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Peer Tutor Handbook: Part 2: Learning Styles, Body Language, and Cultural Sensitivity

Peer tutoring is a core component of student success at USM. Here's the Keleher Learning Commons approach.

Learning Styles

Remember that your tutee may learn best in a way that’s different from yours. Understanding your tutees’ learning styles and building your tutoring sessions around those strengths may make your sessions more productive. Do you know how you learn best? Check out these fun learning style tests: 

Cultural Sensitivity

Students from other cultures may compose arguments in a manner that could be mistaken as an area of academic weakness.

Some cultures discourage students from disagreeing with authorities or challenging teachers and tutors. Personal space, eye contact, speech volume, and even how questions are phrased can be very culturally weighted.

If you feel like miscommunication cultural cues are interfering with your tutoring sessions, try addressing the issue directly by approaching the topic with curiosity and openness.

NEVER use red pen during your sessions. Some cultures consider red as a harsh or corrective color. You are not there to correct students’ work, but to help them correct it on their own.

(Section adapted from Reed University’s Academic Support Tutor Handbook) 

Body Language

Use these common positive cues:

  • turning your chair towards the tutee
  • nodding
  • maintaining regular eye contact
  • smiling

Remember these more subtle cues:

  • don’t fold your arms
  • don’t play with pens
  • don’t put your hands over your mouth
  • try and control your facial expressions
  • relax your brow

Be aware that your personal comfort distance may be different from your tutees’. 

Tutoring Students with Short Attention Spans

As the Peer Tutor, be a facilitator:

  1. Ask the student how s/he learns best. (What strategies has s/he developed to help maintain focus, attention, interest, and ability to memorize details? Ask students to describe a typical study period and what happens when they lose focus.)
  2. Remember that emotions are an important part of learning—ask students what makes them frustrated and what they would most like to “master,” and work on these things. Emphasize their progress to help them gain confidence and monitor themselves.
  3. Help students break assignments and projects into small manageable parts. This helps them to feel less overwhelmed (which can lead to avoidance—often called procrastination).
  4. Set clear limits for each session and provide a clear structure (“first we’ll work on this, then we’ll do this, and finally, we’ll review what we’ve done—how does that sound?”). Then stick to that structure unless the student asks to work on something else. Repeat directions and remind the student of the structure you have agreed on (“okay, so we’ve reviewed the assignment, now we’re going to discuss some strategies for free writing…”).
  5. If the student’s attention wanders, change your focus, or make a joke. Humor is a great asset, but maintain a balance between being strict and relaxed. If the student has clearly lost focus, ask him or her to review what you have done so far. Then restate the structure of the session and move along with it. The more you notice whether students are paying attention, the more connected they will feel and the less their attention will wander (the same applies to a yawn).
  • Common Areas of Difficulty
    • Organization & planning
    • Preparation
    • Memory
    • Concentration 10
    • “Illogical” rules (try to explain why as well as what)
    • Self-confidence
    • Frustration
    • Self-observation
    • Evaluation

(adapted from Austin College’s Peer Tutor Handbook)