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How “Thinking Out Loud” Facilitates Online Instruction

December 3, 2020

This post is part of a series written by Paper's tutors. Each post takes you behind the screen, uncovering their perspectives and expertise. This week, Tutor Jennifer describes her "thinking out loud" strategy for online chat-based instruction.

How long does it take to read this sentence? The average person can read at a speed of approximately 250 words per minute. That’s about 2-3 seconds for those 9 words. On a good day, I can go at a typing speed of 100 words per minute. It takes me about 5-6 seconds to type something that will be read in less than half that time.

As I tutor students over Paper's chat-based platform, I have to pay close attention to one thing: Time is money for a student who is seeking academic help. I have to make sure I answer students as fast as possible to avoid adding to their stress and frustration.

Playing the piano and video gaming has equipped me with a fast typing speed, but there's more to it than that: It takes additional time to read a question and think about how to approach it with the student.

The problem is that students can’t see me thinking — to some, it might seem that I'm ignoring or judging them.

How much time passes when you’re trying to finish an assignment the night it’s due? 2 hours, but it feels like 15 minutes. How much time passes when you’re waiting for your appointment at the doctor’s office? 5 minutes, but it feels like forever.

Being conscious of how attentive I seem to a student on the other side of the screen is a crucial component of tutoring.

In a face-to-face setting, this situation is easy to navigate: eye contact, a reassuring smile, which are either tricky or inaccessible in an online setting. However, I’ve learned to navigate just as well: Rather than expecting students to wait around while I process their question, I simply describe my thought process and the amount of effort that will go into solving the problem or explaining a concept.

On the platform, I make it a point to think and type at the same time, because to a struggling student, those handfuls of seconds of waiting can feel like forever.

After turning to my "thinking out loud" approach around, I found that it eased students' minds and facilitated successful learning moments. Why leave it up to interpretation, when I can use one of my most important tools: words of reassurance?

Headshot of Tutor Jennifer

Jennifer, Paper Tutor

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