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  • Judith Aitken

Online tuition: does it really work?


Although I taught online sporadically before COVID hit, I have certainly seen a huge increase in demand for online tuition, be it for pupils who are self-isolating or families who would rather home school their child to shield them from any potential outbreaks.

I’d always been dubious of how online learning could work with younger students, but I can now say that I am a total convert to this new way to teaching (and not just because it can be done from the comfort of my own home!).

Undoubtedly, online tuition does have its hiccups when it comes to teaching little learners, but I have found that with a careful selection of online resources and parental support during sessions, learning online can often be just as effective as home tuition and can mimic the conditions of learning in a classroom.


What’s so great about online tuition?


It’s new and exciting!

Despite Zoom lessons becoming the ‘new normal’, online learning remains a novelty to children, which is a great “hook” from the offset in terms of engaging students. For the vast majority of my students, this is their first online learning experience and it definitely creates a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity! I’m a big fan of using Google Slides in conjunction with Zoom as it recreates the way that children sit in front of an interactive whiteboard in school.

It can help hold the student’s attention.

For young students, the use of the highlighting tool in Google Slides is an excellent feature for drawing attention to a certain piece of information. Online tuition can have its drawbacks in that it is difficult to focus a child’s attention on a particular area of work, so being able to quickly change fonts, colours, add pictures and pointers really helps to get my students back on track.

Students are getting tech-savvy

The majority of my students are now used to working with computers (at times they are more competent than their teacher!) and another great aspect of online tuition for young students is that we can play interactive games together, using the same websites that are used in classrooms. I have found that learning number bonds or multiplication facts is often much more enjoyable when it’s done through an online game as opposed to traditional flashcard methods that are used in home tuition. Using Zoom is also an excellent way to provide real time feedback – no laborious marking for the teacher and instant targets and goals for students!


Access to top tutors, wherever you are

Quite often, families in more rural areas of the country or those living abroad struggle to find a qualified teacher who is able to provide home tuition for their child. Online tuition is fantastic in that it eradicates the problem of geography and provides a convenient solution for families. Many international families require tuition for their child as they wish to either move to the UK for schooling or are planning on sending their child to one of the top London prep schools. Online tuition is the perfect solution for families looking for a tutor who has experience of working in the top schools in London and who has prepared children for school entrance exams.

I work with international families, preparing their children for the 7+ school entrance exam. It is in cases like this that a home tutor may not always be the best solution as I would strongly recommend that 7+ and 8+ students are taught by fully qualified primary teachers who have a solid understanding of what is expected of children in the exam and how the process works.

Online tuition proves to be a great portal for guiding families through the 7+ process and pre COVID, I would often meet with my online families when they travel to London before the exam takes place.

As a side note, I have found that I have created fantastic relationships with my online students; again, something else I was initially sceptical about. My students love to introduce me to their family members during our sessions and I do get a few ‘through the keyhole’ style guided tours of my students’ houses from time to time!


Are there any cons?


A helping hand may be needed at the start

For young learners, online tuition isn’t always plain sailing. Online tuition does require children to be fairly computer literate and without these skills it can be tricky to have a successful lesson.

For children preparing for the 7+ exam, I have found that things run much more smoothly if an adult is on hand to help with the mouse clicking and document opening – quite a fiddly job for little people! Once these things are taken care of however, I have found that my students are able to focus on the task in hand and forget about the technology. Although tuition for students is likely to be centred on Maths or English, there is no denying that some computing skills come into play as well during a lesson. I see a big difference in my students’ typing skills, ability to operate a mouse and manipulate text as our sessions progress, so in many ways online tuition provides more learning opportunities than at home!


Online tuition can require self-discipline

Never underestimate the power of the teacher “look”! Unfortunately, this “look” to encourage children to pick up the pencil and concentrate does not always translate into an online environment. It is undoubtedly a lot more difficult when teaching online to manage student behaviour. With fewer distraction techniques to hand, the onus is very much on the individual student to ensure that they are focused and concentrating during the lesson. For children preparing for the 7+ exam at home, I normally incorporate active tasks and games into a lesson to break the session into manageable chunks. With online tuition however, although we can play games together, the whole lesson does have to be centred around paying attention to the screen, which is naturally quite a challenge for five and six year old students.

Students may need some “getting used to” time

I have found that my young students can also find it quite difficult to grasp the concept that yes I can see them, and yes I can see exactly what they are typing or working on. It can take quite a few lessons before children realise that they can converse normally (no need to shout!) with the face on the screen and that in essence, they really are just part of an online classroom.


There may be some technological limitations

The final glitch I have noticed is that Google Slides and Zoom do have their limitations when it comes to teaching specific concepts. As an example, written division can be tricky to model and explain to a child and it is also quite difficult to ask them to show their working of this using the tools that the programmes provide.

It’s also important for me to be able to see a child’s written work, but at times a child waving their writing in front of the screen excitedly doesn’t always allow me to see at a glance how their presentation looks. To solve this however I simply ask for parents to take a quick snap of their child’s work after the lesson and I can then have a closer look.

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