted to greeting and concluding the session accordingly; the remaining eighty percent, of course, occupies the duration of the session. Certainly these numbers will fluctuate a bit based on the context of the session, but the majority of the session must be devoted to actual instruction. By limiting the introduction and conclusion of the session to approximate times, this best assists the student with feeling like he or she was  treated to a service and not just ushered through so that the tutor can take the next student. From a tutor’s perspective, this also allows for more productivity and will actually assist further with time management. By actively thinking of three sessions per hour or even two sessions per hour, tutors can then be better prepared for what all they may have to accomplish.

3.) Keep control of the session; you are the professional, so make the experience professional and consistent for the student.

Extrapolating a bit off of the last reminder, maintaining control of the session is key to accomplishing a consistent model that the tutor can then replicate elsewhere. We want our students to interact with us, of course, but too much interaction, or too little, for that matter, can lead to awkward questioning or, in extreme cases, resistance from the student. As we want to always avoid these situations, adhering to the student’s request is just as important as making a suggestion for a better, alternative route. As we are the professionals in this situation, we should  never feel that we  are unable to discuss a different plan of action with the student so long as the end goal of the session pairs with the student’s satisfaction. More often than not, when a student comes into a tutorial service frustrated and irritable, this more than likely stemmed from confusion.  A  bit of guidance, as we are all more than capable of providing, helps immensely. Building this level of professionalism will also  help build our reputation, so take the time to assert your expertise while also ensuring that the student receives the best help that we can offer.

All of these reminders may seem like the re-invention of the wheel for some tutors, and that is a fantastic problem to have. For the others, much like myself, seeing this on the page really does make a difference. By focusing our time on the respective sections of each tutorial session, this difficulty becomes one of the easiest aspects of our job. Once in the rhythm of establishing a goal early and vocally with the student, sessions tend to move more quickly, as many of our tutors are happily reporting. It is because of our expertise that we can make adjustments accordingly.  As our outreach  continues to improve, both in numbers and in quality,  prioritizing these tasks will elicit increased student satisfaction across all centers.

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2 Responses

  1. Dave Chicoine says:

    I enjoyed reviewing the tutor training materials and especially the diversity training. While obtaining my MSIT degree here at PG we were exposed to user interface design principles and how certain colors may be offensive to certain cultures thus trying to keep things as neutral as possible. In many circumstances, certain hand gestures may mean completely different things. For example, I was teaching Anatomy and a student asked me to wish them luck on their nursing board exams. I mentioned that my fingers are crossed which here in the US often represents a gesture of good luck. I had a student from Vietnam in the class who mentioned after class that crossing one’s fingers is much like giving someone the middle finger. When I was in Italy, I learned the hard way that giving the thumbs up isn’t something cool like The Fonz did in Happy Days. It’s an insult. It is important to have a reasonable understanding of the nuances different cultures have and strive to respect our differences.
    In the Academic Support Center post, “factoring in Feelings (2015) by Moly Wright Starkweather, the importance of recognizing the students’ emotions was highlighted. One of the key takeaways from this is empathy goes a long way when building rapport with a student that we are trying to tutor. As Wright mentioned (2015) the students may show up to a session frustrated and upset thus it is important to try to offer positive options and reframe things accordingly while maintaining professional boundaries. By encouraging the students in a way that is best suited for their unique situation the student may feel valued and thus more apt to work together as a team. Whenever I teach, I will often try to “break the ice” and build rapport with a student before teaching a lesson. I feel that things often go much more smoothly by taking a few minutes to do this.
    The second informative post I read was Re-establishing Manageable Expectations in Tutoring by Kyle Harley (2015). In this post Harley lists three reminders to help tutors keep things on track 1) being realistic on what can be accomplished in our limited time slot with them, 2) keeping a consistent format during a session, and 3) remaining professional and staying in control of the tutoring session.
    Overall, as a professional it is important to use our knowledge and background to determine how our brief sessions can be maximized when helping students. Staying positive and encouraging a growth mindset in our students can go a long way. It is our job to help students discover the tools they will need to be successful here at PG and ultimately later in their careers.
    Thanks for reading.
    Dave Chicoine

    Harley,K. (2015, November 17). Re-establishing Manageable Expectations in Tutoring. PURDUE GLOBAL ACADEMIC SUCCESS CENTER AND WRITING CENTER. Retrieved from

    Starkweather, M. (2015, September 9). Factoring in Feelings. PURDUE GLOBAL ACADEMIC SUCCESS CENTER AND WRITING CENTER. Retrieved from

  2. Diane Morgan says:

    Thanks for sharing some solutions to the challenges faced by our online tutorial / learning centers. I wondered if you could help advisors to establish a realistic expectation for students who are considering utilizing tutorials through Kaplan Universitiy online services?

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