Learning – An Unexpected Journey
Five and a half years ago, I fell on black ice in England and smashed my shoulder to pieces, which left me in a state of trauma. The loss of my home in rural England, my isolation from loved ones, my lack of income and, most decidedly, the need to return home for some serious treatment and rehabilitation catalysed my return to Australia and the end of my European chapter.
The healing process for this injury involved three bouts of surgery, over a year of rehabilitation and many hours on my own to think about my future as a teacher and to re-evaluate my ideas about learning. It was during this time that I began to conquer many of my own personal disappointments as I fought to overcome the loss of my dream to teach and travel throughout Europe. I was thrust into a state of isolation emotionally, physically and financially, and could have drawn up the bed covers and wallowed in my own pity party with good reason.
However, after almost two years, I slowly found the confidence to begin a little work again. While convalescing, I decided to move out from my comfort zone into a new learning journey and investigate how I could utilise internet technology to build a small business – how to build a website, how to market a product and to learn what all the social media fuss was about. As thus, with many birth pains, Nepean Tutoring was born. What started in a little rented unit in Penrith in January 2012 and has thrived far beyond my initial expectations.
Previously, I had been a classroom teacher for twelve years in Australia and for a year in the UK. I loved the creativity that this career provided me; to be able think outside the square and help children learn in ways that best suited them was exciting and rewarding. I always believed that a productive classroom was a busy place where all children were engaged in learning which they enjoyed (whether that be in small groups or independently). I liked the idea of child-centred learning, but also believed that left to their own devices entirely, many children would acquire gaps in their learning that would interfere with their ability to remain confident and actively engaged in the formal school arena.
With a passion to teach others that learning is about many facets of a child’s development, I had a strong desire to change the way tutoring was perceived in the community. I learned the importance of listening closely to the concerns of parents and students, and to begin to offer what I believe to be a unique model of home tutoring across all grades and subjects.
I had always known that the first objective should be for students to desire to learn, to feel confident they could overcome any difficulties with support, and that they be treated with respect and dignity. I also knew that the development of creative thinking, the ability to express ideas outside a prescribed paradigm, and fostering a child’s joy of discovery were keys to success. Learning through all our senses and adding to the formal learning model, rather than regurgitating it outside the classroom, has become central to my learning journey as a tutor.
Today, teachers and parents are faced with many challenges and demands, and I feel that Nepean Tutoring offers a model in which we can work together as a support team to provide successful learning outcomes. Moving forward, I intend to further explore the needs of our community in the home tutoring niche, and continue to listen to the ideas of the tutors who work with me, along with the parents who trust their children to our expertise. My own learning journey, during the past three years, has been full of invaluable experiences – but they are only of value if they are utilised to assist others.
The decision to seek a tutor for your child can be somewhat daunting and confusing. There are a variety of reasons you might head off on the journey to find a tutor for your son or daughter:
- You may have noticed they don’t seem to be reading or writing as well as their peers.
- They are expressing frustration with Mathematics and inform you they do not understand certain concepts.
- Perhaps a teacher has told you that your child is struggling with a particular area of their learning.
- You receive a less than favourable report that shows a drop in or little improvement in their grades.
- Your daughter or son is preparing for the HSC and is drowning in the demands placed on them to complete assessment tasks and maintain a study program.
- Your child has missed a block of schooling due to illness and requires some catch up tutoring to bring them up to speed.
- Your own intuition just tells you they need some help.
These are some of the common reasons we receive emails and phone calls from parents seeking a tutor for their child. What I have come to learn, in the dialogue between myself and parents, is that they simply want to provide their son or daughter with the ability to work to their potential, to be given the confidence to do so and to have a mentor who will regularly encourage them on a one to one basis.
Children and teens are well aware when they are not reaching their personal goals or are struggling to keep up with school expectations. Over time they can develop a sense of “learned helplessness” if problems are not arrested early. You might see a change in their enthusiasm in going to school, hear them complain about school in general and notice a reticence to engage in their homework tasks. In a busy classroom with twenty five plus students it is so easy for a student to slip through the cracks and this is when we find they have lost confidence in their ability to catch up. Tutors come to the rescue and solve these problems by
- building a good relationship with the student
- bringing activities and tasks that allow a student to succeed in the first instance
- And, finally, working with the student to fill in the gaps which enables the student to be better prepared in the areas which they have found challenging.
The tutor/student relationship is crucial to success. When a student is comfortable with their tutor, they are morereceptive to learning, are more likely to overcome their fear of failure, to ask questions and are therefore more willing to tackle previous learning issues without frustrations. Matching the correct tutor with a student is the most important first step. From my dialogue with parents it is about knowing that your child needs a good “role model”. If a mentor type relationship can be established, a student is more receptive to allow the tutor to capitalise on their strengths which in turn will give them confidence to work with the tutor to overcome their weaknesses.
