Month: August 2018

How To Bloom As A Tutor

Ah, the words that bring fear into the heart of every trainee teacher across the land – Bloom’s Taxonomy. But with tutoring not having the same pre-requisit for training that teaching does, not everyone is familiar with the term.

The arguments for and against professional status for tutors are likely to go on ad infinitum. There are a great many unqualified tutors who work absolute miracles with individual students, and likewise a number of teachers who fail to make the transition to tutoring. With all this aside, all of us can benefit from the metacognition brought about by using Bloom in our lessons.

For the uninitiated, Bloom’s Taxonomy is simply a hierarchy of learning that shows how students build from foundations to deeper learning. We often imagine it like a pyramid showing how the foundationslead to the pinacle of learning.

bloom

In doing this we actually do us and our students a disservice. The visual of a pyramid gives the impression that students must remember before they can apply, or analyse. In fact, the benefit that a tutor has over a teacher with a classroom of 30 or more is that we can provide the space and structure to analyse and create as a conduit to remembering.

Essentially, our ultimate goal is for our students to leave us with the ability to create the new using their understanding of the knoweldge that we facilitated.

All Ages Bloom

The idea that only older students will reach the higher levels of learning is simply wrong. In fact, the youngest of our learners are the ones who take to deeper learning much easier.

Listen to any 5 year old tell you about a specific interest. They will likely tell you the names of all of the characters (remember), will explain how they relate to each other (understand), will berate you for mixing up genres and tell you why they are different (analyse), and will have made models and drawings of their favourite characters (create).

 

Using Bloom For Progress

Tutoring is a much more intense process than teaching, and it is this one to one contact that allows us to push progress forward. However, its also presents a risk that we create over-reliance on our assistance.

By presenting a topic of study alongside an expectation of the student analysing, evaluating, or creating forces me to take a step back. It also creates an environment where it is ok for my student to feel very slightly out of their depth, because like a parent teaching a child on a bike we’re close enough to catch them but provide more reassurance than anything else.

In the classroom, I was taught to sing a verse of Baa Baa Black Sheep in my head to force myself to give students thinking time after a question (it feels ridiculous, but please try it!). I have used this technique far more in tutoring where the pause seems to last forever. Over time, I have realised that my brain is actually running at a rate of ten to the dozen and my students benefit from that pause.

Not Just 6 Words

By using the verbs given in Bloom’s taxonomy, I can word my questions to them and indicate the level of response that I want from my student. But it’s when we delve deeper than purely those six words that Bloom’s really becomes useful.

Imagine for a moment the last tutee that you were sat with. You have shown them an exam question and they look at it blankly… What do you do?

Using Bloom’s, we can prod them in the right direction:

Can you show me any key words in that question? (Remember)

Could you rephrase that question, so it makes more sense to us? (Understand)

Where have we seen that phrase used before? (Apply)

What do you think the difference is between this and that? (Analyse)

How can you tell that is the correct answer? (Evaluate)

Now you know how to answer it, can you think of your own exam question that would test your knowledge? (Create)

In short, most of us do this naturally already but use verbs that resound with each level. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, and in fact there are a whole host of resources providing word lists that link to the stages of learning.

The Bloom’s Taxonomy Teacher Planning Kit is an incredible resource to have when planning objectives or questions to help move students forward. I particularly like the example questions at the bottom.

 

Despite not changing a great deal since the 1950s, I am a huge fan of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a planning tool for my own tutoring. You could almost say I bloomin’ love it!

Do you use Bloom’s in your tutoring practice? How have you used it? I’d love to hear from you.

