Guest Blog

Becoming a volunteer tutor: How to utilise your skills, whilst learning new skills, in retirement

22 September 2021

Action Tutoring volunteer, Lisetta Lovett, describes her experience tutoring on programme and the skills it has allowed her to develop during retirement.

When I first heard about Action Tutoring, I was attracted to the idea of helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds catch-up with their peers. This appealed for several reasons, not least as an opportunity in retirement to apply my own skills to help those facing socio-economic disadvantage. Most of us like to feel we are being altruistic; what I had not realised was that tutoring would benefit me too.

Tutoring maths meant developing a new skill set

I have been retired for a few years from a busy medical NHS career. I was looking forward to supporting a young person with their maths at GCSE as my first degree included the subject. I anticipated that the maths would be different, but had not appreciated that I would develop new skills as a result. Namely, although I could, to my delight and relief, answer most of the questions in the workbook that we used, I had to learn how to explain the concepts simply. The process brought me a deeper appreciation of a much-loved subject of my youth.

The Covid pandemic brought its difficulties

The last year has been, for obvious reasons, particularly difficult. Attendance from some of the pupils was patchy. This was often because the ‘bubble’ system meant that they were sent home.

At one point the sessions were allowed to take place from the pupil’s home rather than school. This revealed the challenges these pupils face with respect to inadequate IT facilities. On one occasion a pupil had to use her phone and another was competing for time on their only computer with several other siblings. 

Building up confidence amongst the pupils

Some of the pupils I supported had low self-esteem, and their panic at the sight of algebra was palpable. I heaped them with praise when I could, used humour liberally and, with the help of YouTube, found imaginative ways of explaining how to tackle the maths problems. Seeing them develop their confidence was hugely rewarding.

Learning new IT skills

Another challenge was learning to use the Vedamo platform that Action Tutoring uses as their online classroom. This was new to the pupils as well, so the challenge of a new way of learning was shared. The use of IT for teaching is rather less intuitive to people of my generation, but I learnt and became adequately competent, thereby clocking up another skill and some confidence. Some of the tools on their platform can be a little tricky to use, and drawing them freehand produces figures that one might expect a three-year-old to write. At least the pupils had a good laugh at my attempts.

Continuing on for another year

By the end of the year, I was growing in confidence and I agreed to continue with a further five sessions with Year 10s. This went well as I continued to become more experienced with tutoring. 

It would be a pity to waste what I have learnt, so I have signed up for another year. Tutoring with young people is great as the process is an intergenerational one. It has put me back in touch with young people today and given me some insight into the challenges they face.

George Floyd’s death, one year on

25 May 2021

On the first anniversary of the death of George Floyd, Action Tutoring HR and Safeguarding Manager, Jasmin Bemmelen, reflects on the steps the organisation has since taken to improve diversity and inclusion across the charity.

Equality, inclusion, diversity – words that have been buzzing across the world since the death of George Floyd, one year ago. As a result of this event, a problem that has existed for years resurfaced in many people’s minds and the public mood reached a breaking point. His death woke many of us up to the fact that inequality and exclusion are still a reality and that now is time to make the change happen. 

These topics are a priority for me as the HR and Safeguarding Manager and the lead for diversity and inclusion at Action Tutoring. Questions such as: ‘How can we change processes and mindsets within a short period of time?’; ‘How can we become a more inclusive employer?’; ‘How can we support our staff on the journey of fixing implicit bias?; ‘How can we break the status quo and dare to have brave conversations about topics that we believe are ‘taboos’ or ‘not appropriate’ to have?, are constantly on my mind. 

Working with a wide range of stakeholders (pupils, teachers, tutors, parents and guardians, funders and staff), we knew we had to start the journey of implementing new diversity and inclusion policies, in order to generate the change we want to see across the charity. As part of this, I created a working group that meets monthly, to propose and work on positive actions for the wider team. Every day, we are discovering more elements of our work that we can improve. We are constantly adjusting to become as inclusive and diverse as we possibly can and I believe that this will continue to improve over time. 

