Category: Pedagogy

The Impact of Tutoring On Teen Mental Health

If there is one thing that I’ve become more passionate about the longer I’ve been involved in education, it’s the impact that our system has on the mental health of our young people. Each week there seems to be a new hashtag or thread out there to support people who feel like it’s just them. One that’s done the rounds for a long time is #ItsOkToNotBeOk and it remains something that I often look through and offer an ear on.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about implementing a digital detox for a few hours each weekend as a part of improving our own mental health. Perhaps what I missed out on there was the impact that the education system was having on the mental health of almost every member of our family. Our KS3 kids were overwhelmed by the pressure of GCSE options and increasing homework loads; as parents we were stressed out by the pressure to be “good parents” that ensured all school work was done, keep a nice house, and spent quality time with increasingly large people who declared how lame we are; and with exams looming and my tuition timetable overflowing, my anxiety levels were through the roof (which meant everything was being cleaned & organised to within an inch of its life). It’s not really the insta-worthy picture is it?

Photo credit Chalk and Salt

After 7 weeks of our weekly digital detox for just a few hours each weekend, I can report back that everyone is feeling much better without exception. Clearly, we’ve done more than just put our phones away for a few hours, but it’s been the catalyst to consider whether all work and no play is a healthy state of being (spoiler: it isn’t).

However, it dawned on me that I am in a unique position to do something about lessening the impact on those around me as an independent tutor. The views on employing a tutor are polarised, possibly because it often costs a tidy sum to bring an individual into your home to work one-to-one with your child. Because of the price tag attached, it’s seen as only accessible to the elite and another way to create unequal access to education. But talk to many private tutors and you’ll find that the students that come to them from a variety of backgrounds, and more often than not a percentage of their tuition is through scholarship or pro-bono. Talking to tutors will also highlight the variety of reasons that students access their services.

Anxiety is the top reason why parents seek individual tuition for their child from me. Whether this is exam anxiety where I can prepare them better by familiarising them with the exam style and answering their questions until they feel safer (and safer is absolutely the right word to use with anxiety), or an overall fear of what is perceived to be a difficult subject, almost without exception the students seeking tuition are looking for confirmation that it’s going to be ok.

Part of my toolkit for reducing educational anxiety is to use a form of gentle stoacism. We look at the toughest questions together and I mark harshly.

So, if I marked this trace table as a 2 out of 5, but you answered these correctly what is the worst grade you’re going to get?

Ok, so if you get that grade, what’s the worst outcome?

That may sound harsh, but as we progress and the worst grade becomes a 5,6,7, or even 8 or 9. What’s the worst that could happen is that they get their chosen place in college even though it wasn’t a 9. Stoacism is a form of CBT that I use myself (Good rule of thumb: I wouldn’t try anything that I wouldn’t put myself through).

Once students are feeling more confident to try questions, I throw in a few from the next level up (AS questions at GCSE, or A Level for AS) without telling them. Once they’ve answered and gained marks I confess that it was actually far more than they needed. Ater a few weeks, my students know I’m sneaky and expect some kind of evil but fun activity.

Anxiety isn’t the only issue that teenagers are suffering from, but it is the pastoral area where tutors are most likely to be supporting the work that teachers are already putting in. By working one-to-one with a student, we have a unique ability to address that child’s individual fears and help them feel heard. And this is not a dig at teachers – with 30 kids in a classroom for an hour lesson, that’s two minutes per student if you did nothing else but talk to them. This also isn’t a millenial snowflake* situation, but a real issue that impacts on not only grades, but will follow a child into their adult lives.

If a tutor can help a child feel less anxious and give them the tools to learn independently, then we’ve done a huge service to the child, their parents, and their teacher. Strategies like digital detoxing are part of a whole toolkit for mental health – your tutor is another.

*These are quotes words, I shudder using them

Holly

Exam Revision Health Check – Are You Studying Too Much?

Study Revision Blocks

With exam season about to get into full swing it seems a strange question to ask, but are you studying too much? Just how much is too much? And how much should you study during the holidays leading up to exams?

