My student has a problem talking in class and her mother has informed me that her test results aren’t improving either. I keep going through exam technique and organising her time but I don’t think that is her problem. Her mother told me she has been having the same problems with several tutors over the years. I think this combined with hr chattiness and distraction may be down to some form of attention disorder but I don’t want to offend the mother or make things worse for my student. What should I do?
I think that your responsibility as a tutor means you should prioritize her improvement as opposed to maintaining a good relationship. The worst case scenario is that they may get offended and not wish to work with you anymore and, as long as they gain some serious benefit from your confrontation it may be worthwhile.
However, there are probably other avenues to consider as well. Before considering what course of action to take, i think an important decision is that action, and different action at that, needs to be taken. If you have been trying the same things over and over without any results it is probably pointless to continue trying the same approach. Something else needs to be done.
If she has trouble concentrating for long periods of time, perhaps try breaking the lessons down into 15 minute intervals. Obviously you will lose some efficiency that way but it may be a way to keep her focussed. This will be made easier if she is aware of the problem.
You should probably discuss this problem with the student first. Is she aware that she is not improving? Does she want to improve? Is she aware that her chattiness is preventing her from improving? These realisations need to happen for the student. Perhaps, she is not connecting the dots and realising how much value she could be getting from your help? Yes, she may feel offended and a little hurt, but your obligation is to her academic success before anything else. Your strong relationship with the student should help smooth things over.
Once she has the understanding that it’s not ok to constantly interrupt you, and agrees to work on it, then you can try to introduce the 15 min intervals. Discuss the concept with her first. She will be able to talk to you and be chatty but ONLY if she pays complete attention for 15 minutes. These rules which you agree upon together with her should make it ok for you to disregard her desire to chat if she starts up during the 15min of work. You can just point out that 15 minutes aren’t up and to focus on work. You can even get a kitchen timer and keep timing 15 minutes so that you don’t constantly need to check the time and the student will get excited once the timer beeps.
This is just one approach that may help – changing the structure of tutorials to adapt to the students unusual attention span. There are other approaches we could devise also, including speaking with the mother about possible attention disorders. It is quite possible that the mother would appreciate your observation and have her daughter checked which would be helpful either way. Maybe she just needs some more motivation to be focussed, do you know what motivates her? Has she never been able to focus – what about when she is sitting in a school class doing a test? She must obviously be capable of not speaking for 50 minutes since she has to do that during school tests, we need to find a way to foster that behavious at home.