Before becoming a tutor, I had no idea that students could be taught online, but now I regularly teach both British and international students through the use of Skype and Google Docs. Surprisingly, most of my online students are between five and ten years old, which at first I would never have thought possible, but online tuition is becoming increasingly popular with families and professionals as it allows for easy access to learning (and not just because it can be done from the comfort of your own sofa!)
Undoubtedly, online tuition does have its glitches 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.
Online tuition is a huge 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! The use of Skype allows both myself and my students to see and hear each other clearly, and I prefer to use Google Docs in conjunction with Skype as it allows both my student and I to create a working document together, which can be edited and altered throughout the session.
For young students, the use of the highlighting tool in Google Docs 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 and add pictures and pointers really helps to get my students back on track.
The majority of my students are used to working with interactive whiteboards in school, 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 Skype is also an excellent way to provide real time feedback – no laborious marking for the teacher, and instant targets and goals for students!
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 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 have worked in the past 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 proved to be a great portal for guiding families through the 7+ process and often I 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 dubious about! My students love to introduce me to their family members during our sessions, and I’ve even been given a few guided tours of my students’ house from time to time!)
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’ve 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!
Never underestimate the power of the teacher “look”! Unfortunately, this “look” to encourage children to pick up the pencil and concentrate doesn’t 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 to five and six year old students.
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 does take quite a few lessons before children realise that they can converse normally with the face on the screen and that in essence, they really are just part of an online classroom.
The final glitch I have noticed is that Google Docs and Skype 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 programme provides.
On the whole, I would be inclined to say that if a family has access to a qualified primary teacher with experience of the schools the family are interested in – home tuition is your best bet. In my opinion, young students learn best through a mixture of independent work, games and activities with their tutor, and online tuