Over the past few months, we’ve been discussing what we call the “7 Key Elements to Effective Tutorial” to break down the uniting themes among our programs, provide a road map to providing a successful tutorial program, and generate a conversation among experts and beginners alike on how effective programs work. Those elements are:
- High Quality Oversight
- Professionalization of Tutors
- 1:1 or 1:2 Ratios
- Balanced Collaboration and Autonomy
- Regular Assessment and Progress Monitoring
- Tutors for All (not Some)
- Leveraged Subsidies for Service
This month, we’ll be discussing Element #5: Regular Assessment and Progress Monitoring, and why these are so important.
At an early Tutors for All planning meeting, erstwhile Match School Dean of Students (and current Assistant Principal of Central Queens Academy) Glenn Liebeck shared his vision of assessment in tutorial programs: they should be frequent, they should be regular, and they should be a big deal.
Think about The Biggest Loser on TV, he said. Everyone knows when they’re going to be weighed in, and everyone knows how they do on the scales. The result is a level of excitement, accountability, and investment in results that is absent in everyday life, let alone school.
While Tutors for All never went all in on the publicity front — NBC didn’t offer us the airtime — we have been informed by and always believed in Glenn’s vision.
What does that mean in practice? First, that we start our tutorial programs with an assessment, the “Show What you Know.” We do leave time for relationship building, clear articulation of expectations, and other areas of importance for effective instruction. However, we are up front with tutors and kids that tests happen, that tests matter, and that they will have multiple opportunities to get get better at these tests over the course of the a program.
Second, we give the assessment regularly, about once every 4 or 5 tutorial sessions. This may seem like a lot; what kind of gains could realistically be expected after three or four hours of instruction? The latest research on testing, however, shows that sitting down and being assessed has instructive as well as evaluative value. The process of taking a test requires and reinforces certain skills: recollection, connection, and application — that “stick” long after the assessment is over. Up to point, the more students take tests, the more they apply what they’re learning, the more they learn.
Third, we identify and celebrate growth as it happens, in as close to real time as possible. Take that second assessment, for example. While most students won’t have achieved big gains after three or four tutorial sessions, invariably a few will. Identifying and celebrating those students makes a huge difference for the level of investment for the tutors and the students moving forward.
Making the Show What You Know central, frequent, and important plays a big role in how we run our programs and why they are successful. At the same time, it’s not the only assessment that happens in Tutors for All programs.
We assess our tutors through observation of their sessions with students. Our tutors assess us, giving us feedback as to how to better structure and administer programs. Finally, our students assess us, using criteria that were developed through years of talking to kids and learning what is really appreciated. In all of these areas, the frequency and regularity of the monitoring is what makes the difference.