Paths to Success – Digital Forensic Investigator & Author

In the sixth in the series of my Paths To Success blog series, I’ve been talking to Scar de Courcier, a research psychologist (psychology of religion) who also writes about digital forensics and consult on child protection & international security issues. Scar also runs a writing & translation agency, Bohemiacademia.com
For those of you who haven’t been following the blog series so far, this year I’ve been particularly interested in the paths that people take after education, especially following the increase across the UK in encouraging schools and colleges to embed employability into their lessons. The first time I tried this with students, I was met almost audible rolling of eyes – kids have genuine skills in detecting something that’s been “embedded”, much like a careers version of hiding vegetables in their spaghetti. They know.
So instead, with exam results now out for the year and choices being made about next steps, I decided to buck the trend of the many posts telling students that “results don’t matter” (they do, you worked hard), or “I didn’t need GCSEs” (no, but you had something else) and create a positive set of real careers stories to help motivate both my students and other teachers. I’ve been talking to an array of interesting people about how education shaped their own employability skills and their often irregular paths to success.
Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 15.17.25.pngHi Scar, could you tell me a little bit about your experience at school.
I adored school. I had a terrible home life and school felt like my ticket out (and it was)
With it being the end of the school year, I have to ask: do you have a particular teacher that you remember?
Most of my teachers at Steyning Grammar School were fantastic and inspirational; I was very lucky! They refused to let me stop believing in myself and helped in practical ways as well as providing emotional support. A few years ago I wrote a poem about them: https://jeviscachee.com/2018/05/09/sgs-a-poem
Could you tell me a little bit about your experience at college / university?
I was a very academic student and assumed I’d love uni. I didn’t. I found the other students on my course weren’t as interested in the subject matter and it made for a frustrating and difficult environment. After a year I was offered a position on a research team, so I ended up skipping the normal route through uni and going straight to academic research.
Is there any other advice you would want to give to students who received exam results and are making their choices for the next step?
Anyone studying GCSEs, if you’re worried about your exams or coursework and it’s getting you down, try not to be. As long as you try your best, that’s all that matters and there are ways to get back on track if the worst happens with your results. It doesn’t all rely on your GCSE results.
Thank you so much to Scar for giving up her time to tell us about her varied career and the path she took to arrive where she is now.

Scar can be found at http://www.jeviscachee.com and www.Bohemiacademia.com where you can see her work as an author and read about some of the amazing experiences that she has in digital forensics, or you can see her latest book, Windows Forensics Cookbook on Amazon.

Letter To Myself #EdChat

I loved reading this letter to his newly qualified self from The Nerdy Teacher. And it got me wondering, if I were to talk to myself ten years ago and give myself advice, what would it be? So here it is:

desk job cropped

Dear Holly,

So you just got a phonecall suggesting that you take on a part time role teaching A Level Computing. That’s going to be one heck of a jump from your routine of rocking up at your programming role with pink hair with Friday lunches with the boss and wine.

Life as a developer is tough and rewarding… but the next decade is going to be a rollercoaster! You’re going to meet kids who, like you are that square peg in a round hole. They may not be the ones who get the A* grades, but you’ll make much more of an impact on them than an exam grade.

Ah yes, the kids. In one job you’ll be greeted by a year 9 with “we made every other teacher leave, you’re next” – that same kid is going to hug you when they get their A Level results. Persevere. You won’t win every battle, but the victories will be worth it. Others you’ll remember like your own – possibly because they spent so much time in your classroom. Giving up your lunchbreak is time well spent.

You’ve always been your own harshest critic, and teaching is going to make you reflect on every lesson. A single complaint will overcast a hundred compliments & thank yous. And because of that, your ability to build resilience is going to either make or break you. You’re never going to get used to the crushing feeling when the outcome doesn’t reflect the hard work. But remember that all the time that you feel crushed by results it means that you still care.

That teaching diploma is going to be tough going, especially as you’re teaching full time alongside it. Make the most of the friendships you make with fellow teachers in training – they’ll turn out to still be your partners in crime years later. In fact, you’ll meet a number of people who make a significant impact in your life over these ten years. Treasure those people; they are all too often gone too soon. Teaching fills our hearts with love, but doesn’t do wonders for the blood pressure.

Oh, and just when you think you’ve got it all together and you’re feeling top of your game, life is going to throw you a massive curveball and you’re going to need to negotiate teaching alongside some interesting health issues. As it turns out, your talent and passion for working with individuals is going to help there, and online tutoring is going to be the saviour of your career (and sanity!) as your ability to physically negotiate a classroom reduces.

