We offer in-home middle school tutoring across the Portland area. At Tutor Portland, we believe that middle school tutoring boils down to a few key elements. One of the most critical elements of middle school tutoring is rapport. Middle school students sometimes get caught up in other things. They want to play video games or see friends, instead of listening and doing their work. This is understandable and natural. One big advantage tutors have over other educators is that they are an outside helper, who is often younger and hipper than a professor or teacher. This allows the tutor to engage in meaningful conversation with the pupil and develop a relationship that is about more than just mathematics or chemistry.
Middle school is a great time to start tutoring because it’s often when students’ learning plateaus and falls flat. Some prominent educators have described middle school as a “holding pen,” where we simply wait until students are older.
“American middle schools have become the place where academic achievement goes to die.”
— Cheri Yecke
This is obviously not acceptable. Middle school is not a “holding pen.” It is a valuable time to learn and build the foundation for success in high school and college. Here are some important ways we can help middle school students learn:
The Most Valuable Time During A Session Is The Relationship Building
Tutoring is about relationships. It’s about trust. We believe that the most valuable part of a tutoring session is when the tutor and student are engaging in small talk or deeper talk about something other than education. For example, when they are talking about their week, what’s going on at school, or what they’re upset/frustrated about. These conversations plant the seed for future learning. They are important for a few reasons. The first is that people are more likely to listen to and pay attention to people they like and trust.
Middle schoolers will want to work harder for a tutor who takes an interest in them. In addition, it also allows the tutor to play a bigger role in the pupil’s life. Maybe the student tells them that they are being bullied at school, or they have questions about how to deal with a difficult situation. They will only ask about these things if the tutor or educator seems genuinely interested in them as a person, not just a student or client. This is vitally important because many middle schoolers feel lost and lack trusted friends and mentors they can talk to.
Pay Attention And Provide Well-Reasoned Answers
Middle school students often find themselves stuck in the middle. They aren’t old or mature enough yet for high school, but they certaintly aren’t in middle school anymore. More than anything, they want some to listen to them and pay attention. They want people to offer them well-reasoned and carefully crafted questions. Middle schoolers have big questions about life. They want to know how math and science can be used. From time to time, show these children that the subjects they are studying are important in a variety of fields.
Set Measureable, Achievable Goals
The largest study on middle school education ever conducted has shown that the best middle schools do a few things right. One of the most impactful is helping students set well-defined, measurable goals. These can include standardized proficency tests, course grades, and exam scores. But you don’t have to wait for your middle school to start doing this. You can start at home. You can sit down with your child each term and write out a set of goals. This would likely be even more impactful if you wrote out a list of specific measurable goals, too. And it would be helpful for you as well!
Be Future Oriented
It’s very important to encourage middle school students to be future oriented. Show them how what they are doing now will pay off for them in the future. This is why it’s important to understand your pupil and connect with them on a person basis. The only way to influence, persuade, or encourage someone is if you know what they are already influence by. If, for example, you discover that your child or student really wants to become a doctor, then you can show them how learning algebra will vitally important in calculus, general chemistry, and physics.
Divide Homework and Projects Into Chunks
If your child’s teacher hasn’t done this already, then we would highly encourage you to help your middle schooler divide their homework and projects into chunks. For many middle school children, big homework assignments seem daunting and don’t have a clear middle, beginning, and end. Chunking assignments into smaller parts makes the project more story-like, and thus easier to visualize and ultimately accomplish. Creating smaller tasks is also more rewarding for a child because finishing things feels good. When kids have a larger number of tasks to finish, they will feel happier and more motivated as they progress through those tasks.
Be Sure To “Mini-Celebrate”
Whenever a middle school student completes a hard task you should mini-celebrate together. Give them a high-five. Stand up and jump around for a moment. Celebrate. Reward them for good behavior. This celebration will do a few important things. Firstly, it will weave positive emotions in with learning. This will make students associate good feelings with learning and/or tutoring. Secondly, it will reward them for their hardwork. This will encourage them to work harder in the future, especially as they are nearing the end of a “chunked” task.
Have High Expectations
There is a lot of research showing that our beliefs and expectations about other people have a big effect on them. The sudents who tutors, teachers, and parents expect to get better grades tend to actually perform better (even when other variables like ability and socioeconomic status are controlled for). Our beliefs about the potential of our pupil matter. Having high beliefs about a group of students has been shown to boost their average test scores and grades. Therefore, as adults engaged in the learning process, we have a duty and responsibility to hold our students in high regard and esteem.
Increase Motivation With A Learner-Centered Education Strategy
A learner-centered education strategy begins with an intense focus on the learner. The goal is to understand the learner’s desires, motivations, goals, abilities, and stengths. These qualities are then viewed within the context of the learning process itself. Once this data is available, it may be viewed in light of the topics and concepts being covered in the student’s courses. The idea is then for the tutor or teacher to act as a facilitator and guide in the student’s learning process. Then—with the connection that has been built—the educator may also give guidance and serve as a role model in other areas of life. This atmosphere and set-up results in students being more motivated and involved in their own learning. It creates a warm and welcoming learning environment.
Show Your Student Unconditional Positive Regard
Unconditional positive regard is an idea which is gaining ground in therapy settings. It’s also incredibly useful in a number of settings. There is a lot of evidence showing that unconditional positive regard leads to stronger relationships. So, what exactly is this “unconditional positive regard?” Essentially, it refers to accepting people exactly as they are—no judging or evaluating. The theory believes that everyone has the resources within them to make changes for their own life. We believe that this is true in tutoring and education. A tutor can provide tools, resources, specific tips, and instruction. However they can’t directly motivate a student. This must come from within the learner. The job of the tutor or teacher is to create the space necessary for this to take place. At Tutor Portland, we believe that space is created through the use of uncoditional positive regard (UPR).
Implementing this concept is especially critical for students who are in middle school. Middle school is a time of great change. Students’ bodies are changing. They are beginning to care about the opinions of their peers. These young students are starting to disobey their parents, focusing more on their peer group. They may also be struggling in school. This is why it’s so important that they have someone in their life who shows them UPR. This provides young students with confidence and a platform from which to grow and develop themselves.