By now, any readers of this blog (anyone out there?!) might have figured out that I am a Writing Center intern who does writing intern-y things when I’m not busy writing my monthly blog post. One such thing is having writing conferences with fellow students quite frequently. It’s a gratifying experience, reading and providing feedback on other students’ essays every day. I suppose you could classify it as peer tutoring. But I also have a job tutoring in our Academic Resource Center outside of writing center hours, true peer tutoring, and I’ve gained some insight from that experience that I would like to share. I never thought being a peer tutor would be such a rewarding job, but here I am. Here goes:
- Student perspectives are different
Teachers are experts at teaching the content in their class, but I bet that history teacher of yours hasn’t actually taken a history class in a few years, decades, or even centuries. Conversely, most students are experts on how to master not only the subject material, but also how to approach the work, what big ideas to focus on, and how to balance the class with other classes. While students are legally required to attend classes and listen to the teacher’s way of explaining concepts, sometimes a student doesn’t see it the same way, and it just doesn’t make any sense. Peer tutor to the rescue! As someone who has taken a class on the subject matter before, and presumably has had a chance to successfully synthesize the material, peer tutors are often able to explain concepts differently to students, resulting in a higher level of understanding. It’s difficult to explain the feeling when someone I’m tutoring has that “aha” moment, right when I’m about to run out of ways to explain a concept.
- As a tutor, I’ve learned many new things
Last week, I was tutoring a student who needed help with factoring polynomials. While factoring polynomials is a technique I use frequently in math, I don’t actually remember how I was taught to do it. It got to the point where I had to factor so many polynomials that I was intuitively able to narrow the possibilities down to a few, and then guess-and-check. However, I couldn’t exactly gift this student my intuition. So I asked him how his teacher taught the class to factor polynomials. “Well,” he told me, “we’re supposed to draw an X, and write the b term in the top of the X and the c term in the bottom of the X.” And just like that, this student had unknowingly added a tool to my bag: how to teach future students to factor.
- Students aren’t as intimidated
Over time, I’ve come to realize that a lot of my peers are reluctant to ask their teachers for help when some small detail doesn’t make sense. After all, it can be intimidating to ask a teacher, the same one who is grading your assignments, something that might not even matter. The perceived cost sometimes simply exceeds the reward. But what about that peer tutor, the one who’s sitting right there doing nothing? I’m not grading anyone’s papers, and I’m relatively harmless, if I do say so myself. Just last week, someone came up to me and asked why combustion reactions are called combustion reactions as we were working on a problem involving one. In chemistry class, all the student needed to know is what the products and reactants of a combustion reaction were, so they didn’t feel like that question was necessary. However, in the (very long) time I had to tutor and converse with them, I was able to answer such questions borne out of curiosity.