7 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Tutoring Program

1. Make time for tutoring.

Imagine if your chemistry class were only 1 hour a week— you probably wouldn’t learn much chemistry, right? Tutoring works the same way; in fact, in many cases, tutoring involves breaking habits, which can require a lot more practice than learning something for the first time.

For that reason, an optimal tutoring program isn’t just the time you spend with your tutor. Take a look at your schedule and try to map out 2-4 hours, outside of session time, to:


Academic Support Test Preparation Organizational Coaching
  • Make a good faith effort on coursework before you meet with your tutor
  • Review notes you took during your previous session(s)
  • Work practice materials as necessary
  • Review notes you took during your previous session(s)
  • Work practice materials
  • Look over and reflect on what you missed
  • Work at least 1-2 full-length practice tests leading up to your real test
  • Update your planner daily
  • Sort your school papers daily
  • Reflect on/journal about organizational lapses
  • Gather/audit materials for your organizational coaching sessions


2. Pay attention to yourself.

The ability to think about your own thinking is called metacognition. It’s one of the most important tools for learning, and it starts with understanding that there’s not just one way to miss a question on a test and not just one way to fail a class.

After you finish an assignment (or get a test or paper back from your teacher, or have an organizational plan fall through) ask yourself questions like:

  • Are there any patterns in the types of question I missed or the types of mistake I made?
  • Was there something about my working environment— like where I was sitting or what was going on around me or what time of day it was— that made this assignment easier or harder?
  • What worked well for me, that I want to make sure to implement again?
  • What, if anything, do I want to do differently the next time I work a similar assignment? (Be specific.)
  • Is there anything I should do/review/ask my tutor about before I do a similar assignment? Is there one particular difficulty I keep coming up against that I want to talk over with my tutor?

Part of your tutor’s job is to pay attention to you and figure out where your obstacles are— but, at the end of the day, you’re the only one with a front-row seat. By reviewing your mistakes and taking the time to start thinking about what your specific challenges are, it’s going to be much easier for you and your tutor to address those challenges.

3. Be willing to face what you find difficult.

My first day of college, a professor told my Italian 101 class that the greatest impediment to learning a new language is vergogna—“shame.” In order to become fluent in a language, you have to be willing to make mistakes, to imitate accents that probably sound ridiculous, to have people laugh and correct your grammar, to tell people that you’re sorry but you don’t understand them.

Needless to say, vergogna doesn’t just affect the learning of languages. You can easily get so wrapped up in avoiding the things you’re not good at that you never give yourself a chance to be better at them. Furthermore, failing is one of the most valuable things we can do in life. Your tutor can help you to understand and hopefully avoid repeating old mistakes— but making new mistakes is how we learn.

4. Be honest with your tutor.

Sometimes it’s not shame that holds us back but a desire to be polite. When something is our fault, we want to keep the consequences from affecting other people; if we feel like we “should have” understood something, we don’t want to make it anyone else’s problem.

Maybe your tutor is in the middle of an explanation, and you start thinking about what time you need to leave the office to pick up your sister, and then you’re thinking about whether you need to put gas in the car, and suddenly you realize you don’t have any idea what your tutor just said. They say, “Does that make sense?” Desperate not to reveal that you weren’t tuned in, you say yes.

But that is not what your tutor wants.

Your tutor’s job is to help you learn, and if they have a false idea of what you know (or, worse, a false idea of how much you’re absorbing in-session), it’s hard for them to work effectively. And since that’s not what either of you want, it definitely doesn’t count as polite.

5. No, really— be honest with your tutor.

Maybe you don’t have time to do 2 hours of homework. Maybe your tutor keeps explaining things with sports metaphors that don’t make any sense to you, or they ask you to “look over your missed questions” but you don’t really know what that means. What works for some people doesn’t work for others, and your tutor may not know it doesn’t work for you unless you tell them that.

In other words, advocate for yourself. One of the biggest potential benefits of tutoring is that you get to take a more active role in directing your learning than you do in a typical classroom environment— but only if you speak up.

