Last Wednesday, 14th November, Action Tutoring hosted its biannual “Ask a Tutor” panel event at their new offices in East London. The panel event was designed to bring together old and new volunteers, outside of the classroom, and give them a chance to discuss all things tutoring. It proved to be a great way to open dialogue between the volunteers, exchange knowledge on tutoring with one another and enjoy a bite of cheese and wine!
This year, Action Tutoring had a lovely selection of four panellists, who together have supported on an incredible 173 tutoring sessions with Action Tutoring. They were keen to answer any questions that new volunteers had about tutoring.
This year’s panellists were:
Sandra Fisher – tutors English at a primary school
Sandra is now retired, having latterly worked as a Product Manager for a website focussing on financial information. She has recently moved back to the UK after spending 20 years in Singapore, New York and Bermuda.
Stephen Harris – tutors English at a secondary school
Stephen is the CEO of an international media company and has previously worked as a financial journalist, hedge fund manager and accountant.
Dr Sarah Wise – tutors maths at a primary school
Sarah is a postdoctoral researcher at University College London, who utilises simulation to explore complex systems. In addition to her research, she occasionally delivers lectures and provides guidance to postgraduate and undergraduate students with regard to their projects, research and coursework.
Asad Ghani – tutors maths at a secondary school
Asad currently works for the British Business Bank. He gained his Master’s in Economics from the London School of Economics and will shortly be moving to work in the Cabinet Office.
Main questions of the evening:
1) I have noticed that my pupils are reluctant when it comes to writing essays. They find it easier to verbally discuss what they are writing, but how can I get them to commit to writing it down on paper?
That’s a great question, and one of the most common struggles that tutors come across with pupils trying to sit an English exam. It is important to find topics that interest the pupil so that when it comes to writing an essay, they find it easier to express their ideas. I have found that if you can ask them to write about something that they are interested in, they will be more likely to engage in the session and write more. Moreover, some pupils, I have noticed, find it difficult to use literacy techniques, such as metaphors and similes, in their essays. It’s always a good idea to come to the session prepared with your own examples of using such techniques, as they will be more likely to engage with what you are showing them, rather than reading the examples from the workbook. With pupils who struggle with creating their own examples, sometimes the best approach would be to hand-hold them through the process. Most pupils are under the illusion that they can’t do the work and therefore need a little more encouragement and praise, and make sure that when they verbally give an example to tell them to write it down.
2) How can I get my pupils to be more interested in maths?
I have found that when working with primary school pupils, it is important to relate the maths questions to a topic that they are interested in. For example, I found that using maths to explain or describe football, really appeals to young boys. Moreover, it is a useful technique to use argumentative questions, to bring about a discussion between the pupils. Pairing them up in groups could be a good way to solve the questions, as they like to think of this as a race to who can solve the question the fastest.
3) How can we get our pupils engaged in literature?
This is a struggle as pupils aren’t often interested in reading books as a past-time, but it is so important for their English exams as reading extra material can help build up vocabulary. Perhaps suggest to your pupils, to begin with reading short stories or even trying poems just to build up their vocabulary.
4) What are the main challenges when tutoring maths?
Some of the main challenges link back to their previous experiences in maths. It is evident that often pupils can lack basic skills, such as arithmetic and the ability to quickly solve the times tables. They have therefore developed coping mechanisms in order to fill in the gaps that they have, e.g. Writing the number out to add them together instead of multiplying, however, this can be very time-consuming. It is important to try and tackle this problem through your first sessions. Through practice, you can encourage the pupil to slowly let go of such habits and be able to tackle the more difficult questions.
Another problem which is quite common, is that pupils develop the habit of “shutting down” whenever they come across a question that they do not fully understand. It is important to walk through the steps of the question together, defining words that they do not understand. Tackling the questions step by step by breaking them down, is an important skill to master in maths as once the pupil sees that they can get through the question slowly but surely, they will begin to have confidence in themselves.
Key points of advice from the panel:
– Over-encourage and praise your pupils
The panellists emphasised how important it is to praise your pupils, even for the smallest achievement. Building confidence is important as the more confident your pupils become, the more likely they will succeed in their exams.
– Alter your style and approach based on the ability of the pupils
It is good to bring your own material to some of the sessions to add variation and make it more interesting for the pupil. Perhaps the essay topics and titles from the workbook may not be of interest to the pupil, so it is always a good idea to ask what they are interested in and change your approach to best suit their interests. It could even mean bringing in non-academic materials to the sessions or discussing another English-based subject such as the topics they are covering in literature.
– Share your own experiences
Sometimes, a good way to keep the pupils engaged would be to talk about your own experiences. It’s a great way to become more relatable to the pupils and gives them a chance to ask you how you dealt with certain challenges, be them academic or relating to life experiences.
– Most importantly, stay light-hearted!
The learning process can be quite daunting for some pupils, especially if they are struggling with the subject, so it is important to keep the mood light and friendly. Sometimes pupils might get discouraged if they get an answer wrong, and a light joke or change of subject can go a long way to boost their confidence.