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The Qualified Tutor blog shares evidence and thoughts on tutoring, how we tutor and what works well.

This blog is just a slice of the buzzing conversations about tutoring and within the tuition community. So if you like what you're reading here, then you really should join us!

If you’d like to contribute content or insights to this blog, please let us know. We’d love to learn from you.

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  • Wednesday, October 28, 2020 8:00 AM | Julia Silver (Administrator)

    From guest poster Camilla Dunhill

    Three and a half weeks ago, I found myself leaving the outside word and entering isolation after one of my two housemates tested positive for COVID-19.

    It didn’t surprise me that one of us had contracted the disease, but I was surprised by the realisation of how much my work requires me to come into contact with people.

    I specialise in tutoring young children from the age of 4 and I am currently home schooling a girl in Reception. Trying to teach a 5-year-old how to read and write over Zoom is practically impossible, so I have found myself either unable to work, or with the difficult task of creating online lessons that will grasp a child’s attention.

    For the first two weeks of my isolation, I cancelled lessons with a plan to catch up on all the missed work over the half-term break. However, just as my first period of isolation was about to end, my second housemate tested positive for COVID-19.

    Here I am, still at home, about to enter my fourth week of isolation.

    Knowing that I had two more weeks of being stuck inside, I decided I needed to take action.

    I brainstormed ideas for fun games that I could play with my students either online, or that they could play with their parents. For example, I spent yesterday morning drawing out my own board games to help with reading practice, and I have spent these rainy mornings making hundreds of PowerPoints that I accompany with short videos of myself explaining the lesson plan.

    Of course, with my older students, I have continued as usual with tutoring on Zoom which has worked very well. However, with the little ones, I have only just found a good way of engaging with them, and it would appear that my board games have been a success!

    So, to anyone working with early learners who is about to face two long, but essential, weeks stuck inside, my advice would be to get creative and get colouring!

  • Wednesday, October 21, 2020 8:00 AM | Julia Silver (Administrator)

    From guest poster Richard Ashelford

    Prepare well – even for topics you don’t enjoy.

    I must have been off school sick when they taught soft ‘c’ and soft ‘g’, subjunctive mood and pathetic fallacy, because I had never heard of any of them until I started tutoring. Onomatopoeia first came to me when I was studying for my degree! Now it’s taught in Year 3!

    True, I did know the ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ rule but when I challenged someone on it, I was presented with ‘science’ and felt inadequate because I couldn’t explain it, save to say – ‘it’s English - so there are always exceptions!’

    Whatever had apparently gone wrong with my own education, oddly I was always ‘quite good’ at English whereas in Maths, I was consistently ‘must do better’. It surprised me though, how much more there was to learn when I started trying to help my sons with their school homework.

    And I wanted to know more.

    Even what ‘decomposition’ meant when we simply called it long subtraction in my day. The Initial Teaching course in Literacy, Arithmetic and ESOL motivated me, certainly with the English when I learnt for the first time how to use apostrophe ‘s’.

    It’s a very strange thing but teaching and tutoring are the best ways of learning.

    I’ve learnt an enormous amount since I started tutoring. Interestingly, it’s 15 years since I completed my degree and I have to say most of that knowledge appears to have ‘slipped the net’ but the material I use now to teach GCSE and A level students I seem to know inside out.

    I have a bigger confession, though.

    A student of English (well – language anyway), a tutor of English for GCSE and A level students and I hate Shakespeare.

    No. That’s not true.

    I don’t enjoy it and I don’t understand it. I know he wrote more than plays, but …

    Shakespeare is just not my field, and I tell my students that.

    Why is it compulsory in the revamped (Covid 2021 spec) for GCSE English Literature?

    Students learn so much from the poetry requirement - history, context, language etc and in prose, Shakespeare offers nothing that they can’t learn from Dickens, Steinbeck and Priestley on wide-ranging issues in context of greed, gender, race and disability inter alia.

    Apologies to enthusiasts like Professor Germaine Greer who has spent her life teaching Shakespeare, but I just don’t see why it helps the majority of our young people.

