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Improve Your Tutoring Through Deliberate Practice

By Dr Scott R. Dempsey on 21st March, 2022

Becoming better at your craft is important in any industry, but particularly in teaching and tutoring professions. Becoming a better tutor can:

  • Improve the quality of your lessons
  • Improve the results of your students
  • Increase demand for your services
  • Increase your value

However, it can be easy to plateau upon reaching a certain level of competence and as a result stop making significant progress.

This is where deliberate practice steps in.

In this article we are going to discuss not only how you can continue to improve as a tutor, but how you can use online tutoring software to facilitate your growth.

We’ll be discussing the following:

  1. What is deliberate practice?
  2. Why deliberate practice is necessary to improve your tutoring
  3. How to use online tutoring software to implement deliberate practice

What is deliberate practice?

Most people assume that improvement comes from experience and hours spent mastering a skill. However, this is only partially true. Practising the same thing for hours on end is no guarantee that you will improve significantly past a certain level of competence, particularly if the practice does not have a purpose.

In other words - just doing something over and over again doesn’t make you better at it. Rather, you will quickly reach and then maintain a certain level of competence.

Progress will often follow these steps:

  1. Rapid progress
  2. Hit a perceived limit
  3. Prolonged frustration
  4. Sudden breakthrough
image showing the stages of deliberate practice.

With deliberate practice you can continue improving as a tutor rather than plateauing at a perceived limit through habitual repetition.

Think about any skill you have acquired; from reading to playing an instrument; driving to getting in shape: there is always a point of plateau, where you don’t continue to improve.

This is where deliberate practice comes into its own. It is a type of practice that is specific, purposeful and systematic in its approach.

In the book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise leading expert, Dr Anders Ericsson describes 4 main components to deliberate practice:

  1. Setting short-term specific goals
  2. Uninterrupted sessions - with a high level of focus and intensity
  3. Immediate feedback - after each attempt or session
  4. Frequent discomfort - constantly being pushed out of a ‘comfort zone’ by operating on the edge of one's abilities

He suggests that the notion that all high performers are born with some innate talent or gift is a myth. Instead, people who achieve the most in their fields have adopted the approach of deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice has been proven to predict performance outcomes in disciplines such as music, chess, sport and mathematics. It’s clearly becoming more of a hot topic in education. But how applicable is it in the current system?...

One of the best ways to adopt deliberate practice is to work with a coach. For example, if you work with a tennis coach, they can probably help you to improve your backhand more in a couple of hours than you would playing on your own for years.

However, if you’re a tutor or teacher, you are perhaps unlikely to have used a coach to improve your tutoring or teaching practice. Historically, coaches have been more synonymous with business and sporting industries. It can be difficult to find them in education and more difficult still to have them observe and work with you in a representative context.

So let’s look at why deliberate practice is necessary to improve your tutoring and how you can implement it without a coach.

Why deliberate practice is necessary to improve your tutoring

Much of the research on deliberate practice has been focused on student performance and how educators can introduce it into their classroom practice. Other studies also focus on teachers and what they can do for self-improvement through deliberate practice.

Unlike many other professions, it can be difficult to get feedback from your tutoring or teaching, particularly the immediate feedback that is so crucial to improvement.

If you’re tutoring 1-1, it’s difficult to receive this feedback from your students unless they have a review system they can use and feel comfortable doing so. If you’re teaching larger groups or classes of students then feedback can become very difficult to obtain, although the positive effects of student-centered feedback is unequivocal.

image showing the impact of Bramble's CUE ratings system on student progress.

The impact of measuring metrics such as confidence, understanding and engagement is an important component of deliberate practice. This chart, taken from a recent Pearson analysis via Bramble, highlights the improvements students reported in confidence, understanding and engagement.

One way we traditionally measure our impact as tutors is through results.

Did our students get the grades they wanted?

Did they end up at the school or university they wanted?

The problem with this approach is that we don’t know how much impact we had and therefore whether we are improving as an educator.

You might ask whether that matters if your students have obtained good grades and are pleased with the outcome.

Yes and no…

Perhaps you just had a good selection of students, completely by chance. What happens if the following year your students don’t achieve their goals? It only takes a few bad results to potentially damage your reputation, slow the progress of your business and damage your confidence.

With so many variables at play, you might ask yourself how do you know you're improving?

That's the point of deliberate practice.

Until recently it was very difficult to introduce this type of practice into your work. However, using the right tools and technologies you can now easily get immediate feedback on your lessons. Aside from having a coach watching every lesson you deliver, this is the backbone of using deliberate practice to improve.

Let’s look at how you can do it.

How to use online tutoring software to implement deliberate practice

Perhaps one of the most overlooked benefits of online tutoring is the ability to incorporate deliberate practice and continually improve as a tutor.

Thanks to technologies such as lesson recording we can get immediate feedback on our tutoring. Having the ability to review any of the tutoring we deliver online enables us to properly evaluate what we did well and where we need to improve.

image showing a sessions page on Bramble, which can be used to incorporate deliberate practice.

Using lesson recordings on Bramble makes it easy to incorporate deliberate practice into your online tutoring.

For example, perhaps you noticed that you didn’t ask your students enough questions during the lesson, or the engagement of a student was particularly low. You now have a quick and easy method to identify this and create a new goal to improve it next time.

Lesson recordings are particularly powerful when combined with lesson insights and CUE ratings. This is due to two reasons:

  1. Lesson insights will immediately identify if student engagement is low through word counts and engagement with tools such as strokes drawn and resources uploaded
  2. CUE ratings help document student progression on a lesson-by-lesson basis

When combined, you have the perfect recipe for significant improvement via deliberate practice.

image showing how to use CUE Ratings for deliberate practice.

A suggested method for using CUE Ratings to incorporate deliberate practice.

Here are a few questions you can consider when reviewing your lessons and choosing aspects of your tutoring that might need improvement:

  • Did you ask enough questions to engage the student, make them think, and assess how well they understood a topic or concept?
  • Did you allow the student to pause for reflection before jumping in with another question or the solution?
  • Did you bring enough energy to the lesson?
  • Did you present concepts clearly and concisely using appropriate analogies and metaphors?
  • Did you push the student a little out of their comfort zone?
  • Did the student move closer to their goals?

These are just a few questions, there are many more you could reflect on. Some are more important than others, the main thing is to identify those that are meaningful to you and get to work reviewing them after each session, or schedule an appropriate time in the week to do so.

On Bramble, not only do you have access to your lesson recordings, playback, lesson insights and CUE ratings, but you also have them stored in your cloud-based sessions library which makes them very easy to access at any time. By building in this deliberate practice you will slowly but surely see improvements in your tutoring.

To summarise

Deliberate practice and continuous improvement has historically been challenging for educators to implement. Today, thanks to technologies such as lesson recordings, lesson insights and CUE ratings it’s not just possible, but simple to do without requiring a dedicated coach. Try it and see the positive impact it has on your students and your tutoring business.

Bramble is a market leader in the online tutoring industry. An award-winning online tutoring platform which has been used by over 5000 tutors and students in 100 different countries. The experience and knowledge gained from over 62,000 hours of online tuition has given us a unique insight into how people teach and learn online, and ultimately what makes the difference between a poor and a great experience tutoring online.