Personal Tutoring

Using Coaching Techniques in Personal Tutorials

Two simple coaching models are presented below. Both work with the idea that anyone can be trained to solve their own problems to some extent. This means moving from a directive style to a non-directive style. It is tempting to use our own experience to give advice or offer guidance to students in proactive meetings, but a coaching approach would always take a non-directive style, encouraging a student to come up with their own solutions. The tutor’s role is to ask questions to raise awareness, summarise, reflect back what a student has said, and in doing this, to try to use the same language as the student.

a continuum of directive to non-directive styles

Using a coaching model always involves:

  • Active Listening - this involves attention to body language, and other skills of communication. See this article Become a Better Listener on the PsychCentral website.
  • Open Questioning - using questions that do not simply prompt the answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. For example asking ‘How are you preparing for the exams?’ rather than ‘Are exams something you like?’
  • One of the least useful questions to ask can be 'How's it going?' – because we tend to answer 'Fine' whether this is true or not. Try to ask open questions that are specific.

Coaching Models

The GROW model has been widely used and although there are much more complex models of coaching, this very simple model provides a good starting point to shape a proactive tutorial.

GROW model: Goal, Reality, Options, Way forward

For instance, asking the student about their goals (which could be long term or short term):

Goal: E.g. How do you think you will get on with the module in analytical chemistry this year?
This could open up into a discussion about whether the student is concerned about their level of mathematical ability, or other concerns about the topic. Or it could lead to reflection on their level of attendance on the unit due to their commitments to earn money outside of the university.

Reality: E.g. How do you manage to fit your work commitments around your course?
The student might talk about their work patterns changing or that they have been asked to lead a team or that late night shifts make attending classes early in the day difficult for them.

Options: E.g. What other ways could you access course materials to catch up on sessions you miss?
What other sources of funding could you access? Are there periods of time when you could work more intensively on your course / in paid employment to free you up for the exam period (etc)?

Way Forward: What do you think you will do before we next meet?

Try to encourage students to set SMART goals:


The CIGAR model is a variation of the GROW model:

Current situation
Ideal outcome
Gap between C and I
Action plan

This model also enables a student to set goals and actions but specifically includes the idea of review at the next meeting.  It also implies analysis of the gap between goals and realities.