One of the advantages of my job is that I get to help our student tutors.

Thanks to a university initiative, every year we recruit several students in later years of studies to help our new first years succeed on their English degree. It is a valuable opportunity for those recruited to develop new skills, learn about work life and to obtain essential work experience for their CVs. Not to mention receive financial compensation for their efforts.

How it works is that the student tutors are asked to deliver weekly 1 hour sessions that are free and attendance is not compulsory. They aim to provide a useful supportive element that helps students with their traditional lectures, seminars, homework and tests. Each student tutor prepares their sessions with help from us mentors, when and where needed.

To ensure we meet students demands, we survey our first year students to find out what they need and work with our tutors to help them deliver it. Then we get feedback on what worked, what wasn’t so great and collate ideas for the next year. Below is an abridged collection of the most popular student comments as well as tutor comments and my reflections on the tutoring initiative.

Student requests

  • Translation help with words and phrases they don’t understand
  • Core information about each course which they must understand to pass
  • Help and support with difficult homework tasks
  • Guidance and advice for planning and writing assignments
  • Essential and very specific exam preparation and ‘test day’ tips
  • Practice tests to get used to the format, timing, pressure and for extra assessed practice
  • How to write a good structured B2+ level essay
  • Language and practice for academic presentations

Tutor comments

  • It’s important to cover topics that tutors are comfortable with i.e. courses they were successful at
  • Many students just want to ask specific questions about their studies and tests
  • Sessions must be scheduled to fill the gaps between other classes rather than several hours after or on days off
  • Students must be made aware of the sessions via the student Facebook page and encurage to attend by teachers
  • Some students hope for complete essay correction as opposed to some help and advice
  • The sessions have to be well planned but leave room for requests
  • Attendance can vary depending on the stage in the term with more attending before tests

My reflections

I believe that student tutors have to given enough structure to plan out all the sessions and they must fit in exactly with assignments, homework and tests in the term. Thus, the tutors are either helping students with something or preparing them for something else. Furthermore, due to scheduling and part-time job commitments, some students are unable to attend and so email contact and a Moodle course or other online space is needed for the sharing of materials and interaction with tutors but, wherever possible, not to replace attendance.

These sessions should not become just exam practice for general courses but for EFL exam classes, they can provide a great opportunity for focussing on particular parts of tests and addressing student weaknesses in a low stress environment.

The tutors must set their own teaching and learning objectives and goals so that they develop alongside their year 1 peers. In this way, it is a valuable experience for everyone.

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