Author Archives: Chris Walsh

  1. Is online learning the future of education?

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    In some ways, education has changed very little in literally decades. Predominantly, lessons are still led by a teacher standing at the front of a class of pupils sat at desks. Blackboards may have been replaced by interactive whiteboards – but you could argue that changes to the way things are done in school over the years have been more to do with technology rather than pedagogy

    Indeed, anybody who sat the old ‘O’ levels back in the 70s and 80s might be forgiven for thinking that they’d travelled back in a time machine if they saw the current GCSEs – such is their similarity to those old-school exams.

    Hell, we even teach kids grammar again these days too!

    Well, yes, very little had changed… that was… until covid struck. The pandemic changed so many things for so many people. And education was not left unaffected. In fact, the extraordinary events of the last couple of years have even called into question what the notion of ‘normal’ learning is, to some extent.

    After all, it’s now apparent that learners don’t necessarily need to be physically present in the classroom for a lesson to take place anymore. 

    The wealth of new technologies that are readily available means that it is now possible to receive an education wherever and whenever you want, if you have access to a digital device.

    Most people – certainly not many teachers – had even heard of the likes of Zoom or Teams before lockdown. Now, for many, video calls and meetings have become a part of the new normal – a hybrid work routine.

    Online learning:  a revolution in education?

    So, have we entered a new era? Is online learning at the forefront of a revolution in education? Well, distance learning had been growing in popularity even before Zoom lessons were forced upon everybody during lockdown.  More than 30% of higher education students take at least one distance learning course. Although the experience that university students had of online lectures and seminars during lockdown was not particularly positive, online learning is still likely to play an important part in the education of the future.

    Online learning provides flexibility and greater choice

    One of the major advantages of online education is that it allows the teacher and the student to set their own pace of learning. It becomes possible to set a schedule that suits everyone. Online learning is also a great way to learn new skills – or to refresh existing ones.

    There is now an online distance learning course for virtually any skill and topic. Increasingly, universities are offering online versions of many of their existing programmes and courses. Away from full-time education, online learning has become the convenient way to gain acatc certificate or qualification to advance your career, in several sectors.

    A virtual classroom can be created anywhere where there is a decent internet connection. It means that the teacher and students need no longer have to travel to the same place. As well as reducing travelling costs, online learning modules are re-usable – again and again.

    Will online learning become a part of mainstream education?

    Post-pandemic, the world of business is unlikely to ever quite be the same again now that companies have experience of using Teams or Zoom as an alternative to face-to-face meetings.

    But could the same transformational impact occur in mainstream education? Could a GCSE Maths lesson on Zoom for 30 students replace a conventional classroom lesson? Probably not, at least anytime soon. However, there are many potential opportunities for schools to incorporate online learning into their normal everyday offer. Some already are doing so – with revision sessions and catch-up sessions the obvious starting point.

    Schools were forced into the online route. But now the dust has settled on covid, teachers are being creative and looking for exciting ways to explore the potential of online learning.

    TutorRight provide face-to-face and online tuition. Get in touch to find out more about the services we have available.

  2. Understanding the science behind how we learn

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    As educators, it’s what we do – we help students to learn. 

    But have we actually thought about how learning occurs? Of course, engaging teaching certainly helps; but as individuals we all learn in different ways and have preferred learning styles. 

    So, what is it that helps us master something new?

    Understanding how the brain works

    The human brain is a truly remarkable thing; it does countless incredible things every single day. 

    However, it is so clever that it also makes us extremely lazy! The brain will scurry around looking for ways to stop us having to exert too much effort. This is why so many of us are prone to cutting corners a lot of the time. We naturally look for shortcuts and a way to make things easier for ourselves.

    The brain loves it when it can slip into autopilot: riding a bike, driving a car, playing a game. We love it when we can do things without having to think too hard about it.

    And when we come across something new, often we find it frustrating and feel that it is too difficult.

    That’s a pupil in a classroom right there – trying to learn something they don’t know and don’t really have much interest in.

    This is why – to learn something – you need to practise enough times so that the brain recognises it and puts it into autopilot for you.