There is no set time to look for a tutor, but it is best to offer your son or daughter help sooner rather than later.
For many parents hearing your child utter his/her first word is one joyous moment. Although their speech skills don’t stand out on their first few stages of speech development, language acquisition is not a problem for most children.
Every child develops at his/her own pace. For most children, they will outgrow communication challenges like an occasional stutter, but not in some cases. It is estimated that 7-10% of Australian children experience speech and language difficulties and in the US, about 10 percent of all Americans have some speech problem.
What is Speech Disorder?
Speech disorder refers to a condition in which a person has problems creating or forming the speech sounds needed to communicate with others.
A child with a speech disorder may have difficulty with articulation, voice, fluency, or any combination of these.
Speech disorders include:
• Articulation disorders: difficulties producing sounds in syllables or saying words incorrectly to the point that listeners can’t understand what’s being said. (e.g “Race” may sound like “Ways” or “Sick” may sound like “Thick”.)
• Fluency disorders: problems such as stuttering, in which the flow of speech is interrupted by abnormal stoppages, repetitions (st-st-stuttering), or prolonging sounds and syllables (ssssstuttering).
• Resonance or voice disorders: problems with the pitch, volume, or quality of the voice that distract listeners from what’s being said. These types of disorders may also cause pain or discomfort for a child when speaking.
• Dysphagia/oral feeding disorders: these include difficulties with drooling, eating, and swallowing.
So how can you determine if your child’s speech skills is within the normal range or if he/she needs professional help?
It can be really confusing but there should be some signals that should alarm you as a parent. If your child has difficulties expressing him or herself and cannot follow instructions at all, if he/she seems to use fewer words compared to other kids of a similar age group and mispronounces key sounds, then it is best that you should seek the advice of a speech pathologist.
Speech Pathologists and What They Do
A Speech Pathologist also known as a Speech Therapist, specializes in communication disorders. They assess speech, language, cognitive-communication, and oral/feeding/swallowing skills, and identify if your child has a specific communication problem and provides the best way to treat the disorder.
A Speech pathologist creates creative and positive therapy programs for children with speech disorders. They work on creating a positive learning environment by engaging family members to encourage and support kids with communication disorders.
If you suspect your child to be suffering from speech disorder, then it is never too early to seek advice. Ignoring the early signs of communication disorders can impact your child’s confidence, skills and learning. Early intervention can make a big difference to your child’s life.
Best practice Literacy Teaching has been the subject of much debate over the past decades. For many years large classrooms of children sat in sterile classrooms being drilled and practiced on what have become known as the basics. “Rote Learning” became a term to delineate outdated teaching strategies and a more “Child Centred” approach to teaching became “in vogue” where programs of learning were devised around the needs of the child.
This theory however could be seen to be very misguided. It begs the question: What really are the needs of the child? The idea of learning styles and preferences coincided with the idea that teachers were obligated to constantly adjust their lesson plans to meet these needs. Suddenly, teachers were implored to employ strategies that required ongoing assessment and readjustments to their original goals and objectives. In the process the real purpose for formal schooling got lost in a sea of ideas and innovative strategies to keep children engaged and happy whilst in the classroom.
More recently, some of the more innovative strategies that have been bandied around our formal education system have foregone the traditional method of a phonics approach to literacy. While many children will learn to read and write incidentally, others do require the good old fashioned methods that ensured phonemic awareness until recent times.
A sequential phonics approach to literacy ensures that children will be armed with the foundation stones of reading and writing. It is essential that young children learn every sound in the alphabet and every blend that is formed through our alphabetic system to become competent and confident readers and spellers. If teachers fail to impart these basic skills to their students, young learners begin to accumulate the gaps in their learning that lead to serious literacy problems in the middle and senior years.
At present, Australian literacy levels are far below those of students some thirty or so years ago. Sadly, in the wake of this deficite students in their teenage years are failing in their ability to read confidently and therefore do not develop the critical thinking skills required for academic success. There are many arguments against a traditional phonics based method of literacy teaching, but if we are to prepare students for 21st century learning, they need to develop the ability to be analytical and critical readers and writers. They need to be able to access information and comprehend its content. Also in order to achieve well at tertiary level education, they need to be able to understand the structure of language which includes accurate reading and writing skills.
Over the coming months, I invite you to watch this site as a realistic phonics based program of reading and spelling is presented to subscribers of Nepean Tutoring. Get ready as we wind back the clock to when a strictly phonics approach to literacy was the hallmark of excellence in reading and spelling.
