Tutoring center allows students to learn collaboratively

April 1, 2018 — by Patrick Li and Jeffrey Xu

At first glance, the tutoring center, which is open from the start of tutorial into the late afternoon and is located within the library, looks more like a hangout spot, with a noisy environment usually filled with around 20 students socializing rather than a quiet and focused one-to-one tutoring space.

With students shouting across the room, lounging on couches and relaxing on their phones, it’s hard to see how any students are being productive. The efficiency of one-to-one tutoring in such a distracting environment seems questionable at best.

While it is true that tutor-student pairs often find it hard to conduct lessons, it would be false to say that the tutoring center isn’t still a learning environment. Students are learning as a  collaborative, social group.

In this setup, instead of the traditional one-way learning from tutor to learner, students discuss problems and concepts with each other, using one of the many mobile whiteboards.

An active user of the tutoring center is sophomore Christopher Feng, who often studies with friends there, especially on days when he has a test.

“Although it might not seem like it at first, it’s a friendly and productive environment to work in,” Feng said. “In my opinion, discussing math concepts with a small group of friends is more effective than having a single tutor.”

Volunteer Sunita Bal, who supervises the center, said the tutoring available has greatly helped students to solidify their understanding in a multitude of subject areas, from math and science to English and history.

While one-to-one tutoring may be better for learning new concepts, collaborative academic discussion is certainly more effective as a review session right before an important test.

One of the founding principles of the tutoring center is the idea that tutoring can improve a student’s metacognition. Metacognition is the understanding of a person’s own thought process. Rather than simply watching another person solve problems and trying to copy them, students are prompted to ask the question of why something is true and what significance a concept may have. This creates a thoughtful discussion among classmates and allows them to dive deeper.

According to Bal, through working with other peers and discussing the significance of concepts learned in class, a student better understands the way they work through a problem, and thus gains a deeper understanding on the subject at hand.

Students learn better when working in a collaborative environment as opposed to a lecture-style setting. In a study done by Learning Forward, 90 percent of teachers reported the collaboration was beneficial and boosted their students’ scores.

Although the tutoring center is not a replacement for the classroom, it certainly helps students catch up with their learning and, more importantly, internalize it.

Biology and Anatomy/Physiology teacher Kristofer Orre, who helped launch and supervise the center last year, said that everyone has a different way that they learn best, which is what led him to try to create an open environment.

“I wanted the tutoring center to fit as many different learning modalities as possible,” Orre said. “It’s this cool mix of collaboration space, peer-to-peer tutoring and mini-student center. It’s a good place to work collaboratively, and things are comfortable enough for students to work and be with their friends.”


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