In my Concept Map on Effective Steps to Teaching, I noted that one of the first steps to successful teaching and learning is to assess your students’ initial understanding. In a classroom, this can be done with a preliminary exam or by observing individual behavior and participation in class. In a one-on-one setting, however, the key to gauging a student’s initial understanding is to ask questions.
When I begin tutoring a new student, I always start by asking how he/she feels about the subject.
How are you doing in the class so far?
Do you find it challenging or frustrating?
Where would you like to see improvement?
What sort of grades are you earning now?
Once I have a feel for their current standing in the class and their attitude towards the subject, I ask about their study habits.
Do you take notes in class?
Are your notes organized, or are they messy and inconsistent?
How often do you study?
What do you do to prepare for an exam?
At this point in my “interrogation” I usually ask the student to work a few problems with me, so that I can observe their approach and try to identify any gaps in their knowledge of subject.
Can you tell me exactly what the question is asking?
Do you know what all of these words and terms mean?
What’s the first thing we need to do in order to solve this problem?
After a few practice problems I usually find a pattern, and I use that as a starting point for our lesson. I explain the main idea behind the topic at hand and offer the simplest method for solving and answering.
Finally, I close each lesson and explanation by (you guessed it!) asking a few more questions:
Is this making sense so far?
Do you understanding what I’m saying/doing?
Do you have any questions about what we just covered?