The aim of this article is to help private tutors deliver effective one-to-one lessons with a particular focus on tutoring A Level Maths and Further Maths. It will also allow parents to judge whether they are getting good value from their A Level Maths/Further Maths tutor. All of the following advice and tips are drawn from my own experience of being a classroom teacher and private one-to-one tutor.
My name is John Armstrong and I have classroom taught and privately tutored A Level Maths and Further Maths for many years now.
My Motivation For Writing This
We’ve all had experiences with that one fantastic student who always delivers that killer of a question that catches you unawares. That one question about something that you’ve taken for granted all of these years that you’d never even thought about how to articulate. “Can you prove that circle theorem to me?”. “Why do we multiply our particular integral by x in this case?”. “Why do we use 9.8 as g in mechanics and not 9.81 like in Physics?”. And on a one-to-one basis there simply is nowhere to hide. That’s why preparing for tuition is important. It should not be viewed as “easy money”. When parents are paying good money to have their children educated there is a level of responsibility that lies on the tutor to deliver quality and value. Obviously, with experience the preparation becomes easier given that you can reuse your preparatory materials in future when you have to teach a particular topic again. But there is no substitute for putting in the initial groundwork so that the lesson goes perfectly from both your own point of view as a tutor, and more importantly, from the student’s point of view. And that is why I have written this article. To help students and tutors alike understand what it is that makes a good tutoring session
How to deliver an effective tutorial
As a tutor, there are a certain number of attributes that your tutoring session should have. To help you give your students the best experience possible, I have outlined these below. Bear in mind however, this is just my own opinion, but one that is based on many years’ experience as a private tutor and a classroom teacher.
You should have a good idea of what it is that you want a student to learn in a particular tutorial. You should know this in advance from a direct conversation with the parent of the student or the student themselves (obviously with the parents’ permission). You should find this out at the end of the previous lesson or between lessons via email or a message. This takes very little time and really shows that you take the education of your students seriously.
2. Subject knowledge
You should only accept an engagement as a tutor if you are confident that you have the skills and subject knowledge to provide good value and progress the student. Obviously subject knowledge is something that can be built over time, but to be simply “one step ahead in the textbook” is not enough when privately tutoring. You have to know a subject area inside out in order to know the areas in which the students will struggle and have a vast array of varying methods at your disposal in order to find a way of explaining that best works for the student.
3. Put yourself in their shoes
This may seem like I am stating the obvious here, but I have heard so many horror stories from my tutees about former tutors getting into situations where they just simply could not understand why the student didn’t get a particular topic. It’s always a good exercise when preparing a tutorial to put yourself in the student’s shoes and ask yourself “what are they going to find difficult about this?”. A good trick to aid this thought process is to think of trick questions you could ask students in order to catch them out.
4. Decide in advance which questions you would like the student to get through in the lesson and have more than enough available in case you get through it quicker than planned
A tutor needs to make sure that the student will have enough work to get through so that the tutoring session doesn’t seem rushed or, conversely, dragged out. By the end of every session they need to really feel that they have achieved something. I suggest having a worksheet or textbook to hand along with some exam questions by category which you can find here for A Level Maths and here for A Level Further Maths.
5. Know when to sit back, watch and let them work
When tutoring, you don’t need to talking or demonstrating 100% of the time. You need to give them time to have a go at questions while you just sit and watch, guiding them if they get stuck. It can be overwhelming and, frankly, boring if each lesson is a mathematical monologue where they just sit and watch their tutor you do questions.
6. Set relevant homework
More important than what is covered in the lesson is the student’s own private consolidation. And this is SO much more important than people realise. Much like taking piano lessons without practising between lessons, the progress that can be achieved in a tutoring session will be very limited unless the student practises the skill they have learnt. In tutoring international students in recent years, particularly students from Hong Kong, I have been introduced to the term “drilling” which is to give many many examples on the same topic so students don’t just practise until they start getting things right; they practise something until they can’t get it wrong. If, as a maths tutor you can get your students to enjoy doing drills, you will have helped them develop a skill that is useful in all areas of study. I think that the best place to find drills are the mixed exercises in any good textbook or worksheets such as 10Ticks for GCSE or the Solomon Press worksheets for A Level.
7. Regularly update parents
A private tutor should have a conversation with parents after each lesson to update them on their son or daughter’s progress. Parents like to know how their child is doing and will feel much more comfortable that they are getting good value from you as a tutor if they feel regularly updated. Parents will also make sure that the student is doing the work you set them if they feel regularly updated. They want to do everything to make sure their child succeeds and a tutor keeping them regularly updated is imperative in helping them make their child successful.
There is a lot more to tutoring maths than people may think and to do a good job you really must view it as much more than “a bit of easy money”. It needs time investment (preparation, subject knowledge, etc.) and cash investment (the right equipment if online tutoring, licenses for good resources, etc). If you can incorporate all of the above into your tutoring sessions, in my opinion you’re onto a winner.