    Maybe it’s interesting to know some of the archaic lexis and kennings (kerns and gallowglasses, Macbeth Act 1 Scene 2) – answers on a postcard please - but do all 16-year-olds need to know these things to exam standard? I’m thinking of a 15-year-old girl who has her heart set on a Hair and Beauty apprenticeship.

    I have helped students through Shakespearian plays by using ‘cheating’ methods like translations (thank you SparkNotes) and the endless array of revision guides (and by the way there is a whole industry on Amazon operating very successfully just to help children get some kind of understanding of Shakespeare!) but I avoid the Bard whenever I can. Give me Dickens, the Brontës (even Wuthering Heights), Susan Hill (of Woman in Black fame) Steinbeck and Bill Bryson any day.

    But here’s the thing.

    I was once caught out by an A level student when I unwittingly agreed to do a session on Othello. I did not really want to do it and completely forgot! I planned something else entirely. At the following session, the student reminded me that we were supposed to be discussing background to Othello and I stupidly and instantly switched into ‘wing-it’ mode and talked about Shakespeare’s contribution in the evolution of the language and hardly mentioned Othello at all – mainly because I didn’t have much of a clue. My student then related to me what he had learned in school.

    I have never been so stupid since.

  • Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:26 PM | Julia Silver (Administrator)

    IN THE SPIRIT OF FOSTERING INDEPENDENT LEARNERS: THIS BLOG IS WRITTEN TO STUDENTS DIRECTLY, SO PLEASE PASS IT ON TO THEM…

    Thanks again to Jono Hey@ https://www.sketchplanations.com/ for use of his brilliant drawings.

    What motivates you to play on your PlayStation? What motivates you to go for pizza with friends? I figure the answer is a variation on: “I enjoy it”. No one pleaded with or threatened you to meet your mates. You weren’t scared (well, maybe a bit of FOMO). But really, you just do it because you want to. That’s Motivation 3.0: ‘Intrinsic Motivation’.

    It’s the best reason to get out of bed in the morning. Those of us who have jobs towards which we feel Intrinsically Motivated, feel as eager to go to work as you feel about playing PlayStation. I kid you not.

    SURELY, IT’S WORTH FINDING OUT HOW TO GET A JOB YOU CAN BE THAT PASSIONATE ABOUT? SURELY IT’S WORTH BEING THAT PASSIONATE RIGHT NOW?

    The working world is changing (well, to be fair it’s always changing). So many jobs have become automated - accountants, lawyers and doctors are seeing so much of their jobs handed over to AI. But there will always be a place for creative, collaborate humans. Check out this video to see what I mean (just watch the clip from 4:53-9:25).

    So what do your GCSEs and ALevels have to do with this new world and passionate way of working? It depends.

    Maybe, instead of waiting for your dream job to come to you, you could turn towards your dream job and realise that all the tasks on your way to that goal are part of the journey. Whether you’re going to do a plumbing apprenticeship, a teaching course or start an online business, you’re going to need maths and English. You’re going to need to know how to work hard and how to learn on the job. It’s an exciting way to live.

    So whether you’re facing down exams or just fed up of eating cold pizza for breakfast, find your passion and let that motivate you.

    It’s going to be amazing.

    (further watching for the over-achievers watch Seth Godin’s presentation on his brilliant book Linchpin, and then download the audiobook.)

  • Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:24 PM | Julia Silver (Administrator)

    There are so many online resources, whether they’re apps, online programs or printable worksheets. Here’s some favourites I can recommend:

    Touch-typing:

    Rapid Typing is a free download (not great on apple products). It’s a progressive system which will teach your children (or you…) how to touch type effortlessly.

    Times tables:

    Timestables Rockstars is everyone’s favourite timestables program at the moment. They’ve very kindly offered free usage during the coronavirus pandemic.

    If you want to take it off-screen, try making your own worksheets on Timestables.me.uk. You can select which timestables to test and how many questions on a sheet. It’s very easy to use and will generate a new test each time. Tip: let your child race against a timer to keep them motivated.