Exams are not just about the ability to simply recall key words, but being able to apply then in context; and this is where long term memory techniques are needed! Comitting information to your long term memory requires a combination of repetation of similar topics in small chunks, and a low stress environment.

According to Barnaby Lennon, ICS (Independent School Council) Chairman and former Headmaster of Harrow, students should be revising for 7 hours each day for most of the Easter Holidays. This applies to both gcse and a level students. whilst I don’t entirely disagree with him open brackets and certainly don’t disagree with his methods close brackets, my own approach uses the 10-minute approach that can be applied to any year group.

The 10 minute method is usually applied to the amount of time for homework during a usual term time. But can be easily adapted to plan revision during the holidays full stop new line the system suggests 10 minutes of study for each year of education per day. For example, in year 11 in the UK, you’ve been in formal education for 12 years:

12 x 10 minutes = 120 minutes or 2 hours per night

This means that over 5 days you’ll be studying 2 hours per night or 10 hours per week when also attending school with usual lessons.

Revision Takes Time
Revision takes time. But how long?

Using Barnaby Lennon’s theory, if you continue your 2 hours of homework time throughout the holidays and add the time you would usually be in class (5 hours) then 7 hours makes perfect sense. However, class time also includes group discussion, admin (register, answering questions, other disruptions) so working individually may not actually require quite so long. Instead, try this equation for working out your easter revision schedule:

10 Minute Rule (TMR)  = (Year Group + 1) x 10 minutes

TMR x 5

Add (2 x Number of Subjects)

Using this, the average Year 11 with eight GCSE subjects could calculate their time in the following way:

TMR = (11 + 1) x 10 = 120 minutes per day (2 hours)

(TMR x 5) + (Subjects x 2)

(2 x 5) + (8 x 2)

10 + 16

= 26 Hours per week during the holidays

  OR

  5.2 hours each day

But how do I spend that much time studying?!

Breaking down your revision into manageable chunks will help. using the calculation above, you could cover all 8 subjects each day with 40 minutes per subject.

Study for 80 minutes, then build in a 20-minute break. The example below shows how you could divide your eight subjects into smaller, more manageable daily chunks. This is a technique called “time chunking’ that many bloggers and vloggers use to maximise their time:

9.00English
9.40Maths
10.20BREAK
10.40History
11.20German
11.40LUNCH
12.40Computer Science
1.20Science 1
1.40BREAK
2.20Music
2.40Science 2
3.20FREEDOM!


For the days you want to go out with friends, or just have a little downtime, split the study in two or get started little earlier. Don’t be tempted to remove the breaks though! It’s important to give your brain some time to digest the information – just like you wouldn’t go for a run straight after a meal.


If you’re struggling to set out your study plan, you can always use a timetable templates like my Painlessly Planned Revision planner to help get organised. Just remember to spend more time revising then planning!

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

On April Fools Day, Education Is No Joke

I was all for writing a lighthearted blog this week with a quick fool in it. After all, the sun is shinging, the tank is clean…

Unfortunately, I was also sent this article over the weekend and my heart just hurts.

Pupils without 100% attendance sent to the back of the lunch queu

I know that school attendance is important, and there is clear evidence of a correlation between good attendance and higher levels of achievement. Encouraging good attendance is never a bad thing. But using food and public shaming as a punishment can’t possibly be seen as an acceptable method to deploy… anywhere, let alone a school.

For those that haven’t read the article about Immanuel College in Birmingham in full, in summary each student is awarded two badges at the start of the term – one for attendance and one for behaviour. Those without 100% attendance lose their badge, those who misbehave lose their other badge. When joining the queue for lunch, those with two badges go first, followed by the “one badges”, with those without badges going last.

After working in education for over a decade, and with young people for over twenty years, I am acutely aware of the unique and individual issues that any number of children face with attendance and behaviour. There is no way I could tackle the intricacies of these in a single blog (or even a whole book), but to just skim the surface…

The following issues may cause a drop in attendance:

  • A virus
  • Obeying the 48 hour vomiting rule
  • Injury (sports or otherwise)
  • Medical appointments
  • Mental health
  • A family funeral

Of course, there are students who may stay off school for illnesses where they could be ok to be in school, and yes there are students who truant. However, combining the student who had emergency surgery with the student who sauntered off at lunchtime & didn’t return is just plain wrong at best, and at worst dips into disability discrimination.

