For thousands of years people have known the power of one-on-one, face-to-face instruction, and have turned to tutors and mentors when they needed help learning a trade, or a science, or how to live. From Plato to Aristotle and Alexander the Great, from physicists J.J. Thomson and Ernest Rutherford to Niels Bohr, and from Henry David Thoreau to Louisa May Alcott, knowledge was powerfully passed from person to person. Even today, much of what we learn best is learned from individual instruction, whether it be from parents, grandparents, mentors, friends, co-workers, or teachers. Tutoring taps into this effective method of teaching and learning. Every person is a unique and powerful individual with tremendous potential. Tutoring helps unlock that potential by focusing instruction on the individual strengths, learning styles, and needs of the student more efficiently than is possible in any large group environment. Modern mass schooling cannot serve this purpose like a tutor can.
As a high school teacher and owner of a tutoring service, I have seen the power of individualized instruction, and the small number of studies that have been done in this area have agreed: Tutoring consistently increases student performance. According to one survey of the research literature (Fager 1996) tutoring:
- increases mastery of academic skills,
- improves self-esteem and self-confidence,
- improves students’ attitudes toward school,
- reduces dropout rates, truancies, and tardies,
- breaks down social barriers and creates new friendships, and
- provides emotional support and positive role models.
According to Jennifer Fager, tutoring provides individualized instruction, customized to students’ own learning styles, and an environment in which “students progress at their own pace” and receive “praise, feedback, and encouragement over what they might receive from one teacher.” Tutoring “maximizes time on task,” and students see skills “demonstrated instead of just verbalized.”
A review of 53 separate studies of the effectiveness of out-of-school programs for increasing performance of under-achieving students found that such group and individualized approaches led to significant improvements in student achievement (Lauer et al. 2004). A study of 146 Mississippi students in grades 3-6 found that tutored students improved more than non-tutored students (Goyette 2009), and another study of 244 German students found similar results (Mischo and Haag 2002). Finally, a study of 48 college students found that “tutored students scored lower than non-tutored students on the first classroom achievement test, however, tutored students scored higher than non-tutored students on the last two classroom achievement tests (Landrum and Chastain 1998).”
Of course, tutoring is not a magic pill that you take to improve your grades. The student must be engaged and willing to work hard with the tutor. In fact, I truly believe that the role of a teacher or tutor is actually quite small. The tutor does pass on knowledge and skills, but their most important role is that of a coach, challenging and encouraging students to challenge themselves. The tutor assists, but if the student succeeds, it is his or her own success. As owner of Knowledge Team In-Home Tutors, LLC, I have seen this to be true many times over.
Tutoring is ancient but not antiquated. It has a history spanning millennia, but is as timely and effective today as it was for Alexander the Great. It is as old as humanity, and will be a powerful tool as long as humans are humans, because it taps into our very nature. We are unique and powerful individuals.
Fager, Jennifer. Tutoring: Strategies for Successful Learning. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Lab., 1996.
Goyette, Patricia Marie. 2009. “Effectiveness of before and after-school tutoring programs as measured by the Mississippi Curriculum Test.” Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences 70(2-A): 455.
Landrum, R. Eric, and Garvin Chastain. 1998. “Demonstrating Tutoring Effectiveness within a One-Semester Course.” Journal of College Student Development 39: 502-506.
Lauer, P. A., Motoko, A., Wilkerson, S. B., Apthorp, H. S., Snow, D., & Martin-Glenn, M. The effectiveness of out-of-school-time strategies in assisting low-achieving students in reading beyond mathematics: A research synthesis. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, 2004.
Mischo, Christoph, and Ludwig Haag. 2002. “Expansion and effectiveness of private tutoring.” European Journal of Psychology of Education 17: 263-274