Tutoring and Learning Styles

When I first began tutoring students in English, I expected that I would be helping them in a variety of areas. I knew that some of these would perhaps include revising the basics of Grammar, building vocabulary and aiding in comprehension and analysis of texts. The one thing that I did not expect however, is that my job as a tutor would also incorporate building the self-esteem of my students.

Tutoring and Learning StylesAs I began to tutor, I became very familiar with phrases such as, ‘I suck at English,’ or ‘I’m not that smart.’ I was both shocked and saddened by these comments. The shock stemmed from the fact that they were coming from very bright, intuitive and capable children and the sadness from the fact that their own absurd belief in their limited intelligence was actually holding them back from learning. Once they had become convinced that they were stupid, their learning became more difficult which led to worse marks, which then reinforced their belief in their ‘stupidity’ and the vicious cycle became entrenched.  Most of the time, it was the child’s parents who had identified that they needed help and requested tutoring. Unfortunately, the child would often then interpret the fact that they needed ‘tutoring’ as further proof of their own inadequacy.

Discovering more

So I began to have conversations with my students that challenged these deep-seated beliefs. I would ask questions like ‘why do you think you are stupid?’ and, ‘why do you think you are not good at English?’ We began to discuss other reasons that could be responsible for their poor marks other than lack of intelligence. I eventually began to see a pattern in the information I was obtaining and concluded that there were two main reasons why such bright and capable students were receiving such poor results. The first was that often the curriculum had been rushed through too hastily and students had not been given adequate time to grasp key concepts and once the student had fallen behind, the speed of the system had made it almost impossible for them to catch up.

The second reason was that often that particular child’s learning style had not been catered to, either by an individual teacher or the school system as a whole. Though researchers have identified eight different types of intelligence (that is different ways of using the brain) our school system, unfortunately, only tends to cater to two of them, the Verbal-linguistic and the Logical-mathematical.[1] I began to raise all of these factors with my students and once they began to realise that there were practical reasons for their struggles and that they were, in fact, capable of understanding the work, I began to see transformations take place.

Also read: Online Tutoring

The most amazing part of my job is when I see that light come on in their eyes, that light that says ‘Wow! I’m not stupid. I can actually do this!’ Once the wall of self-deception has been broken down anything is possible. For as long as a student has become convinced that they are stupid, learning will never be an easy task but remove those blinkers, and they become free to run wherever the joys of knowledge beckon them.

[1] Maggie Clark, Sharon Pittaway, Marsh’s Becoming a Teacher, New South Wales, Pearson Australia, 2014, pp.249-251

Standardised Testing: The Pros and Cons

Standardised testing is a subject that many people believe is placed on either ends of the spectrum; the best way to assess student’s abilities or a complete stress invoking exercise for everyone involved. However, if we take a step back and look at it objectively, it becomes clear that it is neither. Standardised testing has both positive and negative aspects and when used effectively can play a vital role in improving the education of our students.

Let’s being with the negatives:

  • Standardized testing does not take into account external factors and evaluates a student’s performance on one particular day. Many students have the ability and knowledge to answer questions and topics, however do not perform well when it comes to examinations. This can be due to many external and emotional factors comprising of; stress, anxiety, family pressure and conflict and lack of focus or motivation.
  • Moreover, standardised testing only evaluates the individual performance of the student instead of the overall improvement and growth of the student over the course of a period of time. For example; a teacher who has worked hard to assist their students to grow and the students who worked extremely hard over the course of the subject/subjects and improved substantially, unfortunately failed to score proficiently in one examination. This does a disservice to both teacher and child, and argues the question if standardised testing ignores the full evaluation of a child and the education system or instead of one single test performance?
  • Standardized testing is argued to create stress, anxiety and pressure on both educators and students.
  • The success of Australian schools and many around the world are dependent on the performance of their students in standardised tests. Federal funds are given only to those schools that perform well compared to others and this adds an extra pressure on public schools to constantly evaluate their performance. This can lead to unhealthy competition among schools and evoke a tough screening process on students to perform for standardised tests.

Positives:

  • Undoubtedly, the greatest benefit of standardised testing is that it provides a set of established standards or instructional framework which provide teachers with guidance for what and when something needs to be taught. The net result is less wasted instructional time and a simplified way of timeline management. It also enables students who move from one school to another from being behind or ahead in their new school.
  • Standardized testing gives parents a good idea of how their children are doing as compared to students across the country, states, and districts and in their local area.
  • It can be argued that standardised tests are objective in nature. Standardised tests are either scored by computers or by educators who do not directly know the student.

Standardised testing is an arguable topic and can be swayed on both sides of the spectrum. However, the most significant opportunity standardised testing provides is the ability to use the results in an effective manner by educators, students and most importantly by parents.