My other concern here is the risk that parents will begin to ignore the rules on contagious periods. As someone with a compromised immune system, contact with a child with flu is a nightmare (and one of the reasons I changed my role), but with these rules I wholly understand why a parent would feel under pressure to send them in.

Finally, let’s turn to the behaviour badge. Whilst the attendance badge irked me, this badge made me sadder for our education system than I have been for a long time.

Put yourself in the position of the child for a moment: Home is perhaps unstable, you have caring responsibilities and you’re tired, or your anxiety is at an all time high, so because you’re a teenager who is still wrangling your hormones you verbally lash out. Instead of a teacher stepping in and acting like the adult that you need and talking you through what’s going on, you lose your behaviour badge. For the rest of the term you are visibly less than the others around you. How’s that anger issue going?

Kids with poor behaviour do not deserve to be stigmatised by the adults who are meant to be supporting them and encouraging them to take an alternative path. Yes, they are hard work. Yes, there needs to be consequences for poor behaviour. But consequences shouldn’t be making a child feel that they are less worthy than others.

As educators, we need to do better.

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

12 Days of Christmas – Teacher Edition

12 Days of Christmas – Teacher Edition

With the festive season firmly underway, the days of education for this year are definitely coming to a close. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t employ ‘the 12 days of teaching’. Put simply, it’s 12 tips for you this festive season, and we’re going to go ahead and get right into it here and now.

12 Days Off Working

Kicking things off is 12 days off work. While it doesn’t have to be 12 days exactly (or at all!), the basic principle remains. You need to take the time to stop and think about your own health and wellbeing and put all your work out of sight and mind. Remember to try and focus on your own inner peace for a few days, then you should be recharged and ready to continue. A burnt out teacher isn’t a great teacher – you can’t keep drinking from a cup that isn’t refilled.

11 Pens-a-Clickin’

The best practical present that you can get for someone who is teaching is stationery, although the January sales are often better for that! Many teachers will ask for equipment to complete their tasks with, and so it’s worth joining the many people who are looking to do so.

10 Boots-a-Walkin’

When you do happen to have time off from the chaos of the classroom, it’s worth considering going for a walk during the festive season, or at least getting out in the fresh air. The weather may indeed be frightful sometimes, but there’s no question that it’s good for you to go and be active while getting some fresh air. You might be sceptical at first, but there’s no doubt that it’ll help you to get a new perspective and clear your head.

9 Board Games Playing

The problem with the festive season is that even when you’re supposed to be spending time with your family and enjoying life at the moment, your mind can often be elsewhere, focused instead on the papers you have to look over or the lessons you need to plan. That’s why it’s usually highly recommended that you take the time to actually play some board games, just to try and maintain a sense of the present. Board games are absolutely not just for kids!

8 Tweets-a-Tweeting

Social media, especially EduTwitter is an amazing resource, but equally can be a real distraction during the holidays, and often serves as a means to stress and worry. With a lot of holidaying teachers all looking through their favourite sites, the chances of running into an article that upsets you or finding something to distract yourself from the here and now is pretty likely. That’s why it’s a good idea to distract yourself from the online world and take a detox for a few days if you can possibly manage it. Don’t feel guilty about not tweeting or blogging for a few days!

7 Doors-a-Closing

Sometimes you’ve just got to make sure that you’re taking a stand for you and really pushing to make sure that you look after yourself. Teaching & tutoring is time intensive, so keeping a day for yourself to stay in pjs, read a book, or do whatever makes you happy is not selfish. It can be useful for you to make a day all about you and do whatever you need to, so you can just chill out.

6 Tunes-a-Playing

Music is a beautiful part of Christmas time, but that doesn’t mean what you listen to has to be festive by any means. The important thing here is that you do your best to listen to tunes which appeal to you and make you feel better because music can seriously do you a lot of good.