We need to break down the concepts of inclusion and diversity and convert them into tangible actions, turning them from abstract ideas to concrete steps, so that everyone can get on board. 

As a result, we have been implementing ‘everyday actions’ to encourage diversity and inclusion at Action Tutoring, such as: 

  • ‘Broaden your horizon’ Club – providing a safe space for staff to share their thoughts and ideas, whilst learning more about topics they might not have visited or thought about before.Team members come forward with topics they would like to discuss and resources are shared at the club meetings.
  • Adopting the HALO code – we have adopted the very first code that protects Black employees who come to work with natural hair and hairstyles associated with their racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.
  • Lunchtime catch-ups and socials to celebrate and create awareness of important dates – (e.g. International Women’s Day; International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia; Eid and Ramadan).
  • Inclusive email signatures – our signatures now have the option to include gender pronouns, recognising the need for pronouns in today’s culture, so that applicants and employees feel comfortable to do the same so that everyone can be addressed correctly.
  • Long emails and newsletters now recorded for audio format – for those who prefer to digest information in an auditory way.

Through this process, I soon realised that my own expertise is limited and that if we want to challenge the status quo, external support for our recruitment processes would be needed. Receiving a equality, diversity and inclusion grant and with it the consultancy from the TPP, a recruitment expert consultancy, means we come one step closer to a more diverse team and a more inclusive working environment. We can start becoming the change we want to see in our society, which can ultimately increase our positive impact on the pupils, tutors and schools that we work with.

This anniversary has helped me to reflect on the positive actions we have taken so far, as well as how much more we need to be doing. Going forward, increasing diversity and inclusion across Action Tutoring is a journey that we are committed to continuing on.

To keep updated with the policies we continue to implement at Action Tutoring, please  read our blog and subscribe to our newsletter.

Student Volunteering Week: My experience as a student volunteer with Action Tutoring

11 February 2021

Eleanor, who is currently studying English Language and Linguistics at the University of West England, has been a volunteer with Action Tutoring since December 2019. Eleanor has shared her story for you to learn more about her experience as a tutor. We hope you enjoy reading about her journey.

I volunteer with Action Tutoring because I want to make a difference to children’s education, particularly now, considering the impact of the pandemic. This year especially, it feels so important to volunteer and help pupils whose education has been most impacted.

In my experience, you notice a difference in your pupils from the second tutoring session. They are usually a lot more comfortable with you and less shy. They may want to learn more about you and what you do for a living, too. During the initial sessions, my pupils would refuse to read the extracts given in the Action Tutoring booklets, and say they were embarrassed by their reading abilities. Now, they try to jump in to read before me, and pick lessons with longer reading chapters in a bid to further their skills. One pupil even experiments with doing different voices for characters now!

Balancing tutoring with my studies is very easy for me. I choose to tutor on days where I am completely free or have the whole morning or afternoon off, as I like to walk in and enjoy the scenic route. Tutoring the morning sessions helps me get out of bed and is a motivating start to the day, and hopefully to my pupils’, too. Action Tutoring provides all of the tutoring resources, so all I have to do is familiarise myself with the lesson and deliver it. This makes it very easy and simple for me to go and teach, so it doesn’t negatively impact my studies in any way. I also try and choose to volunteer at schools nearby to me that are easy to get to (when in-school opportunities are available), in order to avoid missing any sessions or being late.

Become a student volunteer

Action Tutoring has definitely helped me develop in confidence and in learning different styles of talking to people; such as teaching register, talking to my tutoring peers, and talking to school staff and my programme coordinator. This will definitely help prepare me for teaching environments and future employment.

Volunteering during the pandemic has been good for my mental health. When I have been able to tutor in-school, it has given me a sense of normality where my pupils and I can forget about COVID-19 and just learn about English together (while still socially-distanced and wearing masks). I would recommend volunteering to anyone who is furloughed or unemployed, as it is really motivating to have a sense of purpose and to feel needed. I chose to tutor on face-to-face programmes, as I prefer the closer interaction and getting to go somewhere different during my daily week, rather than online tutoring, but when schools are open, Action Tutoring offers both options, so it’s flexible for everyone. 

Finally, I would personally recommend Action Tutoring to anyone who is able to spare an hour a week to go and help children in need. I think it’s important to remember how lucky we were to have a ‘normal’ school experience and any sense of normalcy for these children in school at the moment is so key and showing that despite what is happening around them, people are there to support them and wish them the best chance in their education. This to me is such a key motivator this year. 

Disadvantaged pupils have been hit hardest by the pandemic, and we want to help as many as we can catch up. Apply now to volunteer to tutor maths or English for just one hour per week.

Student Volunteering Week: Five reasons why I volunteer with Action Tutoring

4 February 2021

Megan Healey, who is currently studying English Literature at the University of Liverpool, has been a volunteer with Action Tutoring, making a difference to pupils in Liverpool, since October 2020. Megan has shared five reasons why she volunteers with Action Tutoring. We hope you enjoy reading about her journey.

There are so many reasons to volunteer as a student, but most of the time you find yourself coming up with excuses not to: you can’t find the right opportunity, it doesn’t fit in with your schedule, you aren’t sure if you’ll enjoy it etc. Having volunteered as a student with Action Tutoring last semester as part of a work placement module, I’ve decided to continue to volunteer with the charity. Here are the five reasons why I volunteer as a student.

1 – Giving back to the community

After spending a couple of years getting to know Liverpool, I decided that I wanted to give back to the community that has always been so welcoming to us students! Action Tutoring provided me with a way to support disadvantaged pupils in school, tutoring English study sessions to GCSE students. The extra support Action Tutoring’s pupils provides helps them build on the skills they learn in class. As volunteers, we offer pupils a space to go over any issues that they have with maths or English, helping them overcome any barriers so that they can achieve the grades they deserve. 

2 – Personal development

In addition to giving back to the community, the Action Tutoring volunteering programme allows students to develop crucial skills which employers find attractive. Working with Action Tutoring allows you to work on communication and interpersonal skills as well as your problem-solving skills as you work with the pupil to help them overcome any difficulties. The skills and experience gained through volunteering are completely transferable to any future job role, making it a valued opportunity.

3 – Because it’s rewarding

Personal development brings me to my next reason for volunteering because it’s rewarding. Not only does your development allow for more opportunities in the future, but volunteering makes you feel great. Spending time with the pupils and getting to know them makes seeing them progress extremely rewarding. Each week you notice positive changes in the pupils’ performance, and as they start to see the changes in themselves they gain more confidence. Not only does it boost their confidence but it boosts yours too! Being in a position where you are able to provide encouragement to someone, uplift them and help them develop makes you feel really grateful to be working as a tutor.

4 – Flexibility

Action Tutoring is perfect for students because the volunteering hours are completely flexible, allowing you to volunteer around your university schedule. I decided to volunteer three hours a week on a Monday and Tuesday as it fits in with my timetable. Whilst volunteering with Action Tutoring you’re able to join as many or as few tutoring programmes (weekly tutoring sessions) as you’d like, making it the perfect way to volunteer whilst you study. 

5 – Maintaining mental health during a pandemic

Finally, the last reason why I volunteer with Action Tutoring is that it’s helped me maintain positive mental health throughout the pandemic and all of the lockdowns. The weekly online sessions have helped take my mind off of what’s been going on. Getting to take a productive break from studying has let me feel like I’ve accomplished something, which makes me feel good about myself. The positive energy that the pupils bring to the virtual tutoring sessions rubs off on me, leaving me feeling revitalised. In addition to providing a break from reality, the weekly sessions offer some form of structure, something we all lost when the pandemic started. The structure volunteering provides helps me manage my time, allowing me to feel more organised during a period of constant uncertainty. 