Fostering Creativity in Children

I always believed that creativity was an inborn talent that children either do or do not have. However, just as all children’s intelligence are not equal, all children are not equally creative unless they are provided with the right environment for creativity to flourish.

During my early years of life, my creativity was limited. Under the Australian educational curriculum, ‘creative thinking’ was not a subject. However, as my experience as a teacher developed; I began to learn that creativity was a key component of health and happiness, and a core skill to practice with children. Creativity is not limited to artistic and musical expression—it is also essential for science, math, and even social and emotional intelligence.

Many researchers believe we have fundamentally changed the experience of childhood in such a way that impairs creative development. More importantly, studies have enabled us to discover various ways to strengthen and nurture your child’s creativity.

Create creative spaces

A creative atmosphere empowers children to ‘think outside the box’ and generate different ideas. For example; at dinnertime or whilst watching television, you can brainstorm activities that the children have never done before for the upcoming weekend or let them freely make up a story using their imagination. The focus of creative activities around the home or school should be a distinct process of generating versus evaluating new ideas.

Provide creative resources

The key component of creative resources is time. Children need plenty of time for unstructured, child directed, imaginative play – combined with adult supervision and guidance. Additionally, a specific location and plenty of supplies including art, written and construction materials can foster creativity thinking. Without a set direction, resources and space – expect creative messes everywhere.

Freedom and Autonomy

Don’t be a boss. It’s difficult for a parent to not fear anything and everything that the world has to confront their child with. However, the external constraints – making them colour within the lines, so to speak – can reduce flexibility in thinking. Parents and educators need to enable children the freedom and autonomy to explore their ideas and do what they want (in a safe and fun way). For example: If your child wants to walk to school like their friends do or go to a party like everyone else in the grade – ask your child ways they can think of that can help reduce any unsafe behavior, which in turn can spark interesting ideas and discussions.

Don’t reward

The concept of rewarding your child for exhibiting creativity interferes with the creative process. It can reduce the quality of their responses and flexibility of their thought. Enable your child to intrinsically be motivated rather than trying to motivate them with incentives. For example; Instead of rewarding your child for practicing piano, allow her to choose what she enjoys – maybe sit with her and draw or ask her what she would love to do – it could be anything; from sport to taking an English tutoring.

Encourage divergent thinking

Divergent thought centers on the concept of the thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It focuses on finding more than one route to a solution – alternate possibilities to any challenge.
You can use divergent thinking in any area of life; whether it be a mathematical problem or the decision to move to a different school. By discussing the pro’s and con’s, alternate answers to a problem and understanding how to re program your thought process – you strive to achieve a clearer, more creative way of living.

A Tutor’s Perspective

As we move closer to the the beginning of the new school year I keep thinking about ways in which we can inspire our students to gain a love of learning. I guess that’s a little bit of a cliche, but I truly believe that education must become an act of passion to be successful.

As a tutor who works to see improved outcomes in children’s skills and grades at school, I believe this must start with happy learners. Does the child feel comfortable with me as a visitor in their home? Did the child want their precious time invaded with more school like banter and activities?
First and foremost, as a tutor, it is my role to make a child believe with all their heart, that tutoring is going to be one of the most important steps in their life’s journey. Somewhere along the line things just stopped moving forward and it is my job, as a tutor, to switch that light bulb back on, ever so dimly at first, and assist them to see that together we can form a little team to make the light shine brighter each week.

As I go off to tutor, I won’t be slapping a pile of worksheets on the table for my student to plough through. I won’t be worried about standardised tests or what reading level my students are on right now. We will talk a while about the holidays and what great things they have done and what ideas have they been creating in their thoughts about the coming year ? We will create a mind map of ideas, set some realistic and exciting goals on one of my goal setting grids, find out what they need to discover about their own learning and then maybe do a bit of a recap on what we were doing last year.

Most importantly their mind map and goal setting grid will be a visual stimulus to look at during the week to remind them that I am mostly certainly here to work with them to help improve their grades, but most importantly to learn who they are, how they learn best and how we will work together to tick off one goal at a time as they are ready to move to the next step in their learning journey.

It is all about the stuff that starts to whet their appetite to begin to dream and say “I can do this.” When I go and see my students next week I will greet them with a huge smile. I have missed seeing them and know I will leave with a bigger smile as I watch them resume to create the person they were born to be.

Tutoring – A Celebration

Ros McHeneryWhen I look back over the past year, I am overwhelmed at the changes in my life. Small business ownership is certainly not for the feint hearted but for those who are ready for a challenge and to believe that their product can make a difference in today’s competitive markets.

When I launched into business as Nepean Tutoring four years ago, I had no idea how much my life would change and the possibilities it would open for me to effect change in the lives of so many people. It has been a blessing to do so, but the journey has been very much unplanned and the personal outcomes have taken me by surprise as I look back.

