One of the most topical conversations around school and academic development is tutoring — extra educational support that supplements class-based learning. It calls to mind lessons taught, drill sergeant-style, in a tiny classroom on the weekends. It feels unimaginative, inflexible, and driven by parents who are focused on top marks at all cost.
But this isn’t the case. Not always and not with every provider.
What is tutoring?
Tutoring is educational support, either one-on-one or in small groups. It’s different from regular teaching in that it’s meant to be supplementary, meaning it works to support or complement regular classroom activities.
When you choose a tutor who suits your child’s needs and build a relationship with them, it enriches their academic development, fills knowledge gaps, and takes a bit of pressure off you by providing homework support. It can also help gifted students excel beyond their age or year level and serve to build confidence for those children who aren’t comfortable raising their hand or sitting at the front of the class.
“Tutoring isn’t about the tutor – it’s about the student,” says Cluey co-founder, Michael Allara. “It should start with understanding how best to support the individual needs, goals and circumstances of that particular individual.
“Great tutoring should have clear areas of focus and a plan that continually builds and adapts over time to meet the students’ needs. As much as possible it should complement their schooling, rather than challenge or replace it. Ultimately, tutoring is a learning partnership, focused on the growth of the student. This is why it’s important to look beyond the tutor when finding the right partner.”
The three main functions of tutoring are to:
- Extend or stretch a strong or gifted student beyond what they’re learning in class in order to expand their capacity for achievement and stave off any boredom that they may feel at school.
- Provide a remedy or help to bring a struggling student up to speed with their peers, often focusing on the areas they find difficult.
- Supplement or reinforce learning messages to maintain a student’s progress by giving them extra practice and independent lessons in key areas of study.
Other types of tutoring can focus on a specific need or goal. An example of this is exam prep tutoring, which offers specialised prep for entrance exams, NAPLAN or the HSC.
What are the different types of tutoring?
Classes of up to twenty students normally gather in learning centres after school or on weekends. These lessons generally follow the same teacher-driven model that students see in the classroom i.e. students complete lesson plans and worksheets in line with the other people in their class, putting their hand up for assistance when they need it.
For many children, a small(er) group dynamic can be a strong social motivator to learn, while the sense of camaraderie can also be beneficial. However, these lessons aren’t personalised. Learning centres tailor their program to the needs of the class, which can be problematic if the teacher-driven model is already failing your child.
One-on-one, in-person tutoring
A one-on-one format enables the tutor to connect with an individual learner. Tutors can tailor lessons to each child’s pace and requirements, while students feel that they have an adult on their side. This is helpful when poor academic performance is affecting a child’s confidence in class.
In-person, one-on-one tutoring has similar logistical limitations as learning centres in that you either have to get your child to the tutor or limit yourself to tutors who will come to you.
One-on-one, online tutoring
With online tutoring, a child can connect with their instructor in real time via a computer or tablet.
One-on-one, online tutoring enables a bond to develop between teacher and learner, and gives the tutor the opportunity to tailor their approach to each student, better meeting the individual objectives of your child.
There are two broad modes of online tutoring:
- Synchronous tutoring, where the learner and tutor are online together in real time.
- Asynchronous tutoring, in which the learner and tutor are online at different times. In this scenario, the tutor sets work and the student submits answers for evaluation at a later date.
An ideal tutoring relationship combines elements from both of these setups.
Small group tutoring
Small group tutoring limits class sizes to no more than four students, enabling your child to benefit from the learning of others while also enjoying a personalised relationship with their tutor. Lesson time is spent working through course material, problem-solving and learning through the strengths and challenges of others. Small group tutoring is most effective for long-term engagement. A friend in the group is a powerful incentive for students to keep coming back and engaging along with their peers.
Above all else, it’s important to choose the format that’s right for your child and his or her learning goals. This also means taking into account practical factors like cost and transport. If your child is energised by the input of others, explore small group options, either online or within a learning centre. If you think your child needs a personalised approach, then one-on-one is likely the most effective option.
You can also explore our guide to finding the right tutor here.