Become a student volunteer

Action Tutoring is an amazing opportunity that benefits the pupils from local areas whilst also develops your own skills. I completely recommend volunteering with Action Tutoring. 

Apply now to volunteer with us as a student, and help young people in your local community improve their English and maths skills, as well as getting great teaching experience and improving your own skills.

The impact of tutoring: Year 7 pupil Medina tells us about her experience on an Action Tutoring programme

24 December 2020

Medina – Year 7 pupil at Lilian Baylis Technology School, Vauxhall, South London

It’s been a strange year for Medina. With the national lockdown coming into force back in March, schools were made to close which meant she missed out on her final few months at primary school, including her SATs exams. That’s a lot to miss, especially for the pupils we work with at Action Tutoring who don’t all have the same access to online and at-home learning as some of their peers.

Now, Medina has just completed her first term of secondary school, as one of the new Year 7s at Lilian Baylis Technology School in Vauxhall, South London. The year groups are in isolated bubbles, which means she hasn’t met any of the older children yet and the full secondary school experience is still to come – plus, there’s a lot of catching up to do.

Along with 19 of her classmates, Medina has been receiving personalised tutoring from one of our volunteers this term. Here, she tells us what it’s been like to get an extra hour’s support in maths from Abigail each week in this time of confusion and transition…

How did it feel coming to secondary school after missing the last six months of Year 6?

I was a little bit nervous because I thought I would forget everything. But I have a good long-term memory and I remembered a lot of the basics from my classes. I forgot a few things, though, and have had to be reminded in my classes now.

We’ve been giving you tutoring in maths. How did you feel about the subject when you got to Lilian Baylis?

My teachers have been good, but now we are learning more things that are harder and some of them do not make sense to me. But I’ve started learning and things are getting easier. Classes have refreshed my memory and I think I am getting better now. I was not as confident but now I feel more certain about my answers.

What’s your favourite subject?

Art is my favourite. It’s a way to express your feelings without talking. You can just put it on the page and tell people how you feel with colours and shapes.

What is your maths tutor Abigail like?

Abigail motivates me and even when I get answers wrong she helps me to get a good understanding about why I got it wrong. She understands where I go wrong and helps me so next time I get it right, and now I see questions that I know I can get right because she has shown me how.

Do you know what Abigail does when she isn’t tutoring?

She said she was a student at university but I can’t remember what she does. I think it’s medicine!

Why do you like her as a tutor?

She is very calm and doesn’t get upset when I get an answer wrong. She keeps working with me until I get it right.

What was she like when you first met her?

She was very nice and she asked me and my classmate what we were struggling with. She then made sure to bring those things up during the lesson. She’s very motivating!

Was there anything in particular you were struggling with that Abigail has helped you understand?

It was really good doing decimals with her. I didn’t know how to say which one is the biggest and the smallest off the top of my head but she’s helped me build my confidence doing that.

How do you feel when your tutoring session ends?

I feel very relaxed because I’ve done all this hard work that I know will pay off at school in my classes and assessments.

Do you know what you want to be or do when you’re older?

I don’t really know, but I really like skateboarding and writing. I’m going to have a workshop soon with a journalist from the Guardian. So I might want to be a journalist, but I’d also maybe like to be a chef. Cooking is like art – you can express yourself through the flavours!


This year, Action Tutoring is expanding to work with more pupils than ever whose education has been affected by the pandemic, including many more Year 7 pupils like Medina. We are proud and inspired by what our volunteers have done this autumn, whether socially distancing in schools or mastering virtual tutoring for the first time. We know so much will now be possible in 2021 but need more tutors to join us if we are to make the necessary impact on our pupils’ lives.

To make a difference to lives of young people like Medina, apply as a volunteer now and start tutoring in January, or become a partner school to see the impact that tutoring can have on pupils.

