Taking Advantage of Online Tutoring


I have been tutoring since 2005, and it has always been face-to-face. When I first considered the idea of online tutoring, I was extremely worried. I asked myself, how can you establish rapport? How can you provide feedback? How can you see what the student is doing? How can you help students improve if you are not sitting right there (admittedly, hovering)?


After doing some research and trying a couple of sessions online, I am now a firm believer in online tutoring. It prevents me from hovering (lucky students), but I still have the opportunity and the space to provide feedback and see my students.


Here, I am going to provide you with some tips to support students online. If you are a tutor, use these tips to help you get set-up. If you are a parent, use these tips to get your student ready for online tutoring.


Getting Started

First, consider how you will connect for your session. My favorite way is using GoogleHangouts and GoogleDocs; however, Skype is also a great way to connect. The tutor and the family should determine the best platform for connecting that will meet your needs and that all are comfortable with.


Sharing Documents

If you are working on an assignment or reading something together, make sure you each have a copy before you begin. If it is a document, many phones have apps now to send and scan a document so that you can both have access to it.

On Google, you can share screens or share documents. I love GoogleDocs when helping a student with writing because we can talk to each other over GoogleTalk and work on the document simultaneously using the GoogleDoc feature.


Building a Rapport

Building a rapport is still possible, even when in separate locations. In the same way that you would begin a tutoring session by checking in with each other, setting goals, and getting focused, you can still begin your session with this communication.


Other Ways of Sharing Work

Because you can video chat using online tutoring, it is very easy to still use whiteboards to explain concepts, show text annotations as you are reading, or use any other kind of visual key to help build understanding.

Skype and GoogleHangout both have the option to share your screen. Which means if you are working in another program or reading something online, you can very easily share the resource with each other.


Ultimately, online tutoring might take some getting used to. But the benefits for the environment, the ease with which you can meet, and the ability to maintain support and rapport are great reasons for considering the online platform.

Does My Child Need Extra Help?

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Parents often wonder how to tell if their child may need extra help. Though every child is different, and every age is different, here are a few tips that may indicate a need for help:

·      Sudden discomfort – your once happy and content student is suddenly anxious talking about school. It isn’t just the shift in discussion where you feel like you’re pulling teeth trying to figure out what happened in school that day now that you have a middle schooler; your child actually becomes uncomfortable discussing school.

o   For some children this could manifest as actual physical discomfort, such as fidgeting or avoiding eye contact.

o   For others, it could be avoidance, such as an immediate and deliberate change of subject.

o   For a few, this could manifest as irritation or aggression. Some students are having such a hard time that they get upset even discussing things that are school-related.

·       Grade decline – it is perfectly normal to have off-days and topics that just don’t click. A bad test grade or two is not always the best indicator that help is needed (could be sleep related, something outside of school, etc.) But, a steady decline in a class grade or grades should be a sign that something is wrong. If your child has dropped a letter grade or more and doesn’t seem to be on the upswing, it may be time to look into some outside assistance

·      Key words – really listen to your child and their attitude when discussing school. What may once have been “fine” may now be “really hard.” Some students drop hints about not knowing what they’re doing, or not wanting to raise their hand because they feel their question is “stupid.” These small additions to your conversations are signals your child is sending to communicate their struggle

·      Trust your gut – you are their parent. You know them best. If you think something is wrong and they need help, then you are probably right. Have an open conversation with them and see where they are and how they feel 

Note: remember that you are the parent. Even us teachers get frustrated because we understand the content our own children are learning, but for some reason just cannot help or tutor them. This is normal. A tutor is a professional who can come in and play a very particular role in your child’s life. They develop a different relationship of respect and communication with your child.


Understanding Interims

    This time of year, many parents have received their child’s interim, or progress report, and the teacher’s notes that come with it.  Many schools offer these mid-semester reports in order to communicate with parents, allow the student to make any necessary behavioral or academic adjustments, and to ensure that each child is set up to be as successful as possible.  

     You don’t want to miss this opportunity to connect with your child’s instructors and understanding their interims will give you an inside look into their performance. Whether your child experiences anxiety about receiving grades or is indifferent about it altogether, interims can be an extremely helpful tool for you and your student. Progress reports are usually issued halfway through the grading period and outline your child’s schedule and their grades thus far. These progress reports often include notes from teachers about how your child is behaving in class and whether there are any issues that need to be addressed. Receiving these grades and behavioral notes in the middle of the grading period allows your student to make necessary adjustments. For example, teachers may notice that your son’s grades are lower in classes where he sits further back and encourage him to schedule an eye exam.  Your daughter may have no problem with her math assignments at home, but struggles to focus when in class surrounded by her friends. Some kids may still be adjusting, like 9th graders who aren't used to the workload of a high school student. Nevertheless, by October, you should have a solid idea about where your child stands.  Progress reports allow teachers to pinpoint any difficulties that your child might be experiencing and connect with you to discuss them.

     If your child often tells you, “nothing happened at school” or “we didn’t learn anything”, it can be difficult to know how things are really going.  Interims are a great resource for parents who aren’t getting much information from their children. Teachers often spend even more time with your children than you do, so having open communication between you will often make for a much more successful student. Read the instructor’s notes carefully and keep them in mind to re-address during the next meeting.

     Parents should also look at what rubric their child’s interim grades are based upon. Grading systems vary all over the country and a poor grade doesn’t always mean that your child doesn’t grasp the material. Does your child have a D in a class based off of three grades, or off of thirty? If one bombed test is affecting his or her grade significantly, that is less worrisome than an entire test category showing up in the red. If/when a concern arises, work with your child and his or her teacher to create a plan that addresses the issue.  There is still time for students to bring up their interim grades, but before you know it, the holidays will be here, and report cards will be arriving.

     As educators, we strongly encourage parents to take advantage of parent-teacher conferences after interims have been distributed.  We understand how overwhelming schedules are, but a short meeting with your child’s teacher could greatly benefit him. If you cannot be present for the assigned day, reach out to the teacher and work out another option (whether it's after school or before school, or even via phone). These are a huge opportunity to get a window into your child's classroom and an idea of how they’re doing outside of the home. You may be looking at a simple fix to bring some of those grades up!

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