    Teach them to cheat. This 9 times table trick is simple to teach and feels very naughty.

    Projects:

    It can be fantastically motivating to work through a project. Twinkl has some great projects and have very kidly waived their fees during the coronavirus pandemic. Try this project, traditionally for Year 6 post-SATs allows your child to use their maths skills to design their own themepark. Or this project, also for Y6 post-SATs where they describe a made-up island.

    Tip: Keep all their work together in a folder so they feel a sense of purpose. It can be really demoralising to see your work go straight into the recyling bin before lunch.

    Online Maths Tutoring: Matr charge £9.99/ session. Their tutors are well-trained and the material is excellent. Well worth a fre trial.

    STEM activities (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)

    Frugal Fun 4 Boys is an incredible website with activities that aren’s too complicated and really work. Let them get stuck in.

    Dance

    Don’t forget that PE is part of the curriculum, and dancing always cheers us up. Check out Frances England for family-friendly good vibes.

    I will add more suggestions over the next few days - and please share yours below!

  • Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:23 PM | Julia Silver (Administrator)

    …You know you can help your student, if only he would just be motivated!

    Here’s our 3 keys to unlocking motivation any student: (Note: this blog is actually a mini-teacher-training - we’d love to hear if it helps you in practice.)

    • Give positive feedback

      Positive feedback is encouraging and motivating. It creates good energy and a can-do attitude. Positive feedback should be:

      • authentic - be genuinely pleased for your student as they succeed, but don’t overdo it.

      • accurate - choose the smallest success, and praise it specifically. “Wow! You remembered the apostrophe.”

    • Give SMART goals

      SMART goals are:

      • Specific

      • Measurable

      • Attainable

      • Relevant

      • Time-based

      To put this into context, think about how you would lead that same reluctant student on a long woodland walk.

      You’d:

    • let them hold the map,

    • show them the destination (or let them pick one from a selection),

    • let them know the point of the walk (excercise/ getting back to the car/ finding the picnic spot/ viewing point)

    • let them know what it will be like when you arrive (meet friends/ go swimming)

    • estimate how long the walk will take

    • most importantly - you won’t embark on a walk that they really can’t manage (that’s not ambitious, it’s demoralising).

    So plan do-able tasks, meaningful tasks, that lets the student enjoy a feeling of success and achievement.

    3. Build a positive relationship

    Positive relationships in tutoring boil down to 3 elements, each of which is built on the one before:

    Positivity, Trust and Respect

    Positivity

    • Be friendly - friendly means “How was your day?” “How was that movie you went to see after our last session?” or “Are you going away this Summer?” Let your student feel you’re interested in them as a person, and not only as a learner.

    Give them snippets of your life also, students are usually fascinated to discover tutors are people too. Only share information that relates to them (“I remember that when I learned this in Y7…” or “whenever my kids have this problem i always…”) and of course only in an appropriate way.

    You do need to get the balance right with friendliness, because you’re not peers, and that’s important. Your student needs you to be an adult, so be warm, but retain a professional boundary.

    Much of friendliness is simply in your attitude, tone of voice and body-language. At first, keep it bright and breezy. But really, you need to find a tone of voice that is warm but firm. If you need to correct a student, try to do it in a round-about way “Do you want to try that again?” or “Can you think of another way to say that to me?”

    Be Fun - fun just means making the learning enjoyable.

    You don’t have to plan elaborate lessons, but it helps to:

    - Plan a game for the last 5 minutes. It will leave the student with a good memory for next time. (Studies show that people tend to rate an experience by how much they enjoy the last few minutes.)

    - Show your own enthusiasm and excitement. Passion is infectious! If you show that you adore Macbeth, or quadratic equations, your student is far more likely to learn to love them too.

    - And don’t forget to be patient. Tutoring takes endless patience. Because you have… to give them… thinking… time. And that’s always longer than is comfortable. And it’s always worth waiting, because sometimes real gems appear, and other times you discover misconceptions that you would never have seen if you’d just interrupted with an answer. Remember that you’re here for the student and bring an extra dose of patience to every session.