Partner as a school         Become a volunteer

 

 

Steering the Action Tutoring ship into 2021

18 December 2020

Action Tutoring Interim CEO, Jen Fox, reflects on her time at the charity so far, and looks towards leading the organisation to more exciting growth in the new year.

Growing up in the seaside town of Bray in the Republic of Ireland, you’d be forgiven for assuming I had at least some experience on the water. While I’m not one to shy away from a New Year’s Day swim, my time on board ships has been limited. And yet, I find myself drawn to the analogy: steering the Action Tutoring ship into 2021.

I joined AT back in September 2015, fresh out of teaching science in a secondary school in South London. Initially appointed as London and Curriculum Manager, I soon found myself learning about what it takes to run a successful education charity.

I was fortunate to cover Susannah Hardyman’s first maternity leave in 2017-18. During this year, Action Tutoring grew significantly, mostly due to an expansion of our programmes into primary schools. Perhaps it was this experience that influenced Susannah and the Trustees to welcome me back as Interim CEO for a second time around? I’m delighted, excited and proud to be part of the AT team in a year where our ambition is to double in size.

The destination has been set, the Captain grounded (with a new born!) and the crew more passionate than ever to make a difference. My job is to make sure that the AT ship stays on course.

Setting the destination has taken months of strategic and financial planning, but the confirmation of Action Tutoring as an approved Tuition Partner of the National Tutoring Programme removed any doubt that AT could spread the power of volunteer tutoring to more deserving young people this year.

I didn’t have a tutor growing up, but I was lucky to have several teachers and family members who gave me the time and support structures that I needed in order to learn. I was the first person in my family to attend university, an experience that changed how I viewed the world. My mum (who graduated from the Open University two decades after having her family and while she was working full time) instilled a belief in me that education is transformative. I’m known for often concluding any debate about social, emotional or political problems by stating how they can be solved through education. I truly believe that is the case.

In a year overshadowed by a pandemic alongside continued school disruption, I’m certainly not expecting smooth sailing. However, I feel confident that any storms or course diversions ahead, whether they be treasure chests or mirages, will be weathered with ease.

I can say this because I know the crew we have. From the 64 employees to the 2000+ volunteer tutors and hundreds of supportive Link Teachers, I am confident that they will face whatever lies ahead with integrity and commitment. This will enable us to give as many disadvantaged young people as possible a better chance to succeed in the next stage of their lives.

If you would like to join us as a volunteer, apply now to start tutoring on a January programme.

 Become a volunteer

PC Spotlight: A day in the life of a Programme Coordinator

20 November 2020

With autumn term programmes well under way, Programme Coordinator for London, Rhys Handley, takes us through a usual day at work for the Action Tutoring staff keeping programmes on track.

Tutoring

I seem to have joined the Action Tutoring team at the most exciting time possible. The charity is currently undergoing unprecedented and rapid growth, thanks to funds from the newly-introduced National Tutoring Programme, meaning we can provide vital extracurricular tutoring to more disadvantaged pupils in more schools in more parts of the country than ever before. That’s where someone like me comes in – a Programme Coordinator; or Action Tutoring’s boots on the ground, so to speak.

Having volunteered as one of more than 1,000 tutors for the charity in the days before national lockdown, I was hired as a PC in August ahead of the new term. I had already met a few of my now-colleagues in my capacity as a volunteer, so I entered the role with the vaguest notion of what it requires – but I realise now that I had barely scratched the surface and was actually only witnessing the (very rewarding) end-result of juggling innumerable plates, assembling many moving parts, or however you’d like to put it.

So, what have I discovered in the months since – easily the busiest Action Tutoring has ever experienced – and what does that look like for me, and the ever-growing team of PCs working with our partner schools and volunteers across England, in the day-to-day?

Now that my programmes are all up-and-running (a full-time London-based PC like me can expect to have seven schools on their plate each term), a typical day starts pretty early. I’ll jump out of bed well before 7am, scoff a banana and throw back a coffee before hopping on my bike to a school for my first programme of the day. Morning programmes usually start around the 8-8.30am mark and PCs need to be there early.