6. Do your own (best) work.

Sometimes being honest isn’t about what you do or don’t understand— it’s about what you didn’t get done, despite your best intentions.

Sometimes the week just didn’t go like you planned, and you left yourself only 30 minutes to do 2 hours of homework. Rather than rush through it like a maniac and do poor, unreflective work— or, so much worse, copy the answers instead of attempting the problems— you should do a good job on what you can get to and then tell your tutor you ran out of time for the rest. That’s life. Your tutoring homework is important, but your tutor also understands that you have other things going on in your life, and sometimes tutoring gets crowded out. It’s so much easier for your tutor to recover from that than to recover from bad data.

7. Be willing to try new things.

Some students believe all they need to do in order to improve is practice— and practice is important, but not if you don’t reflect on that practice and learn from the mistakes you make. Improvement is almost never the result of luck or magic. If you don’t change what you’re doing, you shouldn’t expect different results.

Moreover, most students have to experiment a little to find the approaches that work best for them. If you try something and it doesn’t work, reflect on what you liked or didn’t like, talk to your tutor, try something else. Most importantly, stay positive and don’t give up.


By Erin Webb, Open Door Education Master Tutor & Co-Owner

Books in front of a chalkboard

Yes, We Can: Growth Mindset as a Tool for Successful Learning

In her 2006 groundbreaking book Mindset, Carol Dweck, PhD, lays out her theory of “growth mindset,” a radical concept that talent and intelligence may be inborn to an extent, but can also be built. The book was updated and re-released in 2016, and her theory has recently gained popularity among family counselors, corporate trainers, and educational consultants.

Central to Dweck’s theory is her rejection of the idea that intelligence and talent are “fixed,” or static. She rejects assumptions we all make about our abilities, like whether we are good at math, playing an instrument, or performing athletically. She relies on examples like Michael Jordan, who was cut from his middle school basketball team, to show how countless hours of work combined with the conviction that skills can be built will result in extraordinary accomplishment. The cases she cites share a significant commonality: each highly accomplished individual had family members, coaches, and/or mentors who believed in and modeled a growth mindset.

What does this mean to parents and tutors?

Dweck explains that parents’ communication style is essential to changing how their children approach learning. For example, praising children’s abilities as opposed to their accomplishments or hard work creates abstract standards that are actually harmful. If parents repeatedly tell high-achieving children that they are smart, they will likely grow into teenagers and adults who reject challenges—held back and sometimes even paralyzed by fear of failure—and remain in arenas and at levels where they are confident they will not fall short. On the other hand, those children who are told that hard work builds abilities accept new challenges with enthusiasm and without the need to prove, time and time again, that they are gifted. Children who do not fear failure, but see it as a learning experience, actually end up more skilled, and with broader experiences.

In standardized test prep, tutors explain that almost every missed question in practice work is an opportunity for a right answer on the actual test. Think about it: students learn through their mistakes where to focus their time practicing, as well as how to recognize tempting incorrect answers. Sometimes this learning results in new mastery of material, and other times in additional test-taking skills, but the result is always positive. In contrast, students who criticize themselves for missing answers on a practice test and see no benefit to making mistakes establish negative self-talk that is counter-productive.

Parents can model “growth mindset” at home by avoiding comments like, “He’s just not a good test-taker,” or “My daughter isn’t good at math,” even when combined with statements like, “However, he’s great at school,” or “She’s really talented in the humanities.” Even statements like, “It’s okay, I was terrible at test-taking, too,” can negatively affect a student’s attitude. Instead, try, “We all need to learn and practice strategies to become good at tests/performance/public speaking,” or “English came more easily to me; I had to work hard to understand physics.”

Dweck explains that Mozart, who had an uncanny musical ability at an early age, worked his fingers to the point of crippling muscle cramps. Even child prodigies who do not apply their gifts can freeze up and fail at the very thing they were born with talent to do.

