The "Mean Tutor" Strategy in Action | Nurturing Wisdom Tutoring

The “Mean Tutor” Strategy in Action

mean tutorSometimes our students unwittingly get in their own way and need help adjusting their mindset. Below, Kathryn explains how she effectively used the “mean tutor” strategy with one of her test prep students.

Throughout our work together, my student lacked confidence in her math skills. During our sessions, she saw her accomplishments as insignificant and her struggles as a confirmation of her inability to succeed in math. Because of her anxiety about math and the SSAT exam, I saw this student as an ideal candidate for the mean tutor strategy.

I began by asking the student to start working on a practice test, saying aloud her negative thoughts as they popped into her head. Without even thinking she said, “I don’t think I did this right!” and “I don’t know how to do this problem.” Phrases like these are a great starting point for a “mean tutor” lesson.

I pointed out how these were negative comments and that, in fact, she was able to solve both of the problems in question. We wrote a list of negative thoughts and replaced each one with a positive phrase.

I then told my student that I would take on the voice of her negative thoughts, and she would respond to me with replacement phrases. She returned to the practice test, and I said, “You don’t know how to do this problem.” She responded with, “Yes I do! I have practiced doing several problems just like this.” She solved that problem correctly and moved on to the next one. I read more thoughts from her negative list, to which she would appropriately respond with positive phrases.

The breakthrough in this lesson came when I was so persistent with the negative voice that she yelled back at me, “SHHHHH!!!” Holding back laughter, I stopped her from continuing on the test to discuss the point of the exercise. I asked her why she told me to be quiet. She said, “I am trying to work and you are distracting me.” I explained that her yelling for me to be quiet was exactly what she should be doing to the negative thoughts in her head, as they, too, are interfering with the work she’s trying to do. She smiled as she began to understand what we were doing.

Since that initial mean tutor lesson, we’ve periodically looked back at the list of negative thoughts. She is no longer allowed to use any of those negative comments while working. If I feel she is falling back into a negative mindset, I bring out the list and we role-play the mean tutor.

My student is becoming more curious and confident in math. I enjoy watching her grow and feel fortunate that Nurturing Wisdom provided the tools necessary for helping to change her mindset about math!