Strangely, things will end up going full circle with you using your background in Computing to build a website that helps hundreds of kids learn computer science. Because of that site, you’ll end up writing for a number of places including the BBC.

I can’t tell you what happens next, but have faith in your ability to fly by the seat of your pants. You’re going to need it. Oh, and carry pens – the kids won’t.

 

 

 

 

Paths to Success – Programmer & Teacher

In the fifth of my Paths To Success blog series, I’ve been talking to Darren Barnett who, in a similar turn of events to me adjusted his career in software development into teaching. He’s now teaching A Level Computer Science at Sussex Downs College, but in his previous career he worked in video games development as a producer and programmer.
For those of you who have not been following the series so far, this year I’ve been particularly interested in the paths that people take after education, especially following the increase across the UK in encouraging schools and colleges to embed employability into their lessons. The first time I tried this with students, I was met almost audible rolling of eyes – kids have genuine skills in detecting something that’s been “embedded”, much like a careers version of hiding vegetables in their spaghetti. They know.
So instead, with exam results fast approaching I decided to buck the trend of the many posts telling students that “results don’t matter” (they do, you worked hard), or “I didn’t need GCSEs” (no, but you had something else) and create a positive set of real careers stories to help motivate both my students and other teachers.
To start this Paths To Success series I had to accept that as a teacher my previous employment and growing businesses likely means very little to my students (and rightly so, I am just one person in an industry that they know). Instead, I’ve been talking to an array of interesting people about how education shaped their own employability skills and their often irregular paths to success.
Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 15.07.43.pngHi Darren, You’ve had quite a varied career. Could you tell me a little bit more about it?
I’ve worked all over the world with the video games job, America (often), Australia, Japan, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, France & Italy. It was really interesting to work with people from other cultures, some seem very like home (Australia) and some are excitingly different (Japan). It’s been really interesting to go from programming with fairly small teams initially to working on huge video game projects with many people.
When I started programming we mainly programmed in MS-DOS and Windows was seen as a bit of a novelty. Most games programmers programmed in assembler at the time!
In my second job as a programmer I worked in the PC team which was two people alongside a CD-i team which was far bigger and now hardly anyone remembers CD-i (it was a kind of interactive video format from Philips that came on huge laser discs).
Working in education now is really interesting – I very much like teaching A Level & BTEC and I like the creativity of working in Computer Science. It’s also really cool when you get questions that stretch your own brain from students as well as when you help someone to make progress when they were really struggling.
Being a teacher gives us a new perspective on education, but could you tell me a little bit about your experience at school.
I failed my 11 plus which was a bit of a shock at the time as I assumed I would pass (my whole primary school failed the 11 plus!!!) and went to what we called a High school. This was still at the time when kids could leave at 14 and also if you went to the High school they assumed that lots of kids would leave without any exam passes at all!
I did OK at school – especially as the expectations were pretty low across the board and I had some very good teachers – especially for Maths & English which stuck with me. I had a lot of dreadful ones too – my Sociology teacher refused to teach me as I insisted on doing O level and he only wanted to teach CSE (as the exams were split then) – but contrary to my expectations I managed to get a U! I had assumed that Sociology was mostly about ranting about how unfair the world is / was!
I ended up with 9 O levels eventually (despite the Sociology blip) – partly helped by the fact that you could do Maths & Additional Maths then! After that I went on to the 6th form which I really liked – you make great friends in the 6th form and the atmosphere which much better. I even ended up as a senior prefect despite being a punk rocker with green or blue hair – as that was fairly new then you could have nose piercings etc as there were no rules about things like that…
With it coming up to the start of the school year, I have to ask: do you have a particular teacher that you remember?
It’s so long ago that I can’t remember the names well – I think Mrs Millington was my Maths teacher and she was very good – otherwise I just remember the nicknames of the teachers.
There was still corporal punishment then too, so teachers hitting kids sticks in the mind unfortunately – I never got caned but you were in danger of a board rubber being thrown at you – I assume they tried not to aim for your head!
Lots of our students are or will be in the process of applying to college or university right now. Could you tell me a little bit about your experience at college / university?
I really liked college and Uni a lot – when I left the 6th form I took a year out and worked for 6th months and also went to college in the evening – I don’t know how it was possible in those days but I did A level sociology in the evenings after work for about 6 months and got a C which is a decent step up from the U…
My first degree was a BA in Religion and Philosophy which I loved – also I liked Brighton so much I decided to live here – it was a great degree and very interesting.
Ironically all the way through school to the end of my degree I had hardly touched a computer apart from to play Space Invaders at the swimming pool! My IT skills were so poor I had to get my friend in the business studies department to help me to use a word processor for my dissertation (although to be fair word processors then were on a main frame and were pretty complex)!
Is there any advice you would want to give to students who recently received exam results?
Your life is probably going to change in a major way more than once in terms of your career – I would say make sure you take any opportunities you can and throw yourself into them. It’s amazing what you can succeed in and just because you can’t do something now doesn’t mean you won’t necessarily be amazing at it in the future!
Thank you so much to Darren for giving up his time to show my students that the path to success doesn’t always start from the easiest of foundations (and that our teachers are much nicer now!)
Darren can be found on LinkdIn where you can see more about his teaching career.