Dweck cites as another example Billy Beane, who despite being an extraordinarily gifted student athlete, had a short and disastrous career as a major league baseball player, paralyzed by fear of failing to live up to expectations. In the early 2000’s, Beane famously built the Oakland A’s into a world championship baseball team by hiring players who hadn’t been hyped as the best, and thus could be hired for less. His theory was that players who aren’t burdened by out-sized expectations will often outperform those who are. Beane was right, and now teams throughout the MLB use what is called “sabermetrics” to build winning teams.

The evidence Dweck cites is convincing, and when applied to our own lives, makes good sense. We have all known students who succeed in grade school with little to no effort, and are praised for being intellectually gifted, only to find middle school and high school daunting when classes become more demanding. These kids, who never had to learn how to learn, feel constant frustration or even give up from fear of failure. That is certainly not what we want for our children.

If we accept Dweck’s argument that those who have been told that abilities can be developed will continue to strive, and in the long run live more enriching lives in which they continue to learn for learning’s sake and for the fun of accepting a challenge, then certainly it is worth changing how we communicate.

Moving from a “fixed mindset to a “growth mindset” enables individuals to embrace new challenges for the growth they bring. The very definition of success changes from one of a grade or score to one of continual learning and expansion—also known in psychology as “flourishing.”

Remember that old maxim, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”? There is, indeed, much power in resilience and what today’s psychologists call “grit.” Now add the idea that it is in the very act of trying (learning, practicing, growing) that we receive fulfillment, and we have a new, enriched way of looking at both learning and success.

Tonight, praise your child for a job well done, for consistent effort, and for willingness to accept a new challenge with positivity, regardless of the immediate measured result. Model the same behavior in your own life. Talk to your child’s tutor about efforts to redefine ability and success—we are eager to participate in making a positive difference!

Mother and daughter on the couch planning for the second semester and tutoring with Open Door Education in Concord and Acton MA

Kickstart the Second Semester

It’s the start of second semester, a great time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t last semester. It’s also an opportunity for healthy dialogue on how all members of the family feel they can work better moving forward, individually and as a team.


Before sitting down for a family discussion, try gathering your thoughts in writing. You’ll want to take full advantage of all-too-limited family talk time. Suggest that your teens do the same. They too will see the benefits of being “prepared for a meeting.”


Once in the conversation, consider opening the dialogue with your own positive reflections. Teens have lots of negative self-talk—as do many adults—and by focusing on the positive first, you’ll give them permission to compliment themselves. Even if it’s just a reduced number of days with forgotten gym bags or band instruments, there will have been growth and success that can be celebrated.


Finally, model good listening. Ask mirror questions like, “So am I right in hearing that you feel …?” Everyone hungers to be heard and understood.


Here are some ideas for topics of conversation:

Habits. What good habits worked over the past months? What not-so-good habits hindered success?

Goals. What are some reasonable  goals for the next few months? Agree on some and write them down, too.

Regular family time. Can the family resolve to find a good time each day to connect in a meaningful way?

Support networks. Whose names belong on a list of those any member of the family can turn to for help when needed?

Not-the-911 plan. Agree on ways to head off emergencies before they occur. Work on material or projects with a tutor ahead of time, not at the 11th hour: Draft papers early to review for revision, review material from last semester that isn’t fully mastered, preview material that’s coming up—all work that can be done with a teacher or tutor.

Identify collaborators. Working together is motivational. Just like a gym buddy helps get you to the weight machines, a study partner or group helps students stick to their study plan, and challenge one another to understand the material better.

Planners. Regular planners are helpful, but specialized academic ones are better. Open Door tutors can help identify organizational strategies to suit individual students.

Screen time. How often and at what times of day can every member of the family turn off all devices?

Healthy foods or activities. Create a list, or schedule them on the family calendar and individual planners.

Intentions. Here is another opportunity to write things down. Later in the semester, the family can regroup to review and celebrate more successes!


Voltaire is credited with the aphorism: “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” Who is to say he didn’t take it from a family conversation?


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