Since joining Method Test Prep in the fall of 2009, I’ve spent thousands of hours working with students, helping them prepare for the SAT, ACT, and a variety of mathematics, science, and English subject material in both private and course settings. Until this summer, the vast majority of that tutoring and course instruction had taken place in person: it was just me and the student(s) in the same room. But that changed this year.
In July, I moved off of Long Island, NY, Method Test Prep’s home base. This meant that either I would have to find students to work with in-person near my new home, or that I would have to continue with my Long Island-based students via our web-based tutoring platform. I chose to jump in and do the latter.
I freely admit that this made me worried. Though I had worked with many students online before––and with great success––I couldn’t help but have concerns about taking on a 100% online schedule. Would I miss the regular in-person interaction? Would I discover that the long-term SAT and ACT tutoring experience––from both my perspective and the students’ perspectives––simply wasn’t “the same” online? Would the “coldness” of a screen and a virtual whiteboard get old quickly? Would the effectiveness of my instruction drop? These concerns were shared by my students’ parents, some of whom were understandably skeptical that the web-based experience would fall short.
Two months in, I’m happy to report that my concerns (and just as importantly, those of my students and parents) have been assuaged. This was not without effort: I had to adjust several elements of my approach and style to accommodate fully online tutoring. There were a few keys.
1. I’ve found I’ve had to prompt students differently when discussing strategy and problem solving. Even though I can still physically see students (via our cameras), seeing their papers is a different story. Whereas I used to be able to look at their books and see what they did [or didn’t do] on the page, and often did ask them to explain their work, I now must depend solely on their verbal explanations. Interestingly, this gives me even greater insight into their thought processes. When students can “teach back” a problem, I know they understand it. When they’ve simply guessed or have used fuzzy logic and just happened to arrive at the correct answer, it becomes obvious quickly.
2. I’ve had to ensure students are writing down what I normally would have written for them. When I work with students in person, I’m a big fan of legal pads, which provide a large area for me or for the student to write down key strategies or what I call “extension” problems––questions that relate to another we’ve done and that demonstrate a broad technique. I always explicitly make sure students write down what’s important. This is another positive development: when students write something themselves, they tend to retain more information. Occasionally, when there’s a very complex problem or figure I’ve created, I’ll screenshot (or record) the session and mail the file to the student for reference.
3. I’ve had to make extra efforts to communicate with parents. An added benefit of in-person tutoring is that at the end of the session, I can see and chat with the parent. Sometimes this happens online, but more often than not, the student is in another room, or the parent may be busy or may not even be home. This means I’ve had to use the phone and email to stay in touch and keep parents in the loop. For whatever reason, this has led to some of the most frank and helpful discussions I’ve had with parents in years. It’s a great development to be able to say that my parents are more aware of their students’ progress and performance than ever.
ONLINE TUTORING IS GREAT
This brings me to a happy conclusion: I love tutoring online, and I’m confident that, given the right tutor with the right experience, it is just as productive and effective as in-person tutoring. Parents appreciate it, since the same level of service is available at the same price and without having to download any software; students appreciate it because of the convenience and because it truly is an excellent learning experience. There will of course be students for whom the online format isn’t right, but for a wide range of students looking to prepare for the SAT and ACT, it is an excellent option that can yield excellent results.