This week, we’re looking at one-to-one tutoring. Across the Foundation team, we’ve seen more than our fair share of this in dozens of schools across the country, which means we’ve seen how things most often go wrong - and how the best tutors get it right.
We’ve compiled a list of the five things tutors should definitely be doing when they work one-to-one in schools.
Staying positive about maths lessons
After a few weeks with a new student, it’s common to hear that they love attending the sessions. ‘You explain things so well,’ they’ll say, ‘everything seems so easy when you go through it.’ You swell with pride and give a gracious acceptance speech – humbly acknowledging an adoring crowd as you accept your Tutor of the Decade award. Then, inevitably…
‘You’re so much better than Mr Clarke. He goes through everything too fast and can’t even explain it well. I don’t understand him. He’s a rubbish teacher – I much prefer coming here. Can I come here for every lesson?’ And you’re back in the room with a thud, standing at a very important crossroads.
Tutors should be prepared for this possibility – mindful not to let the student develop an unhealthy dependence on sessions and always ready with the right words should they hear any negativity towards teaching staff. The purpose of your sessions is as much to improve your student’s attitude towards their regular lessons as it is to improve their subject knowledge in its own right.
Connecting sessions to classwork
It’s all too easy for progress made in tutoring sessions to stay in tutoring sessions. Consistently, evidence shows that tutoring interventions are more effective when they’re meaningfully connected to students’ regular lessons – allowing them to feel the benefit of the additional work when they’re back in the classroom.
This is particularly important to remember for tutors in schools, where students can feel particularly disorientated by contrasting approaches to a subject. They might be told in their lesson to use one approach for a certain problem, only to have that contradicted in their tutoring session. What to do? Who to trust? Maybe their tutor wants to cover a different topic altogether – something they’ve not come across yet that won’t be covered in lessons for a few weeks. Will they feel that progress back in the classroom?
Tutors working in schools should be building a relationship with the teaching staff of the relevant department. It’s important to know what was covered in your student’s last lesson and what will be covered in their next. If it’s a tricky topic, what method is the teacher using? If you’re not familiar with it, take some time to get used to it before the session. Ensuring your approach connects meaningfully with classwork will drastically improve the impact of the sessions in both the short and the long term.
The great power of one-to-one tuition is the personalisation of content. When working with just one student at a time, every topic can be approached with that student’s experience and personal difficulties in mind. This is the mechanism that makes one-to-one sessions so impactful, with students able to make meaningful progress much quicker than they might be used to.
When working in schools, the particular topics, resources or methods to be covered might come from teaching staff. Whilst this is a really important aspect of in-school tuition, it shouldn’t cause tutors to forget to personalise teaching for each student. Take the time to get to know your tutees – what are their hobbies? What subjects do they like best? Which of the fundamentals of this subject have they never felt comfortable with? Start every session with a warm-up to see how they’re feeling today and ground every task in something that connects to your student.
Balancing ‘friendly’ with ‘focus’
One of the things we get asked about the most during training sessions is how to tread the fine line between a fun atmosphere and a focused lesson. For inexperienced tutors, it’s all too easy to take a ‘matey’ approach in early sessions that leads to behavioural issues after a few sessions. Or, by contrast, to overthink the thing and come off too stern in the first hour and put their student off. Here’s what we recommend.
Remember that you have an obligation to be warm, kind, friendly and supportive. Don’t try to take a stern or disciplinary approach – it’s just not what you’re there to do. However, your student knows the rules and so should you. If you encourage rule-breaking in your sessions (think lateness, bad language, etc.) it’s no longer clear where the line is, which can lead to small losses of control down the line.
Most importantly, keep your promises. If you say something’s going to happen it has to happen. Good, bad or indifferent, if you’ve made a promise you have to keep it. As long as you tread that line, your students will know that (although you’re friendly) you’re to be taken seriously – and at the end of the day what you say goes!
Keeping records and feeding back
It’s really important to discuss student progress with teaching staff. They’ll want to know how students are getting on in sessions and you should always be prepared to have that conversation. By talking to teachers, you might be able to pick up some information about what your students have been struggling with in lessons or whether they’re showing signs of improvement in class.
All of this means taking detailed notes of what happens in sessions. Not only so you have a record of what topics you’ve covered (trust me, you’ll forget!) but so that you can come back to little mistakes in later sessions to reinforce learning. Your notes will be an invaluable basis for planning sessions, sharing progress with teachers and giving meaningful, responsive feedback to students.
Word to the wise: never take your session notes off-site – that’s not the kind of thing you want to leave on the bus!
If you’re interested in tutoring in-schools, contact the foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org, check your profile for volunteering opportunities or browse our website to find out what’s on.