I began tutoring as a volunteer assignment in high school, later being promoted to an advisory block teacher my senior year. While a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I continued to tutor other students, mainly in physics and mathematics. Eventually, this lead me to a position as a TA and lab technician in Phys 406: Physics of Music Lab. In total, I have tutored for about 8 years.
My favorite facet of tutoring is exploring the different ways in which students learn a topic. An explanation that resonates with 90% of students, may not clarify things for the other 10%. Part of being a good tutor requires me to identify many alternate routes to explanation, should the more common ones not work well. This interests me greatly, as it broadens my own understanding of the topics in math and physics I find so interesting. An added bonus is being able to help someone meet their classroom goals.
I recently earned a B. S. in Physics with Distinction in the Curriculum from U of I at Urbana-Champaign with a Minor in Mathematics. I also took enough math courses out of my own interest that I was a mere 12 hours away from completing a double degree in Mathematics. Students preparing for AP examinations may want to know I received a 4 in AP Physics B, a 5 in AP Calculus BC (5 in the AB subscore), and a 5 in AP Chemistry.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Bachelors, Physics
ACT Composite: 31
ACT English: 30
ACT Math: 33
ACT Reading: 30
ACT Science: 30
AP Chemistry: 5
AP Calculus AB: 5
AP Calculus BC: 5
AP Physics B: 4
AP English Language: 4
College Computer Science
High School Computer Science
High School Physics
Special & General Relativity
Technology and Computer Science
What is your teaching philosophy?
I feel a student does not know, until they can do. Thus, my approach is problem centered. There are 4 steps I walk a student through. 1. Identify: The student and I decide what concepts the problem revolves around. We define any jargon and spell out our goal clearly. 2. Write it down: I get the student to rephrase the question in the language relevant to the course (equations, mathematical notation, pseudo-code, etc.). 3. Do: This part is the actual work. Simplifying equations, solving x, writing code, etc. Usually after walking through steps 1 and 2, this step is the easiest. 4. Question the Answer: Once the work is done, I ask the student to explain their answer. Why does it make sense? What is the answer saying about the problem? How do we know it is the correct answer? Depending on the student and subject, more or less emphasis is given to each of the 4 steps. Regardless of the student, I have found this method to be successful at not only explaining a question, but leaving the student with a deeper understanding of the subject.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
On the first session, it is most important to get to know the person. I ask the student about their classroom goals and the obstacles they're facing in reaching them. Next, I will have my student pick a problem they recently struggled with and ask for their explanation of it. Based on their response, I assess the problem they're having. After identifying the mistake in their view of things, I can correct their perspective and work. I approach the student this way because I want to address the root cause of their misunderstanding. In the long run, the student will save a lot of time if I address the core disconnect instead of just remedying this week's misunderstandings.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
For a student to become an independent learner, I need to teach her or him to think like I do: as a tutor. If a student can learn my process in helping him or her, then self help becomes straightforward. One way I try to foster independence is by narrating my thoughts as a tutor as I teach. I will say things such as, "when I look at this problem, I ask myself 'what are the core concepts at play?'" By doing this, I am simultaneously pointing my students to both the immediate questions answered and the method by which all questions are answered.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Confidence is the foundation of motivation. Until a student feels comfortable doing their work, they likely will not feel excited about doing it. To keep a student motivated, I first make sure they feel the answer is within their reach. There are many ways of doing this. I can point to their previous successes, milestones in their development, or commending them for their correct approach in problems they ultimately made a small mistake in. Motivation, ultimately, will come with growth (and a bit of encouragement).
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
It would greatly depend on what the difficulty is. Often, in this situation I find the student is struggling with concepts more fundamental than the problem is addressing. In this case, I will often walk the student through simpler questions that explore the component ideas of the original problem.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
I would try to point out some fantastic or mind bending phenomena that was discovered thanks to the subject in question. Examples include black holes in physics, the story of Gauss as a child quickly summing 1+2+3+...+100 in math, etc.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
When a student finishes a problem they were struggling on for awhile, we'll role play, and I'll have them explain it to me.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
After I've explained a concept, I build student confidence by drilling them with relevant problems. By doing the work themselves, confidence is sure to follow.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
I ask them directly as well as study their difficulties in attempting homework. On a first session, I will ask students what topics have been difficult for them recently. Then, by watching them work, I determine what concepts that student is shaky on.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
I adapt my tutoring right down to the words the student uses. I try to match my language to my student's in an attempt to explain things on their own terms. Once things are moving along well, I slowly map our casual way of talking into the classroom jargon. Adaption also occurs at a higher level. I try to remember what types of explanations work well for students and what concepts they are particularly strong in. Then, I relate new material back to familiar concepts or previously successful explanations.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
If I still have course notes or textbooks from a course I previously took that I am now tutoring, I keep them on hand. For courses with many formulae to memorize (such as calculus), I will bring flashcards.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
First, I try to determine if jargon (key terms) is confusing them. Second, I try to determine if a concept is. In the former case, the solution is as simple as explaining the word's definition. In the latter case, my approach is to explain that concept using metaphors (for example, pictures or comparisons to familiar content).
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
I think it's best to let the student do most of the talking, in the beginning. If the student is struggling with something, rather than immediately jump in, I'll will ask them to narrate their thought process to me. This ends up saving time because when a new student does this, I'm learning how they think as well as what content they're struggling with.