The landscape in home-study resources
Over a decade of tutoring I've used virtually every resource available, both traditional paper exercise-books and digital worksheets. Time after time I would find myself leaving the available material in favour of writing my own work-sheet and exercises as I just didn't feel that the published resources were effective enough. The content and layout would repeat year after year - more importantly, there seemed to be little focus addressing issues that held students back. Publishers seemed content to put out conservative, formulaic and often uninspiring textbooks - particularly for the English Language course. Had this been an effective strategy, then perhaps I wouldn't have been so concerned, but in the UK we have a thirty-three percent failure rate at GCSE level English. Clearly what we've been doing has not been working for many students and I think that resources may have played a role in this. In addition to the high failure rate, it was my experience that very few students actually knew what skills they needed develop thus many students were falling short of reaching their potential, even if they did manage to attain a pass grade.
An innovative online course
As a result of the lack of well-conceived, helpful resources available, in September 2017 I decided to create my own course from scratch, throwing out all formulaic ideas about how GCSE courses have been structured in the past. The course was based on my own experience in working with students at many different levels over many years. I had seen the issues that students face and the gaps in their knowledge year after year and had identified many clear patterns, some of them academic, others related to approach and motivation. Many of the patterns I'd seen and conclusions I'd drawn weren't simply common-sense observations; in fact many were counter-intuitive and only made sense when considered against the confluence of factors related to the way students are educated, the linear, often pressurised way in the course is delivered in schools and changes in student's own environments over recent decades.
From September 2017 through to May 2018 every Friday I would sit down and write new material for the next week of classes. The new course addressed both the English Language material and the students themselves. The principle I held to was architectural - this was about collaborating with the student to build an edifice in their mind. The method of construction was to work from the ground up, building steadily from the foundations of grammar, through to accurate sentence construction, then on to higher level skills such as discursive and creative writing and analytical thought. At each level we would address issues and sticking points, most of which were academic although a few were also psychological and related to confidence and the willingness to engage in more challenging tasks. Where certain exercises or sections didn't seem to hit the mark, the solution was simple - jettison them and create something that worked. The resultant course material is novel, original and structured in a way that is as comprehensive but tightly focused on the skills students need to develop. Above all, it addresses the issues that students face which I believe is the feature that distinguishes it most markedly from other resources.
After writing the new material, I would work through this new course the following week with students. Quite soon I found that students were progressing more quickly than they had done previously. I could also see that students were gaining a sense of clarity and confidence over the course material and their own ability to express themselves and analyse information. I would work in this way with students each week, taking them through the new course material and setting them exercises and written work on the back of this. Most students were visibly more engaged with this course than anything I'd previously taught and I even heard from the parents of several of the less easily impressed students that they were gaining a lot of confidence from the course.
This methodical approach bore fruit: in summer 2018 students went on to achieve results that frankly I hadn't imagined were possible. I had two students jump from an F and an E, to 7s (an A grade in the new system). Other students went onto excel themselves, jumping from failing grades up to pass grades, or moving from middling grades to the very top marks. While I was thrilled about the grades, the bigger impact was on the students' sense of confidence, self-esteem and ability to articulate their thoughts in writing. While the glory of a great exam result would fade in a few weeks or months, the ability to think analytically and express their thoughts accurately was something that would stay with students and help them to navigate life.
Creating a dream resource
Off the back of a successful trial run, I knew that the content and structure of the course offered something unique and valuable to students. If the success of my tuition-lead test group was anything to go by, this approach could help many more students if I could deliver it more widely. I had the class-notes that would easily transfer over into an impactful and groundbreaking new coursebook. However, I had something much more developed in mind: the goal was to create a dream resource for students - an innovative coursebook, an in depth video course that replicated the feel of private tuition and an in depth question bank with over one-hundred review questions that tests a students understanding of the material. I've spent my free time from summer 2018 until now working on developing this video and text resource. As you might imagine, it was another steep learning curve, but after a lot of work and help from a great video editor I have a resource that delivers everything that would be covered in a year long course of private tuition. The videos were all filmed in my classroom so there are no wild special effects - just solid, clearly delivered content. Overall, I'm really happy with the content of the videos as well as the structure of the course and the question bank. This really is my dream resource - I wish I'd had it when I was sitting my GCSEs and I certainly wish I'd had it for the first ten years of my tutoring career. I'm confident that the full course is a step, perhaps even a leap forward in terms of resources available to students - it goes a significant way beyond any resource I've seen or used in my own career. That's not to say it's perfect - to suggest that about anything would be delusional - it's just far more comprehensive and developed than any other resource that I know of. I wish there was a way to put that without sounding brash, but I owe it to students to express this with confidence. If I don't state the benefits of the course vigorously enough, students who otherwise would benefit may allow the opportunity to pass them by.
