Online Tuition – Helping children thrive
Why might parents seek out the assistance of a personal tutor? For us, it is invariably either that there is a specific exam towards which a student is working or simply for support for a child who is having difficulty with a particular subject or with a particular subject area. Within a large primary class of children, there are all sorts of reasons why a child’s progress might stall. They may be of a more quiet nature and not wish to draw attention to themselves. Often they lack confidence and shy away from participating in larger groups and putting their hand up to answer questions. Whatever the reason, over time, they quietly slip behind until such time as their inability to keep pace with their peers becomes apparent to both teachers and parents.
Identifying gaps in learning:
Often as a tutor, a parent of a primary child may approach me for tuition, explaining that they are struggling – often in either Maths or English. Both I, the child, and the parents are pleasantly surprised to discover, once tutoring has commenced, that the situation of their child is not as bad as they had feared. I frequently notice that I am dealing, not so much with a child who cannot understand, as with a child who has significant gaps in their learning. With Maths this is often due to a fundamental lack of appreciation of the number system.
Place value is taught on the Maths National Curriculum syllabus in every year group from years 1-6. Despite this, children quickly find themselves moved on from this quite critical subject area to addition, subtraction, and subsequently multiplication and division, without being able to count effectively. By count, I do not simply mean counting in ones from zero, but the ability to count through barriers such as 10, 100 or 1000. Even as late as year five, I have found myself presented with a quite able child, who had difficulty, at the outset of tutoring, moving about in the number system; who paused for thought when being asked to add 1 to 999.
Similarly in English, I have found that children are not so much unable to write or read, but have not been given the appropriate scaffolding in previous learning to enable them to build up these skills. They have not appreciated how sentences can progress from being simple to complex; what language features are being used to build tension, or how a character is slowly being unveiled by their actions and mannerisms in a passage.
As with Maths, poor writing may be impacted by providing children with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the building blocks of language – syntax and word types. It can, at times, be as straightforward as adding a few more adjectives or adverbs. This may progress to modelling, on the part of the tutor, to demonstrate the impact of shorter and longer sentences to heighten dramatic suspension. In short, they have been prematurely thrown into writing paragraphs, before they have been equipped with a sound understanding of punctuation, word types and clauses, together with their uses.
Moving from struggling to thriving in both Maths and English:
For the tutor, this is not a magic formula. In most cases, it is about pinning down the syllabus in the subject that is appropriate to the age of the child. For myself I just start at the beginning and slowly work through the syllabus with a child; test, if you will, the validity of their responses to a range of material in the subject, at the appropriate level, and see how we get on. It may not sound flashy, but it does work. Once a gap in learning is located, it is then a simple case of taking the time to investigate that gap, explain it, and provide a wealth of examples and practice.
Reviving motivation and a love of learning:
It goes without saying that we rarely like things, we are patently not good at. Here one to one tuition can be pivotal in shaping the aspirations of a primary child in respect of their learning. Identifying, and in effect filling these “gaps” in their learning, enable children to succeed; to move from the waterless plain of “I can’t do it” – to the more pleasant and populated pastures of “I can”. One to one tutoring can provide strategies for working things out; explain aspects of a subject that empower them to deal with similar problems in the future; provide, through systematic investigation, the pieces they missing.
The importance of parental support:
Taking thought to ensure that your child has an eraser, a few sharp pencils and a ruler is invaluable at the start of any tutoring session and ensures that time is not unnecessarily wasted. Further, a tutor may set homework, but it is for naught if the parent does not check that the child has suitable time and space to do it. Doing homework in front of the television is not recommended!
Lastly, particularly in the case of online sessions, we are grateful to all our lovely parents who scan in the homework and send it to us, so that we can share it with the child during the subsequent session. This infrastructure of support is essential to ensuring sound progress on the part of the child, through their sessions with their tutor.