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Behind the Screens with Helen Companion
Tutor Insights into Student Success
At Tutor.com, our greatest assets are our rigorously vetted and highly qualified tutors. We are thrilled to spotlight our talented tutors and share their insights into student success and online learning.
Tell us about yourself. Why did you join the Tutor.com team?
Writing and learning have been constant passions throughout my life, both personally and professionally. We live in a digital world, and a digital world is a written one, so I view written communication as something that can help all of us be more successful personally and professionally. I started tutoring professionally in college to support myself and my family and gain teaching experience, but my interest in tutoring and teaching started long before that. Even as a young child, I loved to read and write, and I felt a compulsion to help others who were struggling with something I found so rewarding and interesting, which naturally led to a career in teaching English and writing. I've been published in many genres, from technical writing to peer-reviewed scholarship to poetry, and many other genres in between. Currently, I'm an English professor at a local college. For Tutor.com, I’ve tutored most subjects related to English, career help, and student success, and I’ve worked with students from about fourth grade all the up to post-graduate level. I’m also a Quality Specialist for Tutor.com, which means that I train and develop my team of tutors as well as create resources for both tutors and students.
How do you support and guide students in setting and reaching their academic goals?
I want my students to know that their goals are important to me. At the beginning of sessions, I ask the student about the assignment they’re working on, and how I can help them with it. Then, I paraphrase those goals—and articulate a benefit of achieving them—before we start working on the problem at hand. Reflecting their goals back to them shows them that I’m listening, creating a session specifically for them, and that their goals are my goals. Mentioning a benefit of achieving the goals creates motivation and shows them that I’m there to help. Throughout the session, I continue to focus on the benefit of realizing their goal. For instance, if a student wants me to write a sentence for them, I might encourage them to try themselves and say something like,
that way, it’ll be in your words, or,
that way, you’ll know how to do this next time. (Both of those outcomes are benefits of mastering the skill.)
If they seem resistant, I’ll try to build their confidence and remind them that I’m there to help. All of this makes the session more than just an assignment; it’s about empowering them to develop a skill that will benefit them in the present and the future.
How do you address and support students who may be struggling or facing obstacles on their path to success?
Empathy is crucial. We all struggle with things from time to time, and we all need help sometimes. I’ll often tell students that I know that what we’re doing is hard, or even that I struggled with the same concept at one time. That seems to make them feel more comfortable and more willing to risk making a mistake. Most of my sessions are focused on writing skills, and I like to mention that everyone needs a second pair of eyes sometimes; professional writers are the one group of people you’d expect to be able to produce perfect writing, but they have an entire industry—editing—to help them improve their craft. If they need that extra help, then the rest of us do too, and that’s what I’m there for.
Building confidence is also crucial; often, it’s not about whether the student can tackle the problem at hand, but about whether they think they can tackle it. If we can break an overwhelming task into smaller chunks and ask the right questions to lead the student to the answer, resistance and defensiveness fade away, and students are often surprised by how quickly they can learn and how much they can accomplish.
How do you incorporate personalized instructional techniques to cater to the unique needs and learning styles of individual students?
Effective tutoring is just as much about asking the right questions as it is about knowing the answers. At the beginning of each session, I always ask the student how they’re doing, what the assignment is, and what type of help they need from me. All three of those tell me important things about how best to adjust my approach for that student. Questions about the assignment tell me about what’s being assessed; questions about what they need help with give me information about the student’s self-awareness and priorities; and questions about how the student is doing tell me about their state of mind.
And even a seemingly insignificant answer can tell me a lot; if a student waits a minute or two to answer, then I can guess that student may be distracted or not fully engaged, and I need to think about strategies to show the student how what we’re working on is relevant to them right now.
Ultimately, the questions I ask the student are only part of the picture; there are also the questions I need to ask myself. If an approach that I’m using doesn’t seem to be working with that student, then it may be time to explain the concept more fully, choose an approach that leads the student more directly to the answer, or think of different questions to ask that student. If a student is struggling, I need to ask myself about root causes: Is this a matter of a lack of confidence or lack of knowledge, and what information can I find in the session to determine how to respond? Asking those kinds of questions ensures that I’m choosing the best approach for that student at that time and helps the student to feel more confident in my teaching approach as well as in their ability to tackle the problem at hand.
One of the reasons I’m proud to work for Tutor.com is that I view us as a sort of academic Robin Hood.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working with students as an academic tutor?
One of the reasons I’m proud to work for Tutor.com is that I view us as a sort of academic Robin Hood. Tutoring, traditionally, has been a luxury of those who could afford it, and as someone who grew up in poverty in an economically disadvantaged part of the country, I’ve seen far too many people who were unable to achieve their goals simply because of the social class they were born in. By partnering directly with institutions, such as public libraries and schools, Tutor.com is leveling the playing field and making high-quality academic assistance available to those who need it most. It’s incredibly rewarding to feel that I’m helping those individuals to cultivate their voice—and in doing so, promoting a culture of true inclusion and equity for future generations.