Effective Facilitation Guidelines: Small Group Tutoring

Why does small-group facilitation matter?

If your Student-Tutor Ratio is Small Groups instead of one-to-one, your tutors will need skills to establish group norms and manage behavior during sessions. In addition to the facilitation moves listed in the Facilitation Moves Checklist, small-group facilitation requires additional planning and tools to foster a positive, productive learning environment for a group.

Understanding Group Members

Each group will require a different level and type of facilitation depending on its members. With each new group, understanding each member will inform how you approach establishing group norms and re-engagement strategies.

Consider the following:

  • Students’ Personalities.
    • Who are the extroverted or assertive “natural talkers” in this group?
      • How will we encourage them to make space for others and learn to listen actively to their peers?
    • Who are the introverted or passive “natural listeners” in this group?
      • How will we encourage them to take space proactively and advocate for themselves as learners?
  • Students’ Maturity Levels.
    • How old is each student in this group? 
    • How developmentally mature are they?
    • Would some groups act less maturely than their constituent students alone? What about more maturely?

STEP 1: Establish Group Norms

Students can’t follow the rules if there are no clear rules, or if they don’t understand what those rules are. Setting norms is an opportunity to establish high expectations and cultivate an environment where students want to spend time and learn. Tutors should seek to establish two types of norms from the start: Session Culture Norms (the ground rules for learning together in a group) and Group Discussion Norms (the standards for successful, productive academic discussions).

STEP 2: Apply Behavior Re-Engagement Strategies

Norms are meaningless if they are not enforced. Behavior re-engagement strategies help tutors influence student behavior so students uphold group norms, make responsible choices, and maintain a productive learning environment for the group. Students won’t respond well to redirection from someone they do not respect, so for your tutors’ behavior re-engagement strategies to work, they must be grounded in strong student-tutor relationships built on trust and focused on learning. Behavior re-engagement isn’t just about tutors’ tactics in the moment, but a cohesive strategy founded in pedagogical philosophy and the mindsets tutors hold. Tutors should consider student behavior before, during, and after sessions.

Session Culture Norms

Crafting Session Culture Norms

  • Design culture norms to embody values that foster a safe and productive learning environment for all students.
  • Establish norms right away, during the first session or two. Otherwise, implicit norms will emerge on their own.
  • Write up some core culture norms beforehand, then invite the group to discuss and add any they think are missing. 
  • Norms should focus on what culture should look like (with examples), instead of what it should not look like.
  • Considerations for developing culture norms:
    • What values do I believe should be represented and prioritized in my learning environment?
    • What statements of fact do I always want to be true of my learning environment?
    • What would respectful, inclusive, safe interactions between students look like and sound like?
    • What rules and standards do I need in order to uphold these values and encourage these interactions?

Example Norms

Be Responsible to Yourself

  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Communicate how your tutor or peers can help you succeed.
  • Let your tutor know if someone said something that hurt you.

Be Responsible to Each Other

  • Use kind and respectful language with one another and with tutors.
  • Listen actively while others speak, and let them finish before sharing.
  • Respect diverse ideas or opinions
  • Acknowledge each other as people with complex ideas & perspectives.

Be Responsible to our Collective Time

  • Be on time.
  • Come prepared with all necessary materials.

Applying Session Culture Norms

  • Display culture norms prominently during sessions, and pause to refer to them when redirecting student behavior.
  • Explain redirections in terms of the norms, and give affirmative directions on how to act in accordance with them.
  • Return to revisit and revise culture norms whenever the group needs a reset or a challenging session demands it.

Group Discussion Norms

Crafting Group Discussion Norms

  • Design group discussion norms that foster a safe and equitable discussion environment for all students.
  • Establish group discussion norms right away, the first time the group engages in discussion.
  • Write up group discussion norms beforehand, then invite the group to discuss and add any they think are missing. 
  • Norms should focus on what discussion should look like (with examples), instead of what it should not look like.
  • Considerations for developing discussion norms:
    • How should students share? What does a quality contribution sound like? 
    • How should students indicate they want to share something?
    • How should students respond to ideas so that it is safe to share?
    • What should students do while their peers are sharing?
    • What other actions or behaviors result in a quality discussion?

Example Norms

  • When one person is speaking, everyone else in the group is listening silently and actively.
  • To indicate that you would like to speak next, raise your hand silently and wait to be called on.
  • When someone shares, the next speaker must respond to their idea, using phrases like “I agree with X statement because...” or “I disagree with X statement because...” or “I have a question about X statement because....”