Naming the course and trialling it during the Covid crisis:
Once the course was finished it was time to finalise the name for it. There were a number of different contenders - 'Excel English GCSE'; 'Just Pass English GCSE'; 'Accelerate English GCSE' - in the end I opted for English GCSE Blueprint. The course is essentially a blueprint to constructing the skills needed to excel at this level of English.
After finishing the text guide and the videos I spent time creating quiz questions for every lesson and building the learning suite on the teachable platform. The full course was ready by February 2020. I was contemplating how to begin marketing the course when the Covid 19 crisis hit the UK. People have a false impression that private tutors have seen a boom in activity during the Covid situation. While many, myself included, have been able to keep working thanks to our expertise in online learning, the fact remains that with the cancellation of exams, what would normally be the busiest time of year has turned into the quietest as all year eleven students simply dropped out of tuition. It took me a week or so to figure out how exactly I should be approaching this situation from a work point of view. Eventually I concluded that the real question we all had to ask ourselves was actually quite simple - how can I be helpful to others right now? The right solution seemed to me to be to create a short, mini-course that outlined some of the principles of the main course and offered students some valuable tips and content while they were away from school. I was experienced enough creating videos by this point that I was able to put a five video mini-course together within a couple of weeks on top of my normal workload. Thanks to some very efficient work by my editor I was able to get a free mini-course available online by the beginning of April. To put that in perspective, this was a full week before the Department of Education managed to get their own resources out and two weeks before the BBC managed to update their educational content. I feel this was pretty good going.
Spreading the word
During the early weeks of April I began sharing the free course on community pages, firstly throughout my home city of Sheffield, then the county of Yorkshire and eventually across many pages throughout the UK. Within a month nearly a hundred students have been through the free mini-course. For a private tutor that would normally work with around thirty students a year, having one hundred students sign up and go through your course within a month is quite a change of pace. The best part of this so far is that students are referring friends to the course - I'm able to monitor this process from my online school dashboard.
Right now I'm at the point where I intend to review the mini-course with students. I will be emailing them all this week to see how they have found things and possibly sending out a survey too.
So now you have the entire story of the courses, from their genesis several years ago, right through to the quarantine induced testing phase they are going through right now.
The next step is to go and check out the landing pages for both courses. Below is the landing page for the free course. All you need to do is go here, sign-up and get a your free video course. There is no catch here, the idea of this free resource is simply to lend a little bit of a hand to students and families that are not getting much in the way of educational provision right now. Even for those who do have a satisfactory level of input from school, this course will give you a taste of what the full course is like. To an extent it will also give you a feel of what online tuition is like as I use the same online whiteboard in the videos as I do in my classes.
The above free mini-course is there for everyone that is motivated enough to take some time to focus on the videos and quiz questions. My sincere advice is that you take advantage of this free resource. As a self-employed, private tutor, it's rare that I'm able to offer teaching for free, so this is a unique opportunity befitting a uniquely difficult situation.
For those students looking for a more in depth is the link to the full course: English GCSE Blueprint
As I mentioned previously, the full course is, to the best of my knowledge, the most comprehensive and student-tailored resource available today. I'm not saying that simply because I wrote it; had somebody else created it, I would be of the same opinion. In fact, part of me wishes that somebody else had created it decades ago - I'd have happily been a customer. The course is a level beyond any other learning resource for the English Language GCSE. Only a few days ago I spoke to a friend who told me he that when he was going through his exams twenty years ago, he thought that the CGP books were a great step in the right direction because they had cartoon drawings in them and were a little bit more user-friendly. I took a moment to process this and reflected that CGP books are still considered innovative for including a few pictures in their guides - little has changed in the last two decades. The progress with resources has been slow-to-none existent. One thing I am certain of is that if somebody thinks that the CGP guides are decent, the full English GCSE Blueprint course is going to blow their mind!
I'm genuinely exited for any student that enrols on the course. They are going to learn things in a way they have never been able to before and will gain a clarity that they were unaware even existed before embarking upon the course. All students need to do is keep logging into the learning suite and continue with the videos and exercises right up until the end of the course. While the course is designed to be enjoyable, it requires motivated students. As a home-study course it demands that students to engage, make notes and embark upon a lengthy period of study. The course is made up of thirty in depth videos, over a hundred review questions and an eighty page text guide - it's going to take time and effort to absorb the content and for students to make the changes and adaptations in their work. Fortunately, I have made it as interesting and engaging as possible without cutting any corners - I expect that students will enjoy the full course as the feedback I have received so far has been very encouraging. The course should be informative, intriguing, even revelatory at certain points. I believe that the investment of time and energy in completing the course will pay students back dozens of times over, not only in the form of improved grades and exam results, but also in the form of increased confidence and practical skills such as written expression and critical thinking. As I have not begun the promotion of the course in earnest yet, there is no rush on limited places right now. Take a moment to have a look around the landing page as it gives many more details about the course and you also get a peek at the learning suite itself.