“Tutorials Revisited: how they work and the messages they send.”

Our school life is dominated by a paradox: we spend time with our students, we (try to) educate them and yet when it comes to giving information about their progress and in-class performance the relevant data is more readily released to the parents, with whom we spend much less time, rather than to the learners themselves.

Far be it from me to say that communicating with parents is not essential but if we are to affirm our belief in the independence of those young people as learners and to encourage them to become life-long learners, shouldn’t we spend some time on making them feel in control of their own progress?

 What are tutorial sessions and how can they benefit our work?

Tutorial sessions (or just tutorials) are more related with colleges and universities but they can be adapted to work in our setting.They are private teacher-student sessions during which the learner’s progress, performance and studying habits are discussed.
Their effect can best be seen with exam classes starting from B2 level and going all the way up to C2.

One might ask what is so beneficial about tutorials. After all, it is not uncommon for a teacher to ask a student to have a private discussion.

By Maria Sachpazian

 At this point we must draw a line. Teachers can have any private discussion with any student; this does not make the discussion a tutorial.


First of all, students who are asked to see the teacher after the lesson, know that they are in trouble and so do their classmates. Therefore, those impromptu discussions are more part of our grievance procedures rather than tutorials.

The most positive characteristic of tutorials is that they carry no judgment. They are regular, so they can be set up in advance according with the assessment plan of the school and they are fair.

Tutorials are not just for the underachievers or for the overachievers; they are for everyone. Finally, tutorials are private.

Although error correction and test reviewing are, I hope, part of all classes these days, we can hardly expect teachers to give personal oral feedback on tests or writing assignments to each student personally during class time.

Even if there was time to do so, it would definitely be uncomfortable for students who have not managed to make the grade and a waste of time for the rest of the class. 

Therefore, I feel it is invaluable for teachers to have 10 or 20 minutes of privacy with each learner to discuss facts and not opinions.

This means that tutorials need considerable preparation on the part of the teacher. Personally, I hold my C2 tutorial sessions two days before Parents’ Day.

This means that the students’ report cards are ready which affords me and the students a bird’s-eye view of what each of them has done so far.

Tutorials allow students to get personal and detailed feedback on what they have or have not yet achieved. It allows them to review their performance and to comment on it.

Due to their private setting and non-judgmental nature, tutorials tend to make students open up and become fair assessors of themselves.

Furthermore, tutorials give me the chance to point out to the students what I suspect is missing from their studying. There have been many times, though, when the students’ comments and observations have led me to adjust my teaching and add or remove elements.

Why are tutorials not frequently used?

At first glance, tutorials might seem too complicated or time-consuming. Also, they demand commitment on the part of the teacher. Finally, for yet another time, the idea of “missing valuable class time” puts teachers/school owners off because they fear what parents will say.

Firstly, tutorials are not complicated or hard to set up. They can be set during class time or personal appointments can be made with the students.

At any rate, I do not think that spending time with our students to review their performance and to support their endevour in preparing for demanding exams can be considered “a waste of time” by any parents, especially if effort is made to hold the discussion in English.

Let us not forget that more often than not parents point out to teachers during parent-teacher sessions that they are not the only ones who need to know these things by asking “but have you told this to him/her?” and “has X been discussed in class?”

In my view, this is the value tutorials add to our teaching and our school. We have already done what parents are asking us to do and there are no excuses for ill-informed parents or students.

How does it work?

Tutorials can be set at regular intervals twice or three times during the academic year. It is crucial that tutorials follow the same routine and each student be given the same amount of time.

Regarding the routine, the teacher can make a plan of how to spend allocated time.

A first important step is to ask the students to self-evaluate and assess their own progress qualitatively rather than quantitatively.

Secondly the test should be reviewed and while this is done the teacher can point out what was/was not particularly successful with the student’s studying.

Finally, the report card is examined. In our school the report shows the monthly progress of the students which allows me to show them if their performance has dropped or if it is fluctuating.

While the students are waiting for their turn, they can do something useful with their time. For the first tutorial of the year, students are given half an A4 sheet which encourages them to:

• review their performance until December
• point out which of their studying habits have worked out and which have not
• set one or two goals for the next few months
• suggest additions they would like me to make to my teaching.

During the second session of the year, in March, I ask students to fill out the annual feedback form for the C2 course. I prefer doing that midyear so that, I can apply the findings of this internal research and make changes. 

As we can see tutorials are not only beneficial for students but for us as well because we can feel the pulse of our teaching and its effect on our learners.


Tutorials might be demanding and time-consuming but they are also the most practical affirmation of our belief in student-centred teaching.

They really empower students which is why they appreciate tutorials. Last but not least, tutorials allow us to forge bonds with each one of our students in person, even with the ones which fall below radar range during our normal teaching time.

Maria Sachpazian BA education / RSA dip/tefl (hons)  is the Co-owner and Academic Director of Input on Education a company which provides academic, business support and consultancy to Foreign Language Schools.

She is also an educational management specialist who has worked as a teacher trainer and materials’ developer. Maria works as an EFL teacher at the Straight Up Markoyannopoulou schools. www.input.edu.gr



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