    Respect

    Show respect - respect is built on positivity. By making lessons fun and by being friendly, you show that you respect your student’s experience of the session. You show yourself to be intelligent, empathetic and able when you create a positive atmosphere.

    Behave respectably - be punctual, presentable and prepared. That professionalism will establish that you are worthy of respect.

    • Command respect; don’t demand it - if your student isn’t behaving with respect, you will need to adjust your approach. Find a way to get through to them. But don’t stamp your feet and demand respect. (This is much easier said than done, and best to reflect on after the session.)

    Trust

    Trust is the biggest gun in a tutor’s arsenal. If you’ve got trust, your student will take risks. And risk-taking is fundamental to learning. Every time they put an answer down on paper, they know: it could be right, it could be wrong. If your student trusts you, they will allow you to challenge them in the secure knowledge that they’ll be fine, even if they fail miserably.

    Trust is based on having a solid track-record with a student. That track record is based on everything we’ve said above: giving positive feedback, setting SMART goals and building a positive and respectful relationship.

    These keys are really each a whole subject in their own right, as I said, it’s really a mini-teacher-trainng course.

    Qualified Tutor is going to be developing courses which explain more on each of these topics and many others, and we’d love to have you register your interest at our website qualifiedtutor.org.

    But, simply put, if you follow the guidance above, your will be able to motivate any student. How could they resist?

    19 March 2020


  • Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:20 PM | Julia Silver (Administrator)

    Online and virtual tutoring (and teaching) is going to be taking a front-seat in the coming weeks and months and it’s important that tutors alter their approach to fit the new environment.

    While the basic principles of tutoring remain the same, here are 4 key differences that will help you profit from the online setting and enhance your approach.

    1. Pick the right platform

    Choosing the right online learning platform will be crucial to feeling at ease with the student and allowing the natural flow of the session to flourish.

    Some of the better platforms include Zoom (free up to 3 participants and 40-minute sessions), Google Hangouts (free and easy to use) and Skype (the most well-established choice).

    While Skype has great connection and is already widely used, Zoom offers far more in the way of technical additions, such as easy screen-sharing and allowing the student to have control of your screen (so they can type directly onto your documents)

    Whichever platform you use, and there are more (ClassIn, BitPaper etc), make sure there is an easy-to-view online ‘whiteboard’ where you can both add notes (like on a piece of paper) and allow 10/15 minutes before the first online session for both parties to acclimatise to the new way of working

    2. Take more breaks

    With the student now focused on a screen, not sitting next to you, their concentration is guaranteed to dip faster

    Mitigate this by breaking up the session with more breaks – not necessarily ones where the student leaves the screen (be much more disciplined with this because you can’t go and get them from the kitchen!), but include more activities and learning games, which leads me onto …

    3. Make it more FUN

    When tutoring in person, it can be much easier to allow your natural social skills to make a session more interesting and exciting

    Online, you must show this in different ways, either by speaking in a more interested and less prescriptive manner or, for younger children, by introducing a ‘character’ prop who assists them in their learning

    4. Patience

    The final one is patience. With the added barrier of tutoring through a digital medium, don’t expect the points to get across as quickly

    Repeating a Maths equation 2 or 3 times more than you might have to is no concern. It’s true that, sitting next to you, a child will engage faster than online, so work with this!

    The most successful tutors will be able to identify the key differences, as outlined above, between online tutoring and the traditional face-to-face model and adapt to them quickly and effectively

    Will you be one of them ?



  • Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:19 PM | Julia Silver (Administrator)

    So Julia, we've come to the end of April, schools going back after the Easter holidays what message do you think schools want to share with parents right now?

    It's a real trial by fire and you wouldn't believe how extreme the responses are.

    We get extreme thank yous and we get extreme complaints and we get parents phoning us in tears and we have to remind ourselves that everybody's stressed out.

    People are anxious and people are afraid and people are overwhelmed and days are long and so all the responses that schools are getting have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

    It is a journey for the schools to work out how to provide for their specific parent and pupil bodies so it depends very much on what the homes are and what the tech availability is in a home. 