Every school is unique and so each programme comes with its own ‘personality’, each packed with lively, attentive pupils supported by committed, resilient teachers and school staff.

 

For our in-school programmes, many of which are still running this term while following each school’s Covid-19 guidance, this is to make sure all our tutors arrive on time and can be matched up with their pupils promptly before the session starts. For our brand-new online programmes, it’s to make sure all the tech is up-and-running in good time so the pupils are able to interact with their tutors via our newly-minted online tutoring platform. In these sessions, the tutors are coming to the pupils from their homes and workplaces, so there’s a lot of fiddly factors for a PC to balance to make sure things go smoothly – it’s a new system with lots of kinks and quirks to get used to, as surely we’re all finding in this increasingly-online mid-pandemic world of ours.

Once a session is concluded, I’ll be back on my bike to my flat (Action Tutoring staff are working from home for the most part, like so many others) where I’ll settle in at the dining table with a piping hot cafetière of java to crack on with any number of intricate, but essential, administrative tasks. This usually includes answering emails and fielding calls from schools and tutors, helping out with volunteer training seminars on Zoom, plugging in and processing pupil attendance and attainment data to keep up on our rigorous record-keeping, checking tutor documents to clear DBS checks, and if there’s time, taking 15 minutes to catch up with some of my wonderful colleagues on a Google Hangout to check in and make sure everyone is doing ok.

You get to see these children’s ability, confidence, self-esteem and joy for learning grow in real time and, ultimately, that is the real privilege that comes with doing the job of a PC.

 

Two or three hours of this will fly by and then, after lunch, it’s back on my bike to an afternoon programme. Every school is unique and so each programme comes with its own ‘personality’, each packed with lively, attentive pupils supported by committed, resilient teachers and school staff.

All of those tricky admin tasks, which do tend to build up, are undoubtedly worth it because they all so clearly feed directly into that moment when a tutor is working with a pupil and you see them click on to something they’d been struggling to understand in class. You get to see these children’s ability, confidence, self-esteem and joy for learning grow in real time and, ultimately, that is the real privilege that comes with doing the job of a PC.

Same again tomorrow? Absolutely.

If you are interested in having a PC like Rhys coordinating tutoring sessions at your school, please enquire about partnering with us below.

Partner as a school

Tutoring is not just about altruism, but taking small steps to see real results

11 September 2020

Madina has been a volunteer with Action Tutoring making a difference to pupils in Birmingham since November 2019. Madina has shared her story for you to learn more about her experience as a tutor. We hope you enjoy reading about her Action Tutoring journey.

Madina, tell us a bit about what you do alongside volunteering.

I’ve just finished my first year studying for a degree in English, soon to start my second. I’m also currently working in retail part-time alongside my studies, which is definitely handy experience! Aside from that, I’m an avid reader and also enjoy making art. 

 

What first led you to Action Tutoring?

I first came across Action Tutoring at a careers fair at my university during welcome week. The volunteers’ passion was really evident as they explained what the role entailed and the enjoyment they gained from it. I was drawn in by the purpose behind the charity, in aiming to close the gap in educational attainment throughout the country. I was previously unaware of how the education of many can suffer due to not being able to afford private tutoring; providing an available voluntary service struck me as a hugely effective course of action. 

 

Why is volunteering important to you?

For a few years, I volunteered at Childline (NSPCC). I replied to emails and calls from a variety of young people, all with differing backgrounds, upbringings and experiences. The aim of the work was the safeguarding of children and young people, giving them a secure place to air their feelings, to express themselves and make themselves heard. It proved a very rewarding experience, which I feel is a crucial aspect in any voluntary work. Giving a portion of one’s time to help others or a wider community isn’t just about being altruistic. It’s about recognising where support is needed and taking action to contribute towards any improvements that can be made. For me, the knowledge that even a small step taken can lead to brilliant results is really what makes the volunteering experience so rewarding.

