Today’s Guest Post comes courtesy of Ravi Bhatia – an amazing writer, internet marketer and tutor based out of LA. I so enjoy his writing style and his content matter is so relevant. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spotlight him this week. Enjoy!
After graduating from college last June, I was lucky to obtain a great part time job. It pays well, allows me to set my own hours and gives me the freedom to invest as much (or as little) time and energy as I want.
I work as an SAT tutor in Los Angeles. The company I tutor for is similar to Princeton Review and Kaplan. This company distinguishes itself from its competitors by creating its own niche market, directed at parents who can afford individualized tutoring and care enough to invest their money into it.
Because my tutoring caters to a relatively wealthy sector of the population and because I tutor students individually, there is nothing to distract me from the simple goal of teaching. No red tape, no lack of supplies, no administrative support, and no students texting in the back of the classroom. I can tailor lesson plans to my students’ specific needs in order to maximize their potential. Okay, you caught me; that last line might have been a sales pitch directly from my tutoring company, but the sentiment still proves true.
By teaching in a vacuum, I’ve learned some ways to deal with high school students and make standardized testing a less stressful process. Implementing these techniques in an overcrowded classroom might be a discussion for another post, but I can at least provide a few general tips for teaching towards standardized tests.
It takes wrong to be right:
Growing up, gold stars were given to students who got things right, and red pens were reserved for the kids who got things wrong.
I hated those red pens. Most children do. In fact, most children are afraid to get things wrong, fearing reproof for their mistakes. Come to think of it, most adults experience similar insecurities every day.
If your students are answering every question correctly, they are not learning or growing. In this scenario, you, as the teacher, are guilty of not pushing your students to their maximum potential. Your students will typically grow quiet when they are afraid of answering incorrectly. It is your job to detect this kind of hesitancy and encourage these students to work towards the correct answer, even if it entails making some mistakes along the way.
Be straightforward with your students when they’re wrong. If they argue that they’re right (some will), avoid arguing matches and giving away answers. Be firm and ask questions that get your students thinking. Let the students draw their own conclusions. This strategy works particularly well with the SAT. The nationwide standardized test may have had its share of controversies over the past few decades, but its multiple choice format (in which only one in five answer choices for each question is correct) is universal. Students can expect to face multiple choice questions on the LSAT, the GMAT, the MCAT, and even the Optometry Exam (yes, even brilliant optometry students struggle with multiple choice questions in their prep programs).
Kids are tougher than you would think, and they appreciate being treated like adults. If you say they’re wrong but treat them with respect (important note: respect is different than “sucking up”), they’re likely to respond in the same manner. Even if your students are used to being coddled, by establishing a firm tone and a high standard from the very first day, your students will gradually become accustomed to learning from their mistakes and will take the learning process less personally.
Also, if you must mark mistakes on your students’ tests, do so with green or blue pens as opposed to red. Studies show red ink may lower students’ scores. I personally prefer green; it’s very Zen.
If you’re a tutor or a teacher, you’re probably intelligent and knowledgeable about the subject you teach. While that’s great, knowledge isn’t everything. Being able to ask the right questions is.
You might be surprised to know that hardly anybody I’ve tutored has asked me for my SAT scores. This is because they don’t care, and for the most part, my scores don’t really matter. Even if I knew nothing about the SAT, I could teach effectively by asking the right questions.
In my first few months of tutoring, I made plenty of mistakes. Despite my novice approach, my students fared well. While I wasn’t yet 100% confident in my tutoring abilities, I found by asking questions and letting the students put the pieces together, I rarely had to explain the correct answers. The students found the answers themselves, while learning invaluable problem-solving skills.
Asking questions forces students to engage with the material at hand. The Socratic Method may be “Teaching 101” and the standard method of teaching at law schools throughout the country, but very few teachers in my life have employed this strategy successfully. Why is this so?
Though I have little experience leading classroom discussions, I understand that it is more difficult to ask questions and force students to think critically than it is to plow through a syllabus or a Powerpoint with lecture notes. Still, it’s not impossible. Some of the best lectures I had in college were discussion-based, in rooms with over a hundred students.
Take the extra step to frame questions around the answer you know is correct. If a student is quiet, don’t jump in before he can answer. Wait patiently, be calm, and let the student do his own learning. It’s your job to provide the dots. It’s the student’s job to connect them.
You Are Who You Are
The best teachers I’ve had were the ones who were authentically themselves, who treated their students with respect, and who expected the same from them.
Fresh out of party school, it is easier for me to relate to high school students than it might be for older teachers. High school juniors and I share the same generation. We’ve experienced the same cultural shifts, the same technological advancements, and the same daily tribulations. As much as I hate to admit it, there is some truth to the whole millennial thing.
However, I always think about what types of teachers I responded to as a kid. Not all of them were young. Not all of them were “cool,” like my tutoring company suggests that I am to prospective parents. So what was it that I liked about my favorite teachers?
The teachers I respected and enjoyed the most were the ones that seemed to be authentically themselves – the ones that described the tiny dots on the chalkboards as portals to another world or the ones who shared silly tidbits about their lives outside of the classroom. These teachers didn’t flaunt their authority if they didn’t have any (although some teachers just assume authority), and they definitely didn’t pretend I was any better than I was.
Students respect honesty and authenticity. I play the young card, because I am young – but imagine if I still called students “dude” as a 40-year-old.
In the End…
I’ve still got a lot to learn about tutoring and teaching. Hell, in ten years from now, I may realize I’m wrong about everything. I’m just hanging on to what works for me right now. What works for you?
Ravi Bhatia works full-time in internet marketing, but tutoring on the side keeps his job in perspective. Follow him on Twitter @rbhatia613