    In general you know everybody knows that we don't want the children on screen all day long and yet school is being provided on screen.

    People are finding it difficult to establish new norms and new social boundaries. What is an appropriate way for children to be dressed to show up for a Zoom lesson and, if we're in the park feeding the ducks, should we rush home for a Zoom lesson.

    And are these lessons mandatory ? And are children going to be making progress during this time or are we just revising ?

    Are we just babysitting?

    Are we just throwing the children busy work to keep them busy and to keep them off their parents' backs ? And it makes school notice all the things that we provide as well as learning.

    We provide socialisation and we provide babysitting.

    And that's a completely legitimate thing.

    We create a safe space for children to spend 8 hours of the day and as much as in my utopian ideal, I would be playing in the garden with my children all day long and would have no need for a school provision, it's actually not true. 

    We all get bored and we all need to feel stimulated and we need structure and we need stimulation and we need outside input and all that structure and guidance that schools provide as experts but also as another set of hands and another set of eyes.

    We say it takes a village to raise a child:

    We're cut off from our village and that's hard. It's hard for the children and it's so interesting how we are creating these other ways to communicate, like how we're all using daily WhatsApp videos as a new lifeline of:

    "Don't worry, we're all in the same boat"

    Just to make it clear to you, this week has been a nightmare. For parents, for schools and for children.

    We're supposed to have gone back after the holiday. We're all itching to return to routine and we're trying to create a routine out of nothing.

    Now, those amongst us who are adventurers and who are up for a new challenge 

    are saying, well the technology has been around for a while and actually we really can do this thing and there are incredible resources out there. All the education resource providers have unlocked their material which is so, so generous:

    Collins and Oxford Reading Tree and Hamilton Trust and Twinkl.

    BBC Bitesize is creating the most amazing raft of input and hopefully that will go on forever now that they've created it.

    There's an organisation called The Oak Academy where 400 lessons are going on daily.

    There are all sorts of new things that people are doing to respond and one of the things that I heard in a podcast on the subject recently is that the disruption that the world has experienced during coronavirus is going to accelerate everything.

    So a business that was failing, it's going to fail faster and technology that was developing is going to develop faster and if you think about it in that sense, well, education has been going in a specific questioning direction for the last decade. 

    People have been saying: school is too industrial and we have to get more creative  and more open-ended and more differentiated.

    There are amazing resources like the Khan Academy, which just invented the model of flipping the lesson, which means you pre-record the content for the children to watch the content for homework so that when they come into school, they work one to one with the teachers and they benefit from the teachers' expertise and feedback.

    That's an amazing change because what you've done is you've taken the content because we live in a content-heavy society, you can find anything you want on Google but what you can't get is the one to one input.

    That one to one input is really what the teachers are offering

    Schools are working it out.

    It is a journey.

    It will be messy.

    And if we have a growth mindset and a good attitude and we are gentle and respectful with each other then we will come out at the other end all skilled-up for a whole new world.

    But the responses have been extreme.


  • Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:19 PM | Julia Silver (Administrator)

    So Julia, how are the different media working for you at the moment (with your teacher hat on) ?

    So, we basically have two different models in our school:

    • those teachers doing live lessons; and

    • those teachers providing pre-recorded lessons

    The reason why we're doing that is because some teachers are available during the day because they don't have kids at home and some teachers are not at all available during the day because they're juggling their own children and they can’t work live.

    And it's really important as a school leader to respect what your teachers can and can't do and to plan around their workloads.

    So in the same way that we differentiate for children, you have to differentiate for your staff.

    Putting staff wellbeing first, we have these two models: the pre-recorded lesson, which is the equivalent to the Khan Academy, model where you're flipping the lesson. You're providing this content that the children can watch in their own time.

    They can rewind it and watch it as many times as possible and, what I'm finding is, the teachers who are very good presenters are really thriving on this model because they can get as creative as they want, they turn the energy right up, they use props and they really enjoy presenting the information.