5 Gold Stars

Seriously, who doesn’t love a gold star? However, they’re just symbolic here of rewarding yourself for a job well done. Being a teacher can be a challenging task, and there’s no doubt that it can be a struggle to try and motivate yourself to keep going during winter months when the terms are much longer & mock exam marking is everywhere. However, rewarding yourself and keeping your mind positive is the best possible way to succeed. Even if you do just give yourself a gold star.

4 Spa’s -a-cleaning

When you’re struggling to chill out and end the year on a high note, it might be time to consider a spa trip. There’s no doubt that a spa trip can make almost anyone feel like new again – all the rejuvenating properties and activities, along with the feeling of freedom from responsibility can be intoxicating. Men, this applies to you too – never be afraid to self-care!

3 Rooms-a-Cleaning

Have you ever heard that the state of our rooms are a reflection of our minds and how we are currently feeling? For example, an untidy room might suggest a scattered mind that’s trying to deal with too much all at once. This is where taking the time to clean out your rooms can really help you – it gives you the much-needed concentration to regain your focus.

2 Decluttered Drawers!

What you have to appreciate about decluttering is that it makes you feel so much better about yourself. Go and find a drawer in your home, and declutter it until it looks like new. It’s exceptionally therapeutic, and also provides a productive distraction from your work.

And a Day With Your Family!!

One of the best things to do when you want to be able to wind down and spend time with other people is to go and visit your family. They’re the people you’ve grown up with and celebrated all your best moments with. They’re great for forgetting your problems with, catching up on their lives and making some beautiful memories.

All in all, these are the 12 best ways that you can enjoy the festive season while taking the time to relax and enjoy yourself. It’s not always an easy task by any means, but it is one which will seriously mean a lot to you if you can get it nailed. When Christmas time approaches, we’re all wondering how just to take that step back and relax. It’s not an easy task by any means, but it’s one we all need to learn to do, especially teachers. It’s crucial that you take the time to sit back, relax and forget for a day or two because there’s no arguing that teaching can be a very demanding vocation. You have to give yourself over to it a lot, which is why it can be essential to try and make a portion of the season about you.

If you’d like some practial everyday tips for teaching in the classroom, you can buy my book in paperback & e-book now!

Until then, wishing you a very peaceful Christmas.

Holly

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Kipling Feedback – It’s Exceedingly Good

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a concept called Flapjack Learning that a friend had coined. The general idea was that it was a healthier ‘snack’ of knowledge.

Of course, that evolved into a list of 2am cake related learning ideas that were written in my blog book (if you have 2am flashes of inspiration, I highly recommend keeping a notebook next to your desk to write these down – if nothing else, to allow you to re-read the notes and wonder what you meant by “not a cat”?!).

Kipling feedback works in a similar way, in that it’s bitesize, kids look forward to it, and It’s exceedingly good!

cupcakeConsider why we eat cake – unless you’re Marie Antoinette, it’s not to sustain you. Cake is a treat, cake gives us a boost, cake makes us feel better. Not once have I been given cake as a punishment. Cake has never made me feel bad (in moderation) – but I have been told that I’m stupid by a teacher. In that case, it was being told outright, but when we give overly negative feedback under the guise of progress, we chip away at a child’s self-esteem.

Thankfully, the breed of teacher who believes that a child will be motivated by being chastised is almost extinct. However, with grade expectations hanging over our heads, we can easily inadvertently punish a student with our feedback.

Our verbal feedback & teaching should be the main meals – nutritious & satisfying, leaving the written feedback as the cake.

Consider this written on a longer answer question:

Your answer isn’t balanced – where are your examples? Check your SPaG & presentation.

Ouch. It would be easy to be understandably cross when a student doesn’t take care in their work and hands in something that’s rushed and scruffy. But, is there a way to sweeten the feedback? A certain nanny once said something about a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. What if the feedback was written as:

Have you considered both sides of the argument? This would be much more detailed if you included examples – try looking up “examples of…”. Please check your SpaG where highlighed. I’d like you to write this out in neat, taking care of your presentation.