    Trigger and reward

    Humans are hardwired to need both a trigger and a reward to make us want to do something. The trigger needs to be something that kickstarts the brain into realising it must be time to try out the new skill that has been learned. The reward is the motivation for doing something. For most of us, there has to be a reward. There must be something in it for us.

    How does this look in a classroom setting? A student is faced with a poem. The brain recognises that is often asked to analyse language features. This reminder acts as the trigger to begin analysing the use of simile and metaphor in the poem. The reward is the thought of positive feedback or a high grade, and the possibility of moving one step closer to the target grade.

    The importance of self-belief

    Last but definitely not least is the importance of self-belief. Ignore the significance of this at your peril. We need to believe that we can do something. It doesn’t matter what the ‘something’ is: a new skill, a subject topic, an exam – if our brain isn’t telling us that we can do this, the chances of success are slim.

    We also need to believe that it is normal and natural to get things wrong, fall short, or make mistakes. Understanding that we can learn and recover from setbacks is incredibly important. How we react to failure is far more telling than how we respond to success.

    A tutor can unlock potential and tap into how a student learns. Get in touch to find out more.

  3. Top tips for an effective extra-curricular programme in schools

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    The two most common types of extra-curricular clubs in schools tend to be sport or music-related. Long may that continue – but there are a wide range of other activities that schools could offer as well to create a truly outstanding effective extra-curricular programme.

    With the relentless focus on exam performance (and the curveball that Covid threw into the mix), extra-curricular has been put on the back burner somewhat over the last few years. This is a real shame as everybody knows that education shouldn’t just be about the hours that students spend in the classroom.

    Research shows that the students who perform better socially and academically are the ones who participate in extra-curricular activities. However, it is difficult for many schools to put together an effective out-of-hours offering. Time is often taken up with interventions. What’s more, staff are overburdened as it is. It’s a bit much to expect teachers to run a club on top of everything else they do.

    This is why some of the best extra-curricular programmes in schools are the ones that draw on the support and expertise of parents and the wider community. Here are some tips for putting together a programme that genuinely inspires.

    Run activities that teachers and pupils alike love

    Tapping into people’s passions will always be a winner. Despite the issues of workload, many teachers will still give their time willingly – especially for something that they genuinely love doing.

    Be open, creative, and experimental in terms of what can be offered – moving things away from the typical sports-based clubs. Not that there’s anything wrong with sport, of course – but there are plenty of other ways to enthuse and engage young people.

    Involve the whole school community

    Involving the whole school community makes an extra-curricular programme truly inclusive. Involve older students. It is great experience for them and creates positive role models for the younger ones. Give senior students the opportunity and space to lead and watch them flourish as they rise to the challenge. Open things up to all non-teaching staff too. Many are more than willing to run clubs.

    Get support from parents and local businesses

    Schools should also tap into the experience and expertise of parents and local businesses. It can create a whole new set of role models for students. It can also open up a wide range of opportunities. Not only that, it reinforces the place the school holds within its local community too. 

    Why does all this matter so much?

    Schools are under much pressure to deliver progress and ever-improving exam results. Therefore, ‘the other stuff’ is pushed to one side. However, the development of young people and preparing them for adult life is about much more than how they do in exams. The culture of a school is vital. Crucially, an enriching and effective extra-curricular programme can play a major part in shaping that culture.

    Remember: be open, creative and experimental with your extra-curricular programme!

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  4. Self-help tips for teachers to fight stress

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    It’s sad, but true: the words ‘stress’ and ‘workload’ have become almost synonymous with the teaching profession. Long before ‘funding cuts’, ‘recruitment crisis’ or ‘Covid catch-up’ became the issues that school are grappling with, workload has been a constant concern for teachers.

    The numbers don’t lie. In recent research from Hays, 71% of school leaders said that they were finding it increasingly difficult to recruit permanent teachers. The recruitment of new staff has been an issue for a long time. However, the shortage of new blood is compounded by that fact that schools seem to find it hard to hold on to what they have. Shockingly, in 2020, one in six new teachers left the profession after just a single year in the classroom. It’s estimated that 40% of teachers leave within 5 years.

    And, although they are by no means the only issues, ‘workload’ and ‘stress’ always feature highly on any list of reasons why teachers leave the job.

    So, what can be done?