Tools For Tutoring – The Lowdown on Headsets

One of the tools I cannot be without for tutoring is a decent headset. Whilst it’s possible to tutor online using the built in microphone & speakers on a laptop or desktop, the feedback and echo cause by them makes it difficult – let’s be honest, there’s a reason why online gamers buy decent headsets, and it’s not just to look good.

Basic Headphone / Mic Combo


A basic headset like the Mpow USB PC Headset allows you to just plug in your headset and away you go. Be careful selecting headsets that have dual microphone & speaker connections as many laptops and desktops no longer have these connections.
You may also want to check that your USB headset will be compatible with your operating system as later versions of Windows have had a number of reports of volume issues where USB connections have been used. So far, the only fix for this is to buy a headset that comes with its own drivers instead of relying on the built in sound card drivers (best to check this when you buy the headset).

Gaming Headsets

One of the ways to combat the issues of USB headsets, is to use a gaming headset. Headsets like these PS4 headsets also help with noise cancellation helping you concentrate on your lesson if there happens to be other people in the house.

Single Ear Headsets

My personal favourite is to use a single ear headset with noise cancelling. Many of these also use USB, so it’s worth doing some research to find one likethe Koss CS95. This one has been particularly useful as it has duel microphone / speaker cables (if you remember my last post about graphics tablets, my laptop is actually limited by having a single 3.5mm input for headsets, but this is easily solved using a splitter cable)

Other ideas

The only real restriction here is that you have a reasonably decent microphone, and can hear the student clearly. Another possibility if you don’t want the restriction of cables is to use a bluetooth headset.
*This blog contains affiliate links. I do not recommend any product that I don’t genuinely think is worth it, but the proceeds of these links help me to cover the costs of the website & blog. If you have any questions about the recommendations here, please contact me.
A Parent’s Guide To Surviving September

A Parent’s Guide To Surviving September

We’ve all seen the memes doing the rounds on social media about how tired parents are and how the kids dread September, but the parents will be waving them off gleefully. But I’m going to buck the trend here and say that I’m dreading it too – and not just because I’m heading back to the classroom myself!

Term time holds mixed feelings for us. With one child firmly on the autistic spectrum and another with a painful genetic condition, maintaining a busy routine during term term is not always a pleasant experience. We’ve learnt to put strategies in place to help everyone get through the weeks until the relative peace of the holidays returns. I’ve talked about some of those strategies below, and whilst they may not work for everyone, hopefully they will give someone some ideas from both a parent and a teacher perspective.

Maintain a Bedtime Routine

pexels-photo-1021051.jpegMy teenagers really don’t thank me for this, and according to them I am the only parent on the planet that insists on a bedtime for a child over the age of 10. My Occupational Therapist, the ever lovely Jo Southall calls this ‘Sleep Hygiene’ and it has incredible impacts for both mental and physical health.

Now they’re older, we no longer have the bath and story type routine that they had as tiny people. Instead, their optimum sleep hygiene routine includes handing over phones & laptops to be charged in our room (no wriggle room on this), tidying up their sleeping area (I can dream!), and lights down with books. Of course this means that the eldest reads horrific horror books until late, but the brain activity caused by reading is very different to screen time.