    And then there are the teachers who thrive on the energy in the room, the relationship and the reciprocity that happens between the teacher and the student

    And those teachers are coming for the live video event as much as they can.

    So I've got some teachers who are doing 20 minutes every day and they're alternating Maths and English.

    I've got some who have whole class groups and then they've got breakout rooms where their teaching assistant goes into a breakout room with them or, in the breakout room, there’ll be Latin, in the main room will be English and then they'll flip over, so these are all different ways we're learning to use Zoom and it's working very, very well for us.

    So, now that we've got our security settings pretty well established, we have an idea about how to be confident that the security's all right and then also giving students proper training in online learning, how to keep them muted, how to allow themselves to unmute themselves etc.

    Once you've got all of those norms established, then there's a lot you can do with Zoom in terms of building a back and forth.

    Then you have to consider what the parents have to say and we know that there will always be a range of opinions and there'll be people who are happy with the resource and people who are not happy with the resource.

    The people who are enjoying the pre-recorded are using it in their own time, so if there's siblings in the house, you don't have to stick to a schedule or a structure if people are vying for access to the laptop at the same time, which can be very, very convenient.

    But then at the same time, with the Zoom resource, you can record it and share it afterwards so everybody can have access to it.

    We’re embracing the adaptability and flexibility at the moment !


  • Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:17 PM | Julia Silver (Administrator)

    Julia, the teachers who are also parents, what are they going through right now ?

    We're really conflicted

    We're really conflicted between the 30 children who are relying on us and the 5 children who need us the most.

    So it's very interesting because you look at your own kids with your teacher hat on and you think to yourself: "Well, what do they need to get from this time ?"

    They just need to come out unscathed

    They really just need to come out of this time feeling like they're still ready to learn and still ready to be a part of things and that nothing terrible happened.

    But there is anxiety and there is loss

    So we want our children to be filled up with family during this time and filled up with closeness and relationship and we're not really too fussed about the extra input of Maths that they're going to get.

    It's the summer term, it's not a content-heavy term, and every teacher is going to plan to catch up in the autumn.

    So it's much, much more about knowing what's important, having realistic goals for them and realising that taking them for a walk is probably more important than another Maths sheet; that reading with them is probably the second most important thing you should be doing.

    And the third point is speaking in full sentences, because these are the skills that are going to go out the window. Their brains are going to go to mush by the end of the summer, if they don't focus now.

    Because they're not as stimulated. All that jostling about and development that happens in school, however uncomfortable it can be, is a stretch for them and, spending the next six months on the sofa is not what our children need.

    So, as a teacher and as a parent, I know that what my children need from me is to keep them moving.

    I know that the children in my class don't need me as much as my children at home do.


  • Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:17 PM | Julia Silver (Administrator)

    Schools are facing a really steep learning curve and it would be helpful if parents were mindful of that and gave schools the time and the space to work things out.

    Schools are so conscientious. Teachers are so conscientious.

    Everybody's just trying to do right by the children and, whatever the provision is, whether people are using Google Classrooms and uploading work. Or whether they've sent packs home or they're providing online lessons each day, there's no one right way. That's really important and what's right for you won't be right for your neighbour.

    And so schools have to create this differentiated offering which suits the teachers,

    suits the parents, suits all the different parent bodies and the children and their specific needs.

    Providing all of that is going to be a balancing act and parents would be wise to give the schools space to work that through.

    We are basically, as schools, pretty good at creating equilibrium and then maintaining it and this is a completely new equilibrium that we need to find.

    So also give them feedback but don't bowl them over because, what we've found is, the responses are really extreme.

    Some people are screaming that it's not enough and some people are screaming that it's too much and the heightened emotional climate, the anxiety and the fear and the pressure and the overwhelm means that nobody is comfortable.

    We are all uncomfortable right now.

    Although the sun is shining and hopefully the pandemic is going to begin to just slow down, we are expecting this to take a while longer.

    And, in order to do right by the children, the adults need to calm down, take a breath, realise what's important, which is always well-being, and not worry too much about the exact details.



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