    Well, teacher workload is undoubtedly a complex issue. But despite the weight of evidence suggesting the negative impact it has on the profession, few at the chalkface would say things have improved much – if at all – recently. Major change is needed and regardless of how many ‘workload surveys’ are carried out, little impact has yet to be seen.

    The individual class teacher is really at the mercy of their school leadership. However, it is not a hopeless situation. Sometimes, it can be the little things that make a real difference.

    Self-help and self-care could be the answer. Ultimately, teachers need to look after Number One. It is important that teachers do not let the job define who they are.

    Here are some tips to keep stress away – or at least in check.

    Take up a hobby

    Okay, so this bit of advice might seem a bit daft! Teachers are struggling with their workload, as if they have the time to take up a hobby. We get that – but hear us out…

    After a hard day and week, the temptation is simply to switch off: Netflix, a bottle of wine and the sofa might sound like an irresistible combination. There’s no denying that we all need some R&R from time to time; however, it’s important to ‘switch on’ as well as to ‘switch off’. Being physically active, learning a new skill, or taking up a new hobby will be better for your wellbeing in the long run.

    Try Journalling

    The notion of keeping a diary might seem slightly old-hat these days, but the benefits of journalling are celebrated in all circles. There are a plethora of apps to choose from but traditional pen and paper is fine too. It is the principle behind journaling that is important. The process forces you to balance any negativity that may occur during the day with a few moments of self-reflection and positivity. It is about focusing on what you have, rather than what you haven’t got.

    Practice what you preach

    Finally, aim to have more of a growth mindset about everything you do. It’s a case of practising what you preach with the students you teach. Think about the advice you would give about how to revise: take regular breaks and give yourself rewards – and take a leaf out of your own book.

    Remember how a growth mindset can challenge negative feelings. If a pupil doesn’t believe that they can make progress in subject, they probably won’t.

    The thing is, if you don’t think things can get better for you – they probably won’t either.

    At TutorRight we work with schools and councils. Sharing the workload can help your students to excel.

  5. The secret to success in exams: 5 Top Tips

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    How do you succeed in exams? 

    Unsurprisingly, this is probably the most frequently asked question from students. They want to know the secret to success. Of course, in many ways, the answer is simple and straightforward…

    If you work hard in lessons, do your homework, and revise regularly (not just for a few days before an exam!), it stands to reason that you are putting yourself in the best position to succeed.

    The problem is that most people find this very hard to do. To be honest, it is difficult to maintain a strong level of consistency all the way through a course.

    But don’t panic – even if you haven’t been a ‘model student’ all the time, you can still succeed!

    It’s also true that even those students who have done everything they should have done still need to make sure that their revision is focused and effective if they want to reach their potential in exams.

    Is there a secret to success in exams?

    Well, these 5 top tips will keep you on the right track:

    Secret to success: Put some space between your practice

    You are bound to have heard the advice not to ‘cram’ your revision before. It’s common sense really. Trying to desperately cram everything in at the last minute is never going to work. That much is obvious. But it’s worth looking at how the brain works too here.

    Take something that you might do a lot that you get better at over time – a new Xbox game, for example.

    Research shows that people who play on a new game 5 times and then leave it alone for 24 hours before playing it again will do better on their next 5 plays than a person who continues to play for 50% longer.

    Putting some space in between actually helps your performance. The same is true for learning and revising. So, space it out rather than cramming it in!

    Don’t be afraid of getting things wrong

    You may have heard the saying ‘Nobody gets better by getting things right all the time’. It might sound a little weird, but it really is true. Getting things wrong every now and again can actually help you to get better over time.

    This is why you should never avoid or ‘put off’ the questions or topics that you struggle with the most. Tackle the toughest bits head on!

    Obviously, you don’t want to deliberately get things wrong. But if you do, don’t worry about it – you can learn from the experience.

    Spending too much time revising the stuff you already know is not the best use of your time. Instead, always start with the topics you find the hardest.

    Be active in your revision

    It’s important to do something with your revision material. You could have the best set of notes in the world but if all you do is read through them then they won’t be much help. You need to be active when you revise. 

    And the best way to be active is to…

    Practise exam answers

    Doing well in exams isn’t just about showing off your knowledge or remembering information, it’s about knowing exactly what is expected from you in every single question. You need to know this inside out. 

