When I started taking exams, tutoring was rare, Wikipedia didn’t exist and most of my peers were in the same boat as me – our resources were teachers, textbooks and each other.
Now, around 25% of all secondary school students in the UK have a tutor and there are unlimited resources online. Whilst tutoring over the past 10 years I have experienced first-hand the explosion in the tuition market; in London (where the percentage above rises to 42% due to the competitive schools market), tuition is seen as an everyday part of a child’s education – the norm. (Source: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/08/sharp-rise-in-children-receiving-private-tuition)
This poses some questions; Are disadvantaged students going to be left behind? Is tuition just shifting the goalposts? How can teachers continue to teach well when each child is learning at a different rate? Is additional help actually beneficial in the long run?
Here’s how to recognise what kind of help your students are getting outside the classroom and how to level the field:
Recognising the signs
If your students are getting help from family members, homework marks might be improving but they are not perfect. Some methods might be outdated and bad habits can start to creep in as it will have been a few years since their family members learnt the content. The student will still struggle in the classroom and won’t always understand the ‘why’ of what they did at home. There is nothing wrong with this help but a student should not be reliant on it.
If your students are accessing online help, such as through videos, forums or wiki pages, they often start using strange methods, equations and theories plucked out of nowhere and sometimes work looks like it is answering a parallel question. Many online resources ‘tell’ rather than ‘teach’ make it difficult for the student to apply content spontaneously to new concepts. With so much possible help out there, students can be overwhelmed with how much there is to take in as they don’t know where the syllabus starts and ends.
If your students are having tuition, they often start using different terminology and methods compared with the content you teach in the classroom and their grades should slowly improve with time. Sometimes they have done work ahead of time so will recognise past papers, exercises and questions you set. A common sign is that they might ask provocative questions in lessons, showing off or questioning concepts they have heard outside of class and they want validation that they are making a step-change in their knowledge. A red flag of detrimental tutoring is when students present perfect homework that they can’t fully explain – here intervention is the best option as they are being spoon-fed the answers with no benefit to their learning.
If your students are going it alone they will be one of the rare ones! These students will often seem to get concepts last and will divide into two camps – those for whom the penny eventually drops and they understand concepts well enough to teach themselves and those for whom the penny never seems to drop and who fall further behind, often losing interest. The latter of these, you need to recognise and catch. They are feeling the brunt of the uneven playing field and if not helped back up again, they might reside to the bench forever.
How to level the field
If you recognise that some students in your class are getting help from family members, online or from tutors, make sure they are being taught the tools to discover on their own, not just being given the answers. Students getting support should be able to answer the ‘why’ not just the ‘how’. If they suddenly start getting questions and homework correct or there is a change in how they are answering set work, ask them ‘why did you do it like this?’, not ‘how did you do it?’. You’ll quickly see if the help they are getting is beneficial and if not, you’ll have a tangible reason to discuss it with the parents.
If a child in your class is getting the right kind of help and they do understand the ‘why’, allow them to explain their perspective to other students. Different explanations resonate with different students, so make the most of the parent’s investment in tuition (or other resources) by making the new perspective available to your whole class. You will never have time in the school year to explain every possible angle of a concept so allow students to relieve a bit of the burden by encouraging peer-to-peer learning.
If there are any students you feel are falling behind due to the contrast with the high volume of others with additional help, it is easier to single them out once you know how to recognise them. Perhaps point them at the material you personally highly value or run revision sessions to strengthen your open-door policy. Stress in their own revision to get to the ‘why’ as that is the good bit. That is the bit which no doubt inspired you to teach.
Kathryn @learnsmartacdmy has been a tutor and teacher for the past 10 years. She is passionate about the education and inspiration of others and as such, it is all she lives, breaths and does.
Kathryn has a Masters in Physics from Oxford University and was an academic scholar there. Since leaving, she has taught Maths, Science and English up to University level.
She has taught all over the world, including for two royal and other high-profile families. Being based in Surrey, Kathryn has exceptional knowledge of all local schools as well as country-wide knowledge of all exam boards and top universities with their detailed application processes.