Tutoring - is it the answer?

A headline caught my attention! It said: “Ignore the fads: teachers should teach and students should listen.”

My natural instinct was knee jerk – what about students thinking things out for themselves?  I want children to understand what they are learning.  But headlines can be deceptive!  As I read on, I admit to a feeling pretty smug as I discovered what the eminent educational researchers were actually saying.

When I first started my own Tuition Centre in Farnham (that later became flagship for MagiKats Maths and English) I based the entire structure and approach on two needs.  Firstly, the need to show students clearly and accurately how to complete the work that they found challenging.  Secondly, the need to help children to develop their thinking and study skills so that they could achieve their full potential.

Local parents are notoriously ambitious for their children.  In common with their peers in many other areas, they have clear and demanding goals.  Some are targeting highly selective schools for their offspring and all are wanting their kids to get excellent grades.  I was just the same and really cannot see anything bad about wanting your children to do as well as they can.

In the context of an educationalist setting up a local tutoring business, this naturally translates into a temptation to focus on short, sharp exam preparation.  Many parents approached me and asked me to tutor their children 1-2-1 and it was tempting – especially when good tutors can command very high hourly rates!  I gritted my teeth and stuck to my principles and am glad (and a little proud) that I did so.

Over many years working in a huge range of different educational environments, from the highest achieving, selective private schools through to colleges that battled to help students to read or master basic arithmetic, I knew that all my pupils needed to understand what they were doing.  That was, and is, the only way that they will thrive and achieve long term.

My heart had gone out too often to the new, highly coached member of a class who was struggling from Day One at their new school - doomed to at least five years of battling to try to keep up.  If only someone had made sure that they had all the basics in place, rather than pushing them through endless practice papers just to pass the entrance exams, things could have been so different.  Life is as unfair to them as to the under-supported child, possibly a recipient of pupil premium, who lacks the background and support to help them develop their skills to the full.

I was clear from Day One that they all needed and deserved the opportunity to work to the upper end of their abilities through careful teaching (because yes, the teacher should have more knowledge!) and a fostering of their own reasoning and understanding. I became determined that all students attending my centre would have these opportunities given to them, and put in place ways to ensure that this happened, at a price that most could afford.

Crashingly obvious, too, was that many were severely hampered by a lack of the 100% secure knowledge and the instinctive answers that may ultimately only come from some measure of rote learning.  The GCSE student who takes minutes to work out 6x8 is at a severe disadvantage.  Practice makes perfect so I decided that every student who came to me would get their fair share of this approach too.  There is, obviously, no justification for having children attend a class just to plough through endless practice sheets, when they can do that at home.  There is, however, most definitely value in providing the disciplined structure to ensure that this happens as an add-on to sessions that extend knowledge and build understanding.

So … yes!  I feel smug!  My two strand approach, to helping my students, directly mirrors the recommendations of those eminent educational advisors.  The children are taught the material that they need through explicit instruction.  The staff teach, using materials that ensure that secure and correct learning takes place.  At the same time, children work in very small, guided groups to learn collaboratively and build their own understanding.  We are doing them no favours if they can only work effectively when sitting 1-2-1 with a tutor.  They also consolidate their knowledge by traditional practise at home.

Not only am I happy with the approach but I know that the approach works.  It has been proven by my (and other MagiKats) centres to do so for more than a decade now.  I just hadn’t realised that I was ahead of my time!  Perhaps I missed my vocation?

The article Jan was reading was this one. Jan is the originator of the MagiKats programme and is still actively involved in both running her own Tuition Centre and also in the continued development of the MagiKats curriculum.