Step Two: Provide Lots of Support
I’ve been using my experiences with a painful pinched nerve in my shoulder as a metaphor to talk about tutoring as well as relationship dynamics in general.
By the time I arrived in Dr. Joe’s office my right arm was so painful I didn’t believe I could move it at all. He encouraged me to try lifting it just a bit, in various positions. All the while he supported the weight of my arm in his hands, taking off the pressure, allowing for as much mobility as possible.
Not only did Dr. Joe take the actual weight off my arm by holding it up for me, he also took away a lot of my fear. Dr. Joe provided support so that I could dare to try to move my arm, and it turned out I was capable of more movement than I knew.
Providing support and easing fear is also a huge part of my job as a tutor.
The psychologist Lev Vygotsky coined the phrase “scaffolding” to describe what he saw as the essence of effective tutoring. The tutor provides support and structure so that the learner can do more than what she can accomplish on her own. (Vygotsky called the gap between what a learner can do independently and what she can do with assistance the Zone of Proximal Development).
Reading instruction is an obvious example of scaffolding; the beginning reader moves through the text, receiving help from the expert reader only when necessary. In this way, the novice can handle harder texts than she could by herself, and she’ll soon grow into her next independent reading level.
Tutoring is an ancient technique grounded in the master-apprentice relationship which for most of human history was the primary way people learned new skills. It’s not surprising that classroom instruction often needs to be augmented by one-on-one teaching. Every student is different and will sometimes need educational support that is tailored just for her.
Sometimes parents and teachers are afraid of spoiling kids with too much positive attention, but I’m not advocating empty praise or any lowering of expectations. Effective scaffolding helps kids identify and use their strengths while supporting them as they shore up weak areas. Even a small dose of the right amount of support and encouragement can empower students to progress rapidly.
Cousins, L. (2010). Step Two: Provide Lots of Support. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 19, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/2010/01/step-two-provide-lots-of-support/