I took on my first paid tutoring client 25 years ago, back when I was an engineering student at The University of Melbourne. From that moment I was hooked!
Ultimately, I changed from engineering to pursue educational psychology. (I hold an honours degree in Applied Science (Psychology) and would be eligible to apply for provisional registration as a psychologist.)
Instead of registering as a psychologist, though, I have calved out a niche as a full-time, professional mathematics tutor and mathematics development consultant for 19 years now.
Having managed a tutoring agency specialising in mathematics (several years ago now), I have worked closely with a broad cross-section of tutors and families.
Over the course of 20 000+ hours tutoring, I’ve constantly trialled and researched different approaches to help students get more value from our lessons and better compliment the work being covered in class.I have learnt a lot about what makes maths tutoring effective . . . BUT . . . I’ve learnt a lot MORE about what DOESN’T work!
My concern about most mathematics tutoring
Having run a tutoring agency specialising in mathematics for several years (or, more accurately, “having abandoned the tutoring agency I built after two years of banging my head against a wall”), I discovered my approach to tutoring is unusual. It’s not for everyone.
You see, from observing other tutors, I learnt a typical lesson with a typical tutor (not with me!) goes like this:
Tutor asks student what they would like to work on.
Student picks something
Tutor writes out a solution then says words to the effect of “Do you get it?”
If “yes”, rinse and repeat.
If “no”, hopefully the tutor tries to find out why. Ideally, tracing the issue back to a previous topic that needs to be filled in.
(Unfortunately, the response to “I don’t get it” often seemed to be “let’s try another one then!”)
Here’s the downside I see with that “let-the-patient-write-their-own-prescription” approach to maths tutoring . . .
Even if a tutor does a fabulous job explaining a student’s questions, the reason that student couldn’t do the questions in the first place isn’t addressed. Often that student goes back to class, still can’t tackle a lot of the new work and becomes increasingly reliant on the tutor.
Now, many clients are happy with that conventional type of tutoring. What I don’t like about the dynamics described above (and this is why I left the tutoring agency business) is that students often get less and less value out of classes at school if they are just waiting for their tutor to explain the week’s work.
My approach to tutoring:
To be clear, addressing questions your child has trouble with in class is definitely important. I incorporate that into our lessons, especially when getting started.
Ultimately, though, I want to your child to be into a position where he or she doesn’t get stuck very often with classwork. Then we can focus on how to tackle more challenging problems, retaining everything your child has covered so far, and giving your child an edge in tests and exams.
Getting students to that “sweet spot” where we are ahead of the game requires: diagnosing what bits of prerequisite knowledge need brushing up on to support upcoming classwork, predicting likely “sticking points” to smooth the path ahead, and having a program of revision to retain what has been learnt and apply that knowledge in assessments.
Why I might not be the best tutor for your child
All modesty aside, I discovered the hard way (running my tutoring agency) that there aren’t many people with the skill set to tutor the way I do.
While my approach can help students make progress much faster than conventional tutoring, it requires clients who are doing their best to stay on top of classwork to fully benefit.
If you are looking for someone to keep your child company while working though questions he or she could have mostly done independently — you don’t need me! You would be better off with the cheaper option of a teacher or university student doing a bit of tutoring as a sideline.
Also, I have spent tens of thousands of dollars investing in the rights to reproduce specialised revision and extension material (and spent thousands of hours developing my own). Of course, if your child does not want to use those extra resources, you will not be getting value from that side of my service.
While what I describe may seem like “extra” work, I argue that it allows me and your child to work “smarter” – ultimately covering more ground with less work. (i.e. less revision required before exams if we revise as we go, less homework to do at home if your child is set up to be more productive in class.)