In February 2015 I unexpectedly found myself without job security except for a moderately sized tutoring business that was far from healthy enough to support me. So,  with a huge leap of faith to believe I could go solo, and possibly achieve my dreams,  I worked 16 hours 7 days a week to see Nepean Tutoring triple in client base and income in eight months, utilise over 40 tutors in paid work and grow in the types of services offered. Talk about being thrust from mediocrity to – should I dare say it -success.

During this time I also sustained a debilitating  injury that still has me walking with a slight limp and has continued to impede my lifestyle in many ways. Pain, isolation and physical restrictions could have caused me to walk away from everything, but I had created a dream that Nepean Tutoring would become one of the premier educational businesses in the Penrith and Lower mountains and I was determined to make sure my accident was turned into an opportunity rather than a liability. It gave me time – lots of extra time – to focus on the important aspects of the business and I utilised this opportunity to create something I can be proud of. It was not about money but simply understanding that this business is about ‘serving’ others, listening to the needs of clients and sourcing the best tutors I could find to assist as many young people to achieve their goals. One of the greatest successes is when a child’s grades have improved so much that they don’t need us any more.

Freedom also allows me to go to Cambodia four times a year to support a gamut of charities and work alongside the most awesome group of people. Whilst it has not been easy to keep up the pace I was once able to in Cambodia, I have learned so many lessons that are now bearing fruit in the way I view life. When I was asked to assist as a consultant in a number of educational settings in Cambodia this year, the benefits of experience and the freedom to be able to travel there often proved that I am exactly where I am meant to be. Physical restrictions have also taught me the benefits of slowing down and taking care of myself thanks to the fierce but loving ‘orders’ from friends who know me well.

Yes … It has been a difficult year but as the new year is indeed already under way, it is with a sense of great anticipation and self belief that I will tackle the challenges that will no doubt arise in 2016.

If YOU are thinking about taking your own ‘leap’ just do it. I know that the regrets I would have had if I had not at least tried would have far outweighed the gratefulness I feel right now. For everyone here and in Cambodia who ‘showed up’ and helped to push me up an impossible mountain of doubt , I thank you with all my heart. It is not easy to persevere with the insecurities that,  to a lesser degree, plague me from time to time, but You ALL continue to encourage me to believe there is sunshine behind the grey clouds that loom from time to time.

If working as a tutor or simply feeling you have a need to discuss tutoring for your child is on your agenda, please get in touch to organise a chat time.

Celebrating Your Child

Celebrating your Child’s Academic Achievements

In 2011, after the Wall Street Journal published the essay “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior: Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids?” by Amy Chua, people around the world went wild on the web reflecting on their own parenting and judging the parenting of others. The question of how and when parents should support their child’s academic achievement seems to be an on-going controversial topic. The debate still remains unanswered – How do we support academic achievement without creating undue pressure and comprising independence, confidence and self – esteem?

 

Recognise ALL achievements of your child

Tutoring is there to assist children to achieve within the education system and that is where we as tutors can provide immense support. However, acknowledging other worthy achievements is just as important for the child’s emotional development. As parents, we need to recognise that the effort that our children put into achieving should be rewarded. If it’s sport, music or performing – whatever it is, your child has displayed effort in some form and this distinction needs to be recognised. They won’t succeed all the time but they have tried their best. And this is an accomplishment that should be acknowledged.

 

Create an educational environment

There is no better way to get excited about your child’s education than to see them engaged and immersed in learning. It is far more rewarding to see your child express an unbound enthusiasm for something that they have recently learned. As parents creating a high energy learning environment that is inspiring and encouraging is a constant reminder that the idea of education is an investment, not an expense. The “Did you know that…?” or “Look what I learnt…” conversations that flow grows your child’s awareness and appreciation for the world through educational experiences.

 

Parent for character and not for grades

A study of Year 12 students from a range of schools in Sydney did not paint a happy picture of life for the students. Of the 722 students surveyed, 42% registered high-level anxiety symptoms, high enough to be of clinical concern. In general, 54% of students felt that too much was expected of them in Year 12. The main causes of pressure identified were workload (50%), expectations to perform (26%) and importance of exams (22%). This unhappy picture of student life begins during the early stages and becomes unmanageable as the years progress. As parents we need to recognise to take a stand by making a simple decision to focus on character development and not grades. Children who grow up in a home where character and responsibility are valued and enforced are able to manage successfully during school and their adult lives.

 

Always encourage your child

It’s as simple as “Wow, you worked really hard,” “Tell me about your project” or “You are doing so well, keep it up” – that makes an influential difference to building your child’s intrinsic motivation as opposed to becoming dependent on external rewards.

Whatever your style of parenting is, getting excited about your child’s educational future and achievements – academically and non – academically, will provide a window of opportunity to child’s personal and professional development and overall enthusiasm for learning.