 

Describe a successful tutoring session.

In the week beforehand, we’re encouraged to plan whatever key skill we choose to cover – usually, this is up to the pupils and what they feel needs working on. A typical session goes along the lines of a warm-up, the main activity and then a plenary, where we summarise on the skill covered. Many sessions can go completely smoothly and according to plan, but I feel what makes it successful is the pupils’ engagement. It’s very normal for some pupils to be rather shy or nervous at the beginning. However, seeing them come out of their shell and being comfortable to voice any difficulties they may be having is what makes the sessions work so effectively. It really does feel successful when you realise the pupils are as motivated as you are. 

 

Describe a memorable moment from one of your sessions.One of my pupils, who had been struggling in grasping a key skillset, told me that she’d received praise in an English lesson after being able to finally demonstrate the skill. From that point forward, there was an evident improvement in her confidence; not only did she express herself better, but her work improved too. I’ll never forget her enthusiasm when she shared her achievement with me. It felt like I’d really made a difference, driving me to work further towards building the confidence of the pupils I work with. 

 

Tell us something that surprised you about volunteering with Action Tutoring.

I initially had the idea that tutoring was going to be one to one, so I was slightly surprised to find out that the sessions tend to be in groups. The challenge was trying to accommodate each of their needs in the weekly activities, attending to all of them without leaving anyone out. I found that the solution was to find a skillset that everyone could agree to work on, as well as keeping an extra eye on the pupils who needed more support. I also didn’t expect how fun it would be to work in a group dynamic, especially when it came to warm-up activities. Seeing how competitive they could be only five minutes into the session really set the bar for energy levels throughout the rest of the hour. 

 

What’s the hardest thing and the best thing about tutoring?

It’s often difficult to get the pupils to focus, especially if they’re easily distracted. However, it only means that I have to find more creative ways of maintaining their attention – this involves small breaks in between activities, or a break at the end if they just wanted a general chat to unwind. The best thing by far is seeing them enjoy the session. Nothing beats finishing on a positive note, with a solid plan on what they want to cover next week, and knowing that some progress had been achieved. It makes the struggles along the way worth it, seeing that they’ve been given the support they need and most importantly, that they get something valuable out of it. 

 

How has volunteering as a tutor contributed to other areas of your life?

It’s definitely helped me in gaining skills I wouldn’t otherwise have gained, such as improvements in my own style of communication. I’ve also discovered more efficient ways to be organised, which came from planning tutoring sessions. As they only last one hour, I’ve had to learn to adapt to tighter time requirements, which has subsequently led to getting more things done – especially when it comes to studying. It’s also made me realise how much I enjoy working with young people and being able to support them in their education. To anyone who is thinking of volunteering, I feel this is an amazing opportunity to help pupils reach a level of success, as well as tackling a prominent issue of inequality. 

 

Sum up your experience of volunteering with Action Tutoring in one sentence.

It’s been unforgettably rewarding and an experience that I would highly recommend to others! 

 

Start your journey towards an unforgettably rewarding experience as a volunteer tutor and apply now! https://actiontutoring.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer-as-a-tutor/

How I get pupils reading

17 April 2020

Richard Riggs is Head of English in a London boys’ school and has been teaching for 15 years. We asked him for his thoughts on how to get pupils reading for pleasure.

I have lost count of the times that I have been told at parents’ evening that someone’s teenage son or daughter has stopped reading. If you look at the research on this topic you generally find two things: firstly, that children should not be forced to read – they should engage with it autonomously; secondly, that in most cases when children are given the choice to read they choose not to. Even enthusiastic younger readers tend to read substantially less by the time they reach their teenage years.

Reading is important for so many aspects of children’s development, not least empathy. In fact, my favourite quotation on the importance of reading comes from David Foster Wallace, who once said in an interview: 

‘I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of “generalization” of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.’

