Tutorial ‘Technique’: Listening & Questioning

Two of the most important skills you will need as a tutor are listening and questioning. Experienced tutors recommend using open-ended questions to initiate discussion:

“How are you finding the different aspects of the course?
is usually more productive than
“Is everything OK?
to which the student may feel obliged to answer “yes” and no more.

It’s important to allow students enough time to explore for themselves the issues that are raised and to develop their own ideas about what to do.  It is  useful to spend a few minutes together setting an informal agenda for the meeting – ask them what are the key points that they would like to cover,

Try to avoid seeing yourself primarily as a source of information and advice, or you may jump in too soon to tell the student what you think they should do. Instead try to be more like a coach: avoid being overly directive,  attend closely to words and body language, and hold back your own comments or questions until the student has had time to say what is on their mind. (In Teams, you can mute your own mic while the student is speaking to help this).

After the student has finished speaking, repeat back the main points; this reassures them that you have been listening attentively and enables them to correct any misunderstandings.

Asking one or two questions can then open up the discussion and help them clarify the underlying issues.  For instance:

  • How do you feel about what is happening?
  • What are the options for you?
  • Tell me more about….
  • What would need to happen to make you feel better about….?
  • What would you like to change?

Depending on the topic, it may be now appropriate to suggest working through one of the planning resources together or to signpost the student towards more specialist support.  By the end of your discussion, help the student to agree some realistic action points and, if appropriate, a time for a further meeting to follow up on progress.

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