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The Importance of Individual Learning

Updated: Dec 16, 2018

During my fourth semester of grad school, I taught two recitations for an introductory physics class. Basically, the professor would introduce the course material during his lectures and I would give a brief review of the material and go over example problems during recitations. I had taught a physics lab the previous three semesters where I went around the room and helped lab groups individually, unlike the lecture type format of a recitation. Teaching a class in this new format was a little intimidating at first, but once I got used to it I really enjoyed it.

However, I had noticed something that was unsettling. Between the two recitations I was teaching, I had about 40 students and their ability levels couldn’t be more different. I had students that were doing about average and found the lecture material very useful, students that were struggling and needed extra help, and students that had a good understanding of the material straight out of the gate, but seemed disengaged due to the material being too easy. Giving the same lecture to all of these students seemed very misguided. It was at this point that I realized the true importance of individual learning.

My students that were struggling needed that individual attention to reinforce concepts and problems I had gone over in class. By the same token, students that found the material easy needed to be presented with more challenging problems so that they would have a more stimulating learning environment. So how does one solve this problem? Well, one on one tutoring seems to be the best solution.

I had tutored a handful of students during my one year break between undergrad and grad school, so I had already seen the benefits of working with students individually. Students can spend as much extra time as they need on a topic and they are able to work at their own pace. It is also not as formal as a classroom setting, so students can feel more comfortable asking questions and don’t have to worry about being judged by their classmates. It gives students the extra practice and self confidence they need to succeed in the subject they are learning.

Since I’ve recently started tutoring again I’ve gotten to experience that “Eureka!” moment when a student finally understands a problem they had been struggling with for so long. This is the power of individual learning!

Fun Fact: The word Eureka means "I found it" and it's claimed to be originated by the Greek scholar Archimedes. He supposedly stepped into his bathtub and realized that the water level rose meaning that the volume of water displaced must be the same as the volume of the part of him that is submerged. This principle could be used to accurately measure the volume of irregular objects, which was an unsolved problem at the time. When he came to this realization he shouted "Eureka!" and was so excited to tell everyone he ran out of his house and through the streets of Syracuse (minus the bathrobe).

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