I often use this in my first lesson with a sixth form group, to try to get them to think about what reading might be for beyond ideas about exams or the literary canon. 

At my school we have tried to engage with the dip in reading amongst teenagers by bringing in a certain amount of enforced reading. This is not necessarily in line with the research on the topic but if I, as Head of English, have to make a choice between teenagers reading or not reading then I feel it is my duty to push for the former to happen. As such, we ask children to read at least one book every half term and in the holidays, including four novels over the summer; all of this is on top of the normal school work and whatever novel or play they might be studying in English. These books are class readers chosen by the teacher during term time; in the summer holidays the boys are allowed to choose four from a list of ten – one of which should be a classic like Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone or Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret.

We are fortunate to have the money to buy books (tragically, many schools do not, of course) and we have put a lot of effort into finding novels which we think will appeal to teenage boys. Whilst there are some modern novels which they enjoy (Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club, for example, or Andrea Levy’s Small Island) it’s interesting that some older writers still have a strong appeal, from Agatha Christie to John Le Carré. In fact, the mystery/detective genre and books in a series (such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy) are the things most likely to motivate teenagers to read. 

You will find that some schools have a rather canonical approach to reading but my general belief is that if teenagers are reading at all you are winning the battle – regardless of what they are reading. Although I would love a class of 14-year-old boys to read Jane Eyre or Great Expectations (and sometimes they might), I’m very happy if they are enjoying Skippy Dies by Paul Murray or Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet. If they take pleasure in those novels now, then there is a very good chance that they will go on to become adult readers, with books embedded in their lives.

Super-speed, teleportation and laser vision cannot help with exams! How pupils can benefit from a REAL superpower: optimism

24 February 2020

When it comes to English and maths, even superpowers can’t save pupils from their dreaded exams! But, what if there were heroes that could educate and inspire them outside of the classroom…? Oh yes, that’s us at Action Tutoring.

It can be hard to motivate and inspire pupils. Thankfully, people study these things for a living and there are plenty of insights in the psychological world to help. Personally, I have come across many articles on learning which have influenced my approach. So, what am I talking about today? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Oh, right, it’s a book.

About a year ago, I read an interesting book by cognitive psychologist Martin Seligman called “The Power of Optimism.” In it, he proposed that a state of “learned helplessness” could be reversed by changing our thoughts. It really got me thinking. Can the way we choose to think change the automatic thoughts we have towards situations? Can optimistic views be learned? Is there benefit to having an optimistic view towards exams? The answer to all of these, according to some psychologists, is yes.

As tutors, you may have noticed that pupils can be overwhelmed by the prospect of upcoming exams, leaving them liable to put off revision as it can seem like an unsurmountable hurdle.  This is counter-intuitive for their success. However, inspiration and confidence-building could allow the pupils to engage actively with their studies and overcome this hurdle. This is where the superpower of optimism comes in. If pupils are programmed to think positively towards the papers, they are more likely to establish the growth mindset that is the hype in educational psychology today. If you haven’t come across this idea before,  then let me explain growth mindset. This mindset is the thought process by which a student believes that they CAN do better, that they are not where they want to be “yet.” Over time thought processes can shape our neural pathways (especially in our youth) which is a magical phenomenon known as neural plasticity. Our minds can be moulded and changed by our thoughts. By supporting pupils to view themselves, and their performance, positively, we can help change the approach they have towards their exams. They can be calm and confident instead of a nervous wreck, like I was in my exams. This is all interesting but… what good is it? How can it be applied to help pupils?

To promote a child’s interest in a subject, simply make the work engaging.  I know, easier said than done, right? It’s after school at the end of the day, the sun begins to set out of the dreary window and everyone wants to go home. My pupils once told me that their form of revision involved just reading their notes over …and…over…and… over… Yawn, I’m bored just thinking about it. And most importantly don’t forget to tell them that they are doing well and point out their improvements to them. The grades they need are achievable! So go forth my fellow tutors and bestow your pupils with the power of optimism. Just remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

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