Whether you are a new tutor or a veteran, we all can use tips for building warmth in a session. If done correctly, you will not only get consistently good scores for Standard 3.3, but you will also be more likely to have better student engagement. Most of these are very small things that make all the difference for the student, so start reading and give your sessions an extra punch of positivity!
1. Always find something positive in students’ work.
If they got something right, congratulate them and move on. If they got it mostly right, use congratulations to bookend commentary on what went wrong. Even if students get the problem totally wrong, there is still something to praise – the fact that they tried.
2. Keep the stakes low for the student.
a. This is practice. It is a safe space for students to try hunches, work out gaps, and above all, learn. If they are reluctant to try something and it looks like they likely have it, this is a good time to say that even a guess is fine; there is a good chance it will be correct.
b. Encourage the student’s effort, rather than their intelligence. This is the core of building a growth mindset. In the moment, it appears to matter little; encouragement is encouragement, right? However, in the long term, praising effort has been shown to make students more likely to keep trying challenging problems, while praising intelligence does the opposite. Since we want to help students continue to grow their skills, focusing on praising their effort helps ensure that they continue to grow and push themselves to new heights.
3. Think about how messages can be misconstrued.
For example, asking “Are you trying?” can imply we doubt the student is participating. Instead saying, “I’m assuming you’re working on this right now. If you’re stuck or done, would you please let me know?” makes it clear that the assumption is that they are currently working, and still extends an offer of help if the student wants it.
4. A smiley face helps with the occasional blunt message.
Having occasional blunt messages is entirely fine and including a smiley face helps make it clear that they are still meant in a friendly, rather than accusatory way.
5. No need to leave periods at the end of messages.
While it is a small thing, it greatly impacts the apparent degree of formality of the session and at times, periods and make a message feel rather cold. This helps to put the student at ease.
6. Make ‘no’ an option.
For instance, “Does that make sense, or not really?”, rather than just “Does that make sense?”, makes it clear that the student is allowed to not understand. This is a small change and the actual meaning of the sentence is exactly the same, but the connotation changes in a way that makes the student feel more accepted, which means that an intimidated student is more likely to speak up.
7. Joking does not tend to work out well.
A funny or amusing example or analogy is fine, but jokes are more likely than other messages to be confusing to the student and can even be off-putting.
8. Include excuses/reasons for the student.
This means they are less likely to feel the need to defend or make excuses themselves. Keeping the session moving and the student feeling at ease, rather than defensive, leaves a better impression. For instance, take a student who says that 43+22 is 75 and has done well over the course of the session. Rather than saying “Not quite. Please take another look!”, saying something like “Hmm, it looks like you might have added wrong, or there could be a typo. Would you please look again?” pre-excuses the error, keeping the session moving.
9. If the student corrects something at the same time you point out an error, acknowledge it.
It can be helpful to add a friendly comment if you send information it turns out the student already knows, such as in instances when you simultaneous send messages. Saying something like, “Nevermind, looks like you’d already found the error!” encourages the student’s effort and makes it clear you are listening to them.
10. Say please.
This is another minor one, but adding a “please” when asking the student to try the problem or answer a question helps immensely.
11. Make it clear that you are willing to wait.
If a student is working on something or thinking something through, saying something like “I’ll be patient!” can help enormously.
Our own TQM Helen Herring put together this comprehensive list of tips that she herself keeps in mind while tutoring. Do you have any tips of your own for building warmth with students? Please share them in the comments!