At the tutoring company where I used to work, we used to do audits of one another’s lessons, which was really helpful. We also occasionally did video audits, which were unbelieveably awkward to watch, but we learned so much. For example, I learned that I had the really awkward tendency to ask students questions about themselves and then, when they responded, I would say “oh.” Or, nothing, or turn away, or something. It was immediately obvious to me why I was doing this. I felt like I was supposed to “build rapport” with the student, so I was asking them questions, but I wasn’t really genuinely interested. I was being well meaning, but fake in my interactions. Anyway, it helped me learn that you really just have to be real with people. Try to cultivate genuine interest, but don’t just throw out questions and then show no interest in the answers.
But,t he main thing that came out of these audits, for me, was the gigantic amount of positive feedback that I give students. This was the main difference between me and other tutors. Auditors counted the instances of positive feedback, and all the other tutors were around 7-10 per lesson, but I was in the 30′s, and that was only counting specific feedback, the auditor had started not counting little things like “great, good” etc.
I’m not saying this was good, just an interesting thing to note. I was one of the most popular tutors there, I usually had a waitlist. Part of me wonders if this is just because people like to be praised, and I initially was conflicted about it. Because, I had always thought that I was a good tutor because I was good at explaining things. And, also, I have read studies that show that Americans rank pretty far down in math skills, but always we’re always number 1 when it comes to self-confidence.
I don’t want to feel like I’m contributing to a generation of coddled kids, people who have really high self-esteem, but no real skills and no real sense that they have to work hard.
But, I think that the difference lies in the type of praise that you give. Carol Dweck’s research on this shows that there is a big difference between praising people for process versus for intrinsic qualities.
If you praise someone by calling them “smart” for example, there’s nothing they can do about this. It actually leaves them powerless, and will hinder them in the future, because when they run into something hard, they may think that their smarts have run out. That’s actually what happened to me when I reached college level physics. I guess this is sort of a cliche, but up until that point math and science and school in general had been easy for me. I aced everything, and I understood it solidly. Then, when I got to physics, suddenly I was one of the only girls, and the math was really hard, and the concepts were hard, and the applications were even harder. And I thought “maybe I’ve gone as far as I can. Maybe everyone has a certain level they can achieve to and I’ve reached mine.” I almost switched majors, and during this struggle I completely lost touch with what I love about physics. It was hard, but I made it through with a 3.7 GPA, but the best thing that I got out of that was what Carol Dweck would call a “growth mindset.” I realized that success is about how hard you work, not how “smart” you are.
Usually, if something is harder for you than for others, it’s because you haven’t been as well prepared, or you’re in a tough situation, or you’ve just taken too big a jump. (trying to run when you’ve just learned to sit up.) But, people tend to think that if something is harder for them then they must be dumber, that they must have reached their limit.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter if this is true or not. All that matters is that if you have a growth mindset you are more likely to try to succeed. And if you try hard enough, you will probably succeed. I’m not saying that anyone can do anything, there are some things I am not at all suited to, but the important thing is to realize that you can get better. At anything. For example, I hate talking on the phone with new clients. It makes me really nervous, but I’m trying to see it as something I am improving at. And I am. Sloooowwwly. But, I’m no Kelly Kipoor. (sp?)
Anyway, I try to tailor my barrage of positive feedback to reflect this. I say things like “I like that you made the arrows on your diagram the right length.” Or, “that was a good idea to try using kinetic energy to solve the problem, do you know why that didn’t work well in this situation?”
And, it seems to work really well. It seems to help them increase their ability to stick with a problem that’s hard, and to stop saying things like “I’m bad at x” - that’s the worst, when they say that. I always point it out, and tell them they’re not allowed to say that anymore. They can say “I don’t know how to do x” or “I don’t like x” but not, “I’m bad at x”
I try to teach solely through positive feedback.
What do you think about positive feedback? Do you think kids have too much self-confidence? Do we worry about self-esteem too much?