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This is a common issue that many tutors face – how to get a student to do work you’ve set them in between lessons. Here are some tips to help you approach the problem:

* Get a student to make their own notes (for example, using mind maps) during your lessons as this will help give them the confidence to start learning independently.

* Make all of the resources that you use in lessons readily available to your student for independent work. Teach them that learning tools (such as dictionaries and calculators) belong to everyone and are there to be used as needed. This way you are letting your student know that you trust them to problem solve and to gather the resources they need for themselves.

* Show them the methods you employ when you study such as sticking post-it notes around your room/toilet/kitchen; planning to finish a task before watching a favourite tv programme; setting an alarm to go off after 30 minutes – take a break – and then going back to it.

* Be realistic about how much work the student will actually be able to do for you: a 15/30 minute task will hopefully not impinge too much on their school work, but a 2-hour piece might just tip them over the edge.

* Talk to them about their study schedule and pinpoint when they would be able to complete the work for you.

* Provide students with good examples so they have a clear idea of what they need to do. For example, outline how to tackle a maths problem step by step or give them a fail-safe guide on how to write an essay arguing a point of view.

* Text or email them a few days after your lesson to either ask if they’ve done the work, or whether they are on track to complete it. (Lucy used to send postcards to one of her 11+ students.)

* Make sure to provide feedback on all homework given to you. This will show the student you know the work is important and improve the student’s confidence when working by themselves; they will also start developing the reflective aspect of independent learning.

If all these methods fail, then a parent or carer might have to be brought on board. Approach the issue by saying that you feel the student needs to do some work on their own and could the parent/carer help by creating a quiet space/moment for the child to do this? You don’t want to tell tales on your student but if working independently is a key factor in the student’s progress, getting the help of a parent or carer is important.

We would welcome any of your own tips and experience as this is a thorny issue that won’t go away.

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2 thoughts on “Tutor Tips: How do you encourage students to do work in between lessons?

  1. Work between lessons has never been a problem – perhaps language students (and uni students) are more self-directed. I have always hated mind maps – it seems to duplicate the work !!! If they want to do “homework” they can, if they don’t, they don’t have to. They have enough to do for their top schools and parents do not usually want the tutor to give them extra work.

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  2. I think you’ve been lucky, Emilce! Most tutors really struggle with this. Even if the student or parent might not want it, a tutor might feel that it’s essential the student does some work for them. Reminding the brain of a fact a few days after it’s first learnt means that the brain then remembers it for much longer so it’s always really beneficial for students to review what they cover with us. Do your language students not paste their kitchen/toilet walls with post-it notes listing useful vocabulary?!?

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