Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Teaching Studios or One-on-One Classes

professor working with studentsTeaching individual students occurs in various settings: architecture, music, art, physical education, as well as independent study in any discipline. McKeachie (2002) notes there’s relatively little research on one-on-one teaching, but several principles apply:

Allow students maximum freedom to experience successful completion of a task or part of a task, but give enough guidance so that they won’t get bogged down by errors. Learning experiences should move from simple to complex, with steps ordered so that each new problem can be solved.

  • Students need practice, followed by feedback.
  • Too much feedback may be more than the student can assimilate. Don’t try to correct everything on the first try.
  • Feedback can discourage students. Provide some encouragement, as well as identification of errors.
  • Feedback about mistakes won’t help if the learner doesn’t know what to do to avoid errors. Suggest what to try next.
  • High-level skills are developed through much practice. One successful performance doesn’t signify the automatization that’s necessary for consistent success.
  • Practice with varied examples is often motivating and more likely to transfer to later performances than is simple drill and repetition.
  • Students need opportunities for self-evaluation with feedback about the evaluation, as well as the work being evaluated.

Cynthia Colwell Dunn, KU music and dance, shares these observations about teaching one-on-one:

“Individualized instruction requires a special set of teaching skills, whether analyzing students’ work in studios, mentoring a graduate student through a research project, or evaluating behaviors in off-campus practica. There are a variety of issues to think about prior to, as well as during, one-on-one experiences that are different from the typical classroom experience.

“When teaching one-on-one, it’s important to determine guidelines for availability, as well as setting boundaries for the relationship. In the area of availability, will you establish set office hours or be available by appointment or on a drop-in basis? What parameters will you set for contacting … at your office, by email, or on your office, home or cell phone? In the area of setting boundaries, will students call you by your first name or your professional salutation? What kind of contact will you have with students outside the arranged time? Will you establish a personal relationship? Will this be impacted by gender or by age? How will you balance professional versus personal ‘sharing’ (i.e., teacher versus therapist role identification)? Both of these areas are impacted by your philosophy and the situation but are imperative to consider prior to and/or during the establishment of the teacher/student interaction.

“Approaching your teaching preparation is markedly different in the one-on-one setting. When formatting the lesson, you as the teacher have to determine what kind of balance of teaching strategies and student engagement is going to be appropriate. Will you lecture or do more exploratory or seminar type teaching? How much will students be responsible for presenting content information? How will you provide feedback—oral, written or both? What types of prompts will you use to facilitate discussion when it is just the two of you? Will you create a learning agreement that functions much like a contract of what the student hopes to accomplish, how he or she will accomplish it, and by when, or will you create a syllabus with pre-established criteria?

“Although there aren’t easy, right answers to these questions, thinking about them as you embark on one-on-one teaching can mark the difference between success and frustration.”


McKeachie, W.J. (2002). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research and theory for college and university teachers (11th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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