Effective Tutorials: Going for Depth over Breadth

When Elisa and I sat down to plan this blog, we couldn’t get around how overwhelming tutorials can be for teachers. On top of planning quality lessons for your classroom every day, the idea of planning tutorial lessons for most of those objectives and then tracking student progress on all of them to make sure the students who need those tutorials get them is daunting to say the least. So we reconfigured our approach.

We settled on a plan of depth over breadth. Very often, we hold tutorials throughout the year and our struggling students may get enough from that time to pass, but may not have the opportunity to reach 100% mastery on any of the significant objectives from your class. We challenge you to zero in on only a few objectives for tutorials so you can teach to true mastery and also make tutorials a little more manageable for you.

Here’s the general plan:

  1. Look through your unit plans for the year and choose 1 discreet skill/objective from each unit. When you’re done choosing objectives, you should ideally have about 10 that end up being spaced out throughout the school year. If you have more than 10 units for your course, feel free to ignore some of the shorter units. Remember, we’re going for depth over breadth. Also, make sure the objectives you choose are very narrow and specific. Don’t pick those bigger, overarching objectives like, ‘Use a variety of methods to solve problems,’ because these break down into several discreet skills. Each objective you choose should be a discreet skill that can be taught in one lesson.
  2. Track student mastery during the year on these objectives in order to determine who needs tutorials.
  3. Hold tutorials on these objectives only throughout the year until students master them all. Since the objectives are spaced out through units, ideally you’ll be able to focus on mastering one objective for 3-4 weeks before starting tutorials on the next one.
  4. Celebrate success as your strugglers finally achieve true, deep mastery on these skills!

Rationale and benefits:

  • True student mastery. For our struggling students, they may continually be wavering between complete confusion and pseudo-understanding all year long. Often we are able to buoy their understanding enough so that they pass an assessment, but they may not be achieving a long-term, deep understanding. By narrowing our focus on a few discreet objectives, we can help our students achieve true, lasting mastery on those and help create a strong foundation for future content.


  • Boosts in student self-efficacy. Students who struggle may not often get to feel the thrill and confidence that comes from truly mastering something. When we target a small number of objectives in tutorials and keep working on them until students reach mastery, the newfound confidence they’ll feel will help them learn they can do it and start a positive motivation cycle for them as they progress on to new skills and objectives.


  • Boosts in classroom culture. When you keep coming back to an objective until students truly master it, you send them the message that you believe they can do it and that you’re not giving up on them. What a great feeling for them! This builds your relationship with them which in turn makes them more invested in you and your class. And for the whole class, rallying around a few objectives and celebrating success when ALL students master each one is a great way to build investment in each other.


  • Less overwhelming for students. Many of our courses feel like they have countless objectives! By narrowing that list, students can focus on the 10 that they are truly mastering versus the 50 they are confused about. Whew, that sounds much more doable.


  • Less overwhelming for teachers. Let’s be real. Teaching well is hard and thinking about the 50 objectives students are supposed to master is just as overwhelming for us as it is for some of our students. Focusing in on just a few for tutorials allows us to give those a calm and steady focus versus trying to cram in everything at a frenzied and stressful pace.

So even though it’s late in the year, try it out these next few weeks! Or, if your head is already thinking about what you’ll do next year, start creating a long-term plan for next year’s tutorials honing in on the key skills that ALL your future students will truly master!

YES Prep is hiring extraordinary people for the 2015-16 school year. Are you ready? Learn more and apply here by our April 24 application deadline!

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