But this doesn’t just apply to the kids. How exhausted do you feel as a parent with the school runs and juggling kids and work and a million other activities? Having a wind down routine to help you get the best rest is just as important.

Have Set Homework Time

Yes, I know, I mentioned the ‘H’ word. But there is method in my madness here. As their homework load increased, we implemented set times and days where homework would be done. Having a regular time each week acts a little bit scheduling in a meeting at work – if it’s in the diary, you avoid booking in other things and pushing it down the to do list.

pexels-photo-515171.jpegSaturday mornings whilst I am tutoring, they address any outstanding homework for the next week. Two hours and no more is allocated. And they have three hours over the week in the evenings to get a head start on other things. With five hours set aside, that is enough. That’s not to say that it’s always enough time to complete everything to perfection, but we are also teaching them that work & life must balance and to achieve that you have to let go of some perfectionism. (of course we won’t let on that I haven’t mastered that whatsoever).

I fully subscribe to the ten minute rule. That is children should study at home for ten minutes in total for every year they have attended school. Using this calculation, our eldest who is entering UK year 9 this year will have been at school for ten years this year. 100 minutes should be just shy of two hours per week. Of course this doesn’t always work out, but allocating set time each weekend based on the ten minute rule has eased the stress of getting everything done.

Shop Online

If the back to school sale aisles are making you nervous, you’re not alone. I hate seeing my eldest flinch at the crowds and hours of walking will inevitably bring on a night of pain for the smallest. So instead, we have honed a routine of creating Amazon shopping lists to deliver the non-logo items that will make life easier at the start of term.

 One of the banes of my life is buying suitable school bags. Last year, we bought two of these bags which served the additional purpose of having straps that were soft enough not to hurt the youngest one’s shoulders, and sturdy enough to last a full year at high school. They were particularly pleased with the phone charger ports!


Another lifesaver over the past few years has been my constant supply of pen grips. These are great for kids (and adults!) who find that they grip pens too hard when writing and end up causing themselves pain. With both the youngest and me having exceptionally hypermobile hands, these go on most pens we own. They also had a surprise benefit of also improving her handwriting.

A few years ago I would have balked at spending £15 on a lunchbox. And yet here I am, genuinely recommending this as the best thing since sliced bread… Our eldest has some interesting food habits – her palette is very adult (jalapenos & olives are favourites), but like a culinary Ghostbuster, the food mustn’t touch! Bento boxes were the perfect solution for this and had the added benefit of being Japanese for my little shinnichi.

Don’t Dither On Subject Changes

If your child has just made their subject choices for GCSE or A Level, you may end up having the dreaded conversation of wanting to switch. If this does happen, it’s important to make sure that this isn’t just September nerves, however keep in mind that many schools and colleges have a swift cut off date for changing courses. These cut off dates are usually early October, if not earlier.

The first port of call for subject changes is always your child’s form tutor who will advise them on the possibility of subject changes (their new chosen subject may be full, or may clash with their timetable).

Of course if you are considering supporting a subject with tuition, the same advice applies. The earlier a student receives support when they start to struggle, the more positive the outcome. There is very little a tutor can do if a student commences tuition in April. The best time to search for a tutor is July before the academic year starts – doing this will allow you the pick of the best times as many of their tutees will be sitting exams and their books will begin to clear. Failing that, August to October will still see many excellent tutors with spaces available. Look for recommendations from previous students and parents, and ensure that any private tutor is able to provide a full DBS check to ensure the safety of your child.

Keep In Contact With School

fashion-person-woman-hand.jpgOne of the biggest changes that I noticed when my children moved from primary school to high school was the contact. We went from a class teacher in a village school who knew them like their own, to a huge high school with teachers for every subject and no daily parent contact. If anything, it was more of a shock for us than it was for them.

One thing we did discover though was email contact was a surefire way to keep in touch. As parents who were new to the high school experience, we quite often dropped a short email to teachers if we had concerns. Replies were reassuring and quite often allowed us to share information that teachers were very grateful for. Often your email will provide context for something that they’ve noticed in class – if it’s big enough to notice at home, you can guarantee the teacher has a clue that something is wrong.