    The skill that is being assessed in a question is more important than the content on your answer.

    Rest and sleep

    It’s a natural reaction – especially if you are stressed – to spend more time revising, if you are worried about how you are going to do in an exam.  But there are only so many hours in a day.

    It is better to have frequent breaks, days off, and a good night’s sleep every single night than to stay up late every night trying desperately to catch up. 

    Rest and sleep really is a major part of the secret to success.

    Our friendly and expert tutors can help you make sense of everything and get you exam-ready.

  6. Checking in with kids’ mental health

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    The last few years have seen a considerable amount of progress made regarding mental health. The stigma there used to be around the issue no longer exists – at least not to the same extent. Mental health certainly isn’t the taboo subject it used to be. 

    There is more openness – generally – across society when it comes to the issue. High profile figures, such as England cricketer, Ben Stokes; and US gymnast, Simone Biles, have helped to raise awareness by being open about their own personal struggles. They were roundly praised, respected, and supported for doing so.

    All of this is overwhelmingly positive – progress, as we say.

    However, we need to be grateful that such progress has been made because not only was it long overdue, it is now also more important than ever in today’s world.

    This is a growing problem across all age groups and all areas of society.

    And it is particularly shocking to see how much it affects young people.

    Mental health: Supporting school and parents to identify concerns

    The numbers paint a bleak picture. Statistics show that 75% of mental illnesses begin before a person turns 18. In fact, around 50% of mental health problems that occur in adult life start before the age of  15. 

    Despite the size of the issue, it is estimated that as many of 75% of young people suffering from a mental health problem aren’t receiving treatment. Not only that, despite progress being made in this area, around 50% of young people still say they feel embarrassed about mental health.

    With around 10% of children having a diagnosable mental illness, it means that in an average class of 30 students, 3 will have a mental health problem.

    These are shocking figures.

    So, where do schools fit into this? 

    School leaders need to protect staff wellbeing. The last thing that is needed is to somehow turn teachers into mental health professionals by proxy. There are already more than enough expectations placed on teaching staff. We cannot expect them to take on the full responsibility of supporting the mental health of families and children. 

    But that doesn’t mean that teachers can’t be supportive. The daily contact that teachers and schools have with their pupils puts them in a unique position. They have considerable influence on a young person, the potential to have a significant impact – and the knowledge about an individual to be able to spot the signs of mental health problems when a child begins to show them.

    So, what can schools do? 

    Schools can be proactive by sharing positive and healthy habits through communication with parents and by the overall culture and climate that it set within the school. This can take many forms, from promoting the likes of having a decent sleeping routine or the family eating together. Similarly, much can be done in terms of signposting useful information, such as websites like Mind and Young Minds.

    It is important that a child feels able to talk to someone when they need to. A friend, parent or teacher might be the most obvious candidates, but equally it could be somebody from a child’s wider family. It doesn’t really matter who, young people just need to be encouraged to talk to someone if they feel the need to. The encouragement to talk can come from schools.

    Mental health: Don’t forget the parents

    It’s a sad sign of modern life that it’s likely that many parents will be suffering from mental health issues themselves. Because of this, they are unlikely to be in the best place to support their child’s own mental health needs. Even if the parents aren’t struggling with their own wellbeing, identifying similar concerns in their children can be very difficult to come to terms with. Some parents feel like failures or worry that they will be judged themselves. Others are concerned that their child will be given a label due to their difficulties.

    Some parents will see a school as part of their own support system. Naturally, schools will be good listeners and want to help but there is a balance to strike – the wellbeing of the school’s own staff needs to be looked after too.

    Safeguarding and knowing when to escalate

    Schools – rightly or wrongly – have an important role to play in supporting their pupils’ mental health. However, teachers are not mental health professionals. Schools need to identify when a child’s needs become so serious that a referral needs to be made so that the child can receive professional help.

    School leaders need to be aware of the relevant thresholds. They need to know when it is appropriate to involve doctors, mental health services, or social services. The mental health of young people demands our attention. After all, it is the responsibility of adults to keep young people safe and healthy. 

    And when young people feel better, we feel better too. 

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