Yes, the feedback is a little more wordy, but given time in class, or as a homework to redraft and improve, this more nutritious style of feedback keeps in mind that this is a person. More detailed, but less frequent written feedback often produces far better progress as they take notice of it. If we were constantly eating learge meals, we’d never appreciate them – they need to be hungry for your feedback.

In class, the verbal feeback is the cake. Ask deeper questions, but lead with a postive:

Evelyn, that image works really well for your website topic. I’d like you to think about the presentation next – How could you adapt your code so the image is in line with your text?

 

question matrix

If you’re unsure about asking differentiates questions on the fly, try using a Question Matrix.The concept is quite simple – Your questions take a starter word from the left, and a follow up from the top. For students working at the top of Blooms Taxonomy, start at the top left of the grid with a “What is…” question.

The further towards the bottom right your question, the deeper the student has to think about their answer.

If you’ve not used one before, try this Printable Questioning Matrix – while you’re planning your lesson, add in some potential questions that you could ask students based on the lesson. Even if you’re a seasoned teacher, using the matrix can help you to reflect on how you perceive your students working in contrast to how tey actually are (if your planned questions are usable, you’ve predicted acurately).

So there you have it, Kipling Feedback – it really is exceedingly good.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

Flapjack Learning – Snack Your Way To Knowledge

Everybody develops their own unique way that they like to learn, and this week a friend of mine coined the term for her preferred learning style. It’s similar to those times when you know that you’re hungry, but you can’t manage a whole meal so instead, you grab a flapjack; it’s nutritious, it will sustain you, but it won’t overwhelm you.

a tray of flapjacks - relating to flapjack learningAnd so flapjack learning was born – for those times when a long course is too much, but the instant hit of just reading up isn’t enough to sustain you. Flapjack learning can come from a series of webinars, or individual tutorials, or perhaps even an online course that you take over a number of sessions. Flapjacks are both fuel and a treat, and the more often you enjoy one, the more tempting it is to eat a whole bowl of porridge.

As a tutor, this rather appeals to me. I have a number of students who struggle to study independently, but would relish the chance for some flapjack style learning. This is one of the reasons why I have been developing a number of pre-recorded courses – allowing students to dip in and snack on their learning between their tutor ‘meals’ builds fabulous habits and will ultimately benefit them across all of their subjects.

So what makes a good learning snack?

Sticking to a single topic is a good start. In fact, the style of this particular type of learning lends itself particularly well to taking just one topic and learning exclusively about just that. It’s unusual to add a side dish to a flapjack, so why add anything else to your learning snack?

Give yourself a few minutes of absolute peace. Grab a cup of tea. Now enjoy the short time that you’ve set aside to refuel your knowledge. Often this is through a pre-recorded short lesson with an accompanying task which allows you to focus for a short period of time and sparks an idea for the next step.

 

Would You Eat A FlapJack For Dinner?

Absolutely not! (I’d be sick). But, I would use them as part of a healthy diet. Just as I use pre-recorded learning material alongside classroom or independent study to carry on learning… yes, despite teaching and tutoring, I still study. No-one ever reaches the end of their capacity to learn.

Pre-recorded courses have the additional benefit of often being cheaper than one-to-one live tuition. And no wonder really – despite the initial costs associated with writing, recording, and editing a course, a tutor will only have so many hours in the day. By creating a pre-recorded course, tutors can provide the knowledge part of their lessons to many more students. Of course, the pastoral and specific support side is missing, so pre-recorded will never fully replace that one to one relationship.

Much like my flapjack, having a learning snack may reduce my apetite and allow me to leave longer between meals.

 

Of course, I have the ever talented Catherine from Willows & Wildlings to thank for coining this phrase. Look out for her contributions to the GCSE Photography short courses soon.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

 

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.

Holly

 

 

For more information about GCSE Computer Science, revision resources, online tutoring, online courses, and teacher CPD, visit www.TeachAllAboutIT.school