On average, most teachers will receive between 5 to 10 parental emails each day, so if you don’t get a reply straight away please don’t feel that you’re being ignored. It’s quite likely that your email is on a to do list for a teacher with 200+ students to wrangle.

 

Do you have any top tips for surviving September as a parent? Let me know below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

*Note: Some of the links above contain affiliate links. I never recommend anything that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend without payment. However you are supporting the continued running of the site & blog should you click / purchase.

I have linked to Jo Southall above without affiliation – she is a genuinely brilliant OT.

Paths to Success – Product Marketing

In the fourth of my Paths To Success blog series, I’ve been talking to Louise Scanlon who recently started her own business, helping other people make their businesses successful and bring their product ideas to life. Whilst formal education wasn’t the best fit, she described how she made it work for her.

For those of you who haven’t been following the blog series so far, this year I’ve been particularly interested in the paths that people take after education, especially following the increase across the UK in encouraging schools and colleges to embed employability into their lessons. The first time I tried this with students, I was met almost audible rolling of eyes – kids have genuine skills in detecting something that’s been “embedded”, much like a careers version of hiding vegetables in their spaghetti. They know.

So instead, with exam results fast approaching I decided to buck the trend of the many posts telling students that “results don’t matter” (they do, you worked hard), or “I didn’t need GCSEs” (no, but you had something else) and create a positive set of real careers stories to help motivate both my students and other teachers. I’ve been talking to an array of interesting people about how education shaped their own employability skills and their often irregular paths to success.

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 22.04.06Louise Scanlon is an entrepreneur who owns the Product Academy which specialises in mentoring & teaching businesses how to successfully market their physical products.

Hi Louise, could you tell me a little bit about your experience at school.

I loved learning at Primary school but really struggled at Senior school. I found it restrictive, couldn’t really get on with the teachers, and didn’t really fit in with my class. But the subjects I enjoyed – IT and Psychology at GCSE and Business Studies and Economics at A Level have been the foundation of everything else.

I attempted uni but had similar problems to school and instead taught myself the things I needed to learn by reading, experimenting or attending short courses. I don’t think how you learn is as important as continuing to learn. Just find what way works for you and keep doing it.

I’m a massive fan of lifelong learning too. It’s good to hear that even though traditional education didn’t fit well you found your own way of learning. With it being the end of the school year, I have to ask: do you have a particular teacher that you remember?

I remember all my teachers and there are lots of lessons that I refer back to. My business studies and economics tutor has sadly passed on but some of those lessons definitely helped shape what I do today.

It’s interesting to hear that you went onto university even though you weren’t a fan of traditional education. Could you tell me a little bit about your experience at college / university?

I didn’t do my research and I didn’t have a clue what to expect or how to make the decision so overall, it wasn’t a great experience! Definitely research!!

However, despite that, I spent a year studying International Law at the University of Copenhagen. It blew my mind and I finally felt like I was where I was supposed to be. I was having important conversations about whether the US invading Iraq was legal, with a tutor who happened to be advising the Danish govt on the invasion that afternoon.

University is a different world to college and if there is any part of you that wants to go, don’t let school be the reason you do or don’t go. Choose your next step based on what interests and excited you and find a way to learn it that fits with who you are.

 

That definitely sounds like the advice I’ve been giving. Is there any other advice you would want to give to students receiving exam results this year?

Take a deep breath, accept whatever they are is a snapshot in time. If you have done well, be proud of yourself. If you haven’t done as well as you hoped, it doesn’t define your future. Figure out what you want and go for it!

 

Thank you so much to Louise for giving up her time to tell us about her journey into an exciting career and how she uses her own experiences to help other people create success.

Louise can be found at www.theproductacademy.co.uk where you can find out more about marketing products as a business.

Paths To Success – Film Maker & Producer

In the third of my Paths To Success blog series, I’ve been talking to film maker & Producer, Jay Shurey who describes himself as a rather eccentric creature from Sussex.