One-to-one tuition - a tailored way to learn
Before looking specifically at the features of online tuition, I'd like to share how I came to be involved in the field of private tuition to begin with. I have worked in private tuition professionally since 2010. However, my interest in tuition dates back to 2008 when I worked as an English teacher in a private school in Madrid. It was my first experience of teaching and, to my surprise, I found that even though year groups were separated into sets, there were still significant differences in the academic level of the students within individual sets. Perhaps that shouldn't have come as a shock, but I was still an undergraduate at the time and had a naive faith that the way school life was structured was perfectly-conceived and capable of getting the most out of students and teachers. It didn't take long for that particular illusion to be pierced by daily frustrations that stemmed from seemingly never being able to pitch a class at a level that worked for all of the students. A compounding issue was that even students with similar abilities and levels usually had different sticking points and had strengths and weaknesses in different areas of their learning. This problem was so significant that we would often conclude that it was simply not possible to plan a class that was actually appropriate for all students in any given class. The issue was not that we as teachers were not willing or competent, nor was it the case that students were unwilling to learn - the problem was in the very structure of our delivery - one teacher to dozens of students. While all teachers experience this, it is particularly acute when it comes to language learning so we decided to take the opportunity to try a different approach. As I had found the Oxford tutorial system to be a stimulating and rigorous way of learning as an undergraduate, I wondered if a similar approach might prove beneficial with younger students. Other teachers in the department seemed to agree that this would be a good way to get the most out of my qualities as a native English speaker.
In conjunction with the head of English in the school, we managed to work out a system whereby I was able to work with students on a one-to-one basis or in pairs, focusing in on the sticking points of individual students. I noticed the difference immediately. As a teacher in front of a full classroom I felt that the impact I could have on a student's learning was limited: most of my efforts were directed towards 'crowd control' - that is to say classroom discipline, organisation and maintaining the attention of the class. However, when I was able to work with students on a one-to-one basis, the entire dynamic was vastly more productive - students were able to ask questions that they may have felt too embarrassed to ask in front of the whole class and I was able get a much clearer understanding of my students' blocks and gaps in knowledge. I would then tailor my approach to the requirements of the individual student. With this more personalised approach, students were able to learn more quickly, build their confidence and ultimately achieve more. It also gave me a sense that this method of teaching, specifically one-to-one tuition, was something I had a natural ability to deliver. Although, I didn't realise this at the time, this experience was to be the basis of my future career.
Teaching the student, not just the syllabus
While I have undergone continuous training over the course of my career and have continued to deepen my knowledge of the learning process, teaching methodology, motivation and mind-set, ultimately the most important thing has always been the level of focus and attention that private tuition allows me to give to individual students. While all students learn from a standardized syllabus, students themselves are anything but standardized learners - each student comes in with a particular background, a specific body of knowledge, individual sticking points and gaps in knowledge. Furthermore each student has his or her own story in relation to their schooling. Some have had a fairly good experience of school and simply require some extra input and more tailored feedback, while others have had very discouraging experiences, perhaps of bullying, absent teachers or missing substantial amounts of school. As a tutor, I will factor all of these important details into the program of study that we embark upon. The relationship dynamic between students and tutors is also an important aspect of tuition - I take a professional, but also very human approach. I tend to develop a positive working relationship with students and families over the course of study.
Online Tuition - A new way to deliver a tried-and-tested service
Over more than a decade of private tuition since my experience in Madrid I have built and refined my tuition practice significantly. One of the biggest changes came in 2015 when, after a year of tutoring in Monaco with Modelex, one of my students asked if I could continue tutoring him from the UK via Skype. I decided to try the process and although it was a learning curve, within a few months I felt that the quality of the classes online was the same as the quality of the classes in a face-to-face setting. Over the next five years I would do more and more online teaching and eventually I realised that online teaching was going to be a huge part of the educational landscape going forward. With that in mind, I began to create an entire methodology that was focused on delivering the highest possible level of online teaching. In 2018, I started this service - Lawrence Explains - Online Tuition. While I'm still getting used to online 'personal branding', the name simply reflects the fact that I take a very personalised approach to one-to-one tuition. Since September 2019, I have worked exclusively as an online tutor.
Online tuition classes are based on exactly the same principles as to a face-to-face tuition sessions. I prepare online tuition sessions with the same goals as regular one-to-one lessons. The lessons are structured in a similar way. Usually classes will being with me asking students what they know about a particular topic. From there, I will then usually bring up a relevant resource and take the student through some course material. The resources that I select are specifically designed to engage students in a one-to-one, online setting. I will then tend to have students complete a written exercise based on some of the material we have worked through. We will then spend the final part of the lesson reviewing this work; this allows me to provide detailed feedback to students. Although classes are not uniform, this is the general format of most online tutorials.
A highly focused way of learning
In terms of the technical features of the classes, we use a Zoom video link or Skype and conduct the teaching via a shared whiteboard. Students need to have Google Chrome browser on their PC or laptop as the online whiteboard I use - Bitpaper - works most effectively on this browser. Typically I find that students adapt seamlessly to online tuition. They are able to write, upload text and answer questions on the whiteboard and I can provide feedback in real-time or after they submit work. One of my favourite things about Bitpaper is that students have access to class-notes after each session as all of the work we do is stored on the shared board. Over time, it's easy for students to build up hundreds of pages of notes, exercises and information. This then comes in useful when it's time to review material during the revision period.
Classes last one hour. In my experience, one-to-one tuition is an extremely intensive way to learn as it requires constant focus on behalf of the student and myself. While I'm used to it at this point, it can be quite challenging for students to maintain this for longer periods so I have a limit of two hours per day of tuition per student. In any case, most students work with me online for one hour per week throughout the academic year. It's only during more intensive programs that a student might sign up for one or two hours of tuition per day for several weeks.
Overall I have been thrilled with the move over to online tuition. It offers the benefits of one-to-one tuition but saves parents the time of pick-ups and drop-offs at my tuition centre. It also offers the most dedicated and talented tutors the ability to professionalise their service more easily. In fact, I would argue that it is the only way to offer a professional level of service as a professional tutor. Many tutors who choose to travel to work with clients in their homes have trouble actually booking enough students in to do tuition as anything other than a sideline. You simply can't be travelling around during in peak hours and maximise your productivity as a tutor. By working online we're able to book in classes, back-to-back, in a very time efficient way. Ultimately everyone benefits from this advance - tutors are able to do more classes and therefore offer a long-term, professional service to students, and students themselves are able to learn from the comfort of their own homes at a time that is convenient for them.