Applying Group Discussion Norms

  • Revisit group discussion norms before every group discussion, and display them prominently during discussion.
  • Explain redirections in terms of the norms, and give affirmative directions on how to act in accordance with them.
  • Return to revisit and revise discussion norms whenever a challenging topic or a combative discussion demands it.
  • Tutors should facilitate group discussions, not participate. Use the strategies below to keep conversation going:
    • Wait time: Practice being comfortable with silence. Let the group remain silent for a prolonged period of time to encourage student participation before jumping in and asking a question or contributing an idea.
    • Everybody speaks: If conversation stalls, ask an open-ended question and have every student answer in turn to get the conversation flowing again. Students may need time to think or write before answering. 
    • Prioritize speakers: Monitor who is contributing more or dominating the conversation. When there is a lull in conversation, ask a question and then give preference to students who have not had the opportunity to contribute yet. Use wait time to signal that every person’s contribution is important. 
    • Consider charting responses on a whiteboard or screen-shared presentation slide. When there is a lull in the conversation, highlight comments or questions from earlier that no one has responded to yet.

Behavior Re-Engagement Strategies

Behavior re-engagement isn’t just the tactics tutors use to keep students on-task during session. It also includes proactive planning and preparation before each session, foundational principles for facilitation during each session, and follow-up after a session to address any behavior issues, promote future learning, and maintain a strong student-tutor relationship.

Before Session

Tutors should use this checklist to make sure they have laid the groundwork for re-engagement to be effective.

  • Have I planned clear directions and expectations for every activity?
  • Have I planned activities for the full duration of the session, including extension activities if students finish early?
  • Have I planned engaging, relevant, and inclusive activities and materials?
  • Have I invested time and thought into learning about my students and developing relationships with them?
  • Have I established clear norms for appropriate behavior during sessions with all my students?

During Session Most behavior re-engagement happens during sessions. Tutors should internalize these principles and apply these facilitation moves to help keep students on task and maintain norms in ways that prioritize dignity before discipline.

Foundational Principles for Facilitation
  • Tutors are responsible for behavior re-engagement 100% of the time they are in a session with students.
  • Any re-engagement, redirection, or interaction with students should always maintain student dignity.
  • Maintaining student dignity means treating students in ways that value and respect them as people.
  • To maintain student dignity, always strive for the least intrusive behavior intervention possible.
  • The least intrusive intervention is whatever form of redirection is the least disruptive to session, with minimal interaction between you and the student.
  • Tone, body language, facial expressions, and word choice will influence how effective an intervention is. Strive to be warm or neutral when redirecting students, no matter how you feel in the moment.
  • Yelling at students, embarrassing students, using names or pointed language with students are examples of behavior re-engagement that does not maintain student dignity. Even if you aren’t sure what to do, avoid these behaviors at all costs.
  • The absence of disturbance should not be your goal. Maintaining order is a means to an end: creating a safe, equitable, and productive learning environment where all students can thrive. So if you prioritize student discipline over student dignity, whatever “order” you may create cannot serve its purpose.
Least intrusive (use often)
  • Nonverbal intervention: Use a gesture or eye contact to signal to a student that they should get back on task while you continue to tutor the group.
  • Positive group intervention: Give a quick verbal reminder to the entire group, even if not everyone is off task (yet). (“Let’s all open our books now.”)
  • Anonymous individual intervention: Give a quick verbal instruction with a clear target. (“I need two more group members to open their books.”)

Moderately intrusive (use if prior interventions fail)

  • Private individual intervention: Speak one-on-one with a specific student about what you need to see or hear for them to be on task. In person, kneel or crouch down and speak quietly and privately while other students are busy. Virtually, use one-on-one direct messages or a one-student breakout room.
  • Quick public intervention: In moments when you are unable to use the private individual intervention, you may need to briefly get the attention of a student who needs re-engagement. Use the student’s name, then give a single exact instruction for how to get back on task. (“Jessie, I need your book open.”)

Most intrusive (use sparingly, only as a last resort)

  • Consequence: Establish early on with students and parents what the consequences will look like for any students who continuously fail to meet expectations.

After Session

Student disengagement and misbehavior is natural. Tutors should expect to redirect behavior on a regular basis; however, if behavior re-engagement starts to dominate session time, tutors should follow up with students after session to address it. There are many reasons students can disengage and misbehave. Some are external factors in the student’s life: exhaustion, stress, or hunger. But some are the tutor’s responsibility: unclear expectations, inadequate or excessive academic rigor, or lack of trust and respect for the tutor. If a tutor is experiencing regular disengagement from a student (or several students), they should seek to understand why the behavior is happening, solve the problem together, and monitor student progress.

Collaborative Problem Solving Conversation: Make time outside of session to find a proactive solution with students.