Differentiated instruction has become an increasingly hot topic in classroom education over the past decade. Research has shown that students are more successful when they are offered choice and agency in their own learning. Students then have the ability to make learning and assessment decisions that are best suited to their individual needs and learning styles. Applying these best practices to tutoring can yield similar successes. Using student choice to improve tutoring instruction can be an effective way to improve both your practice and your students’ learning.
What Choices Should You Offer?
When planning ways to infuse student choice, start by assessing the types of activities and interactions that make up a typical session with the student in question.
• Are there different ways of attaining the same ends?
• What am I doing to measure growth?
How Can You Present Choice to a Student?
An easy way to start introducing more choice and student agency in your sessions is to present the student with an “Activity List” for each session (sometimes referred to as an “Activity Menu”). Include the elements that need to be accomplished by the end of the session and an estimate for the amount of time each should take. This list can include things like homework help, skill practice activities, and instructional lessons. Present the student with the list and have them decide the order they would like to tackle the activities. In some cases, you may need to mandate one element prior to another, but there can still be at least a portion of your session that is guided by the student’s preference.
You can take the “Activity List” idea a step further by offering different options that accomplish the same goal. For example, in the skill practice portion of a session with an elementary student, give the student a choice of several different practice worksheets or games to try. The student may only get to one or two of the options, but the options they complete will have been driven by their own choices. Unselected choices can be left behind for extra practice or utilized for future sessions.
For higher level students, consider making a multi-session “Activity List” with the aim being to accomplish goals within a set time period. Students can then choose to engage with work in the ways and time that they feel prepared to do so and could even have some directives for what work to focus on in between meetings.
Ultimately, getting to the point where students can be involved in the creation of the “Activity List” themselves can be a positive way to build both habits-of-mind and intrinsic motivation. Students who can articulate what they know, what they don’t know, and what they need to know are operating at a much higher level than students who are just going through the motions of completing work to be compliant.
As with any major shift in your tutoring practice, be sure to consult with your student’s parent before implementing any major pedagogical change. Be prepared to explain the benefits of a differentiated and choice-driven approach. If they are resistant, remember, they have the right to request that you maintain the status quo.