Tutoring, study skills help Stanford students solve problems

Adina Glickman, associate director for academic support at the Center for Teaching and Learning, talks about Stanford’s tutoring and academic skills coaching programs, offers advice to parents and describes the university’s new Resilience Project.

What tutoring does Stanford offer?

Subject tutoring is offered in the residences through live-in student tutors. They live in the freshman-heavy dorms, offer drop-in hours and focus on introductory courses, especially in chemistry, economics and math. We also offer individual tutoring in seven disciplines and seven foreign languages and oral communication tutoring. The Hume Writing Center also has residential and by-appointment writing tutors.

We try to teach students to fish, so to speak. They come hungry for just fish. But our tutors slow them down and say, “I know you need to show a fish on an exam tomorrow, but you need to be able to understand the concepts and solve the problems rather than have me give you the answer.”

Our tutors are taught to ask questions and to model. In fact, the golden moment of tutoring is when the tutor is baffled. That is when students can watch how an expert problem-solver approaches something he or she doesn’t know. We teach the tutors to think out loud and walk students through the process of figuring out context and really understanding the material.

What challenges Stanford students most?

They get freaked out when they don’t know how to do something. So the tutor models process, as well as attitude. A lot of students come here expecting examinations that are a variation on something they have already done. But that’s really more of an exercise than a true problem. Real problems are things you can’t easily answer. Like in the movie Apollo 13, where the engineers gather, are given a bunch of materials and are told: “We have to figure out a way to get this round peg into this square hole.” I remind freshmen that not one of those engineers said, “But that wasn’t on the homework!”

Read more.