I feel this is a relevant and compelling question. During the last decade the way content is delivered to students, the lay out of classrooms and the structure of learning have dramatically changed. The blackboard is not the focus and quiet reflective and independent learning has given way to group work where each student gets the opportunity to take on different roles and development a variety of skills. Both strategies have their merits and both suit different learning styles for students.
The big question is – have we gone too far from the core of learning and redefined it in a way that has been detrimental to our students’ future?
From the earliest of times, learning was explicitly taught with the teacher directing students from the front of the classroom. Students sat and listened to the teaching of a learned person and then left the scene to put the lesson into practice if they chose. It was that simple.
Today, our learning environments are diametrically opposed to the ancient ways. That is progress and that is good. Today, we have room for creativity and to work collegially with peers. Today, we have wonderful technology that allows us to keep pace with global developments and to participate in information based learning. Today students not only require knowledge, they require skills as well. They need skills to understand how to keep pace with the changes that will be a part of their future.
So…. do we need to reclaim education? What we need to reclaim is a quest for knowledge and the desire to learn independently for while the modern learning strategies provide a rich and varied learning experience for students, has it been at the peril of developing independent learners who have an almost inherent quest for knowledge?
Please consider these books below if you wish to learn more about new ways of understanding the future of learning. AND don’t forget to leave a comment to this post if this topic has resonated with you.
A typical day in a classroom encompasses the needs of a particular cohort of students. However each member of the cohort brings different home life experience, different learning experiences, their own strengths/weaknesses and likes/dislikes to the classroom environment. While teachers are compelled to program their learning in a way that meets the needs of all students in their care, it is unrealistic to believe this can be accomplished for all students. This is where tutoring begins to bridge the gap between home and school.
A good tutor assesses the student’s most pressing needs and focuses their teaching plan in that area. Programs that attempt to cover a broad amount of material, defeat the benefits of one on one tutoring. However, an intuitive tutor, who has determined the ability level of the student, will be able to target specific areas of learning until the student shows progress. For example a student might be able to use interesting vocabulary and demonstrate mastery with spelling, but may have no idea how to use grammar correctly. A tutor can assist a student to improve their own writing by instructing them how to proof read and edit for punctuation in a written composition. Thus, the intensity of focus between tutor and student allows for a high level of progress and improvement of grades.
A child who is struggling with phonemic awareness will experience substantial improvement with one on one tutoring. Here, the tutor is able to target the sounds and blends a student has not acquired in previous learning. The opportunity for such specific and explicit teaching is self directed by the student’s needs. It allows the tutor to encourage the student in their learning as they very quickly begin to read using the sounds and blends that had not been retained previously.
This type of work is an intensive focus on the needs of one student rather than a larger group. It allows the student to take risks they would otherwise be embarrassed to in a larger group. Very quickly a shift in confidence is evident as the student begins to conquer previously difficult concepts.
Similarly with Mathematics, a student may find difficulty with particular strands or concepts. A tutor can hone in on these problems and provide intensive one on one support for an extended lesson. The opportunity to model these concepts directly to the student’s needs and ability level, is a powerful way to encourage confidence and independence as students learn each new topic more thoroughly at their own pace. Difficulties can be discerned by the tutor, who in turn assesses when the student is ready to take the next step. The problem with the formal school setting is that students often need to move on before they have understood the previous lessons on the topic. This is where gaps occur and where tutors can support the aims of the student’s formal teacher.
A “switched on” tutor would also focus on building a trust relationship with the student. This allows the student to share the challenges and difficulties they are experiencing at school with their tutor. This type of dialogue allows the tutor to best understand the unique learning styles and preferences of the student and to therefore plan accordingly. It also allows for a relationship of trust to develop which assists the students level of engagement in their learning.
My experience as a one on one tutor in the United Kingdom proved the power of one on one tutoring to me. Students who didn’t know basic sounds, were unable to read simple consonant/vowel/consonant words and had difficulty writing legibly, demonstrated significant improvement in a four week, one hour a day program. The satisfaction gained from seeing these results inspired me to begin my own tutoring business in the Penrith and Blue Mountains area, fifty kilometres west of Sydney. Nepean Tutoring at http://www.nepeantutoring.com.au, offers in home tutoring where students can learn away from the distractions of school.
In conclusion, while the formal school provides a stimulating environment for students to learn, there is a very important place for one on one tutoring. A child’s learning is like a jigsaw puzzle. If there are pieces missing, the end product will be incomplete and gaps in their learning will be evident. The benefits of one on one tutoring are many. A good tutor will diagnose the gaps in learning, fill them in with one on one explicit teaching and assist the student to work confidently and independenly.
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