Special Correspondence from our tutor in the field | Part 1

Bonas MacFarlane Chess

Phoebe Taylor is a qualified teacher with over four years of experience in the classroom. Since September 2020, Phoebe has been helping families throughout the pandemic with tutoring and homeschooling assignments. Here are some of her top tips for helping children through this period: 

Tip No. 1: Stay Organised 

Although obvious, the main challenge for children not in school or learning online is ensuring that they don’t fall behind. Every child is different, some learn very quickly but others require more hours or one-to-one work. 

Phoebe recommends tracking all work. It keeps a student accountable and can also encourage a feeling of intrinsic reward, with the student taking satisfaction in seeing their academic progress. It does not need to be complex; get a notebook or an Excel spreadsheet open and “track” various quantitative aspects of their learning. It can be anything from: 

  • What score are you getting in your spelling test each week? 
  • How many minutes each day have you spent reading? 
  • How many word sounds did you master on your phonics chart? 
  • How many, out of 100 questions did you get right on your times tables? 

Tracking also puts the onus back onto the student, it is their education and therefore they need to be taking the most responsibility. Tracking works for students who are on track as they can take satisfaction in seeing improvements, but also great for those who lack confidence because they will undoubtedly improve. If they do not improve, do not be afraid to have a frank conversation about why and then make an action step, referring to it in the following week. 

Tracking also encourages a growth mindset, children will see that weeks where more effort is put in, the scores are better. It is important for the student to also explain why and how they managed to improve.  

If you think that tracking is going to be overwhelming, try a sticker chart. It sounds patronising but as long as there is a focus, it will be effective. For example, if you have a week coming up where you know the student will be at home for long periods of time, create a chart with the title, “Independence week” and write a quote, such as “I can do this myself”, explaining to the student which behaviours they will be rewarded for. 

Tip No. 2: Day-to-Day activities 

Firstly, It is also important to be realistic and not too ambitious, that will leave everyone feeling overwhelmed and annoyed. If things do not go as planned, see them as a learning experience and adjust to setting more achievable goals. 

1. Keep it rigorous and low stakes. Games should play a role in any form of education and it is rare to see a classroom which does not include a more “fun” approach through games. However, this does not mean that you need to compromise on outcomes, some of the games which I use have been extremely important to student success but have felt fun and really do break the seriousness and focus of more traditional style lessons. A couple of easy games are: 

  • Times table game: cut up 24 pieces of equally-sized cards, I use different colours to lighten the mood, cut to around the size of a traditional playing card, write the numbers 1-12 on each card (24 gives you enough cards to do this twice). After this, shuffle the cards, each player (can only be 2 players for the following) gets 12 cards each, place your piles face down and flip them one by one in unison at the count of three. The first person to correctly multiply the two numbers shown together and say the answer wins both cards, continue until no cards left to flip, can be best of 3 or 5, depending on how long you want to play. Excellent for finding out a student’s strength and weakness in their times table without getting them to recite them/testing them more formally. 
  • New vocab mnemonic cards – if you have a child who likes to be creative and needs to build vocab, ask them to choose 3 new words each day, these will usually come from their reading book. The student should then, on an A4/A5 card write their own definition (checked by you and Google), the word in a sentence and an image which helps them to remember the word. Great fun if you build up a word bank and then can test them. 

Give them a schedule. Children really like the routine of school and it is best to replicate this as much as possible. However, it is also fine if the schedule doesn’t always work and if something comes up, enjoy the time you can spend with them without them having to be in school/rushing around all the time. Kids have to have scheduled time for breaks and to know how long learning sessions and breaks will be. Ideally, students are able to work independently for at least some of the day. There also has to be accountability worked in, ie check in on them at certain points and tell them what you are looking for.

Encourage your children to be independent. A crucial aim for when our children leave the nest is that they have gained good grades, but they can manage and be responsible for themselves. 

Things kids can do independently:

  • Read – get them a book on something they are interested in. Do not worry if the level is too easy, just get them reading. They will naturally move onto books more suitable to their level in time. 
  • Repetitive tasks which may require practise for mastery but little intervention from you – for example, a sheet of times tables sums, grammar rules with activities, a themed word search or a workbook with instructions and space to write answers. Make sure these tasks have answer sheets/can be easily ticked by you. Once they have finished, take some kind of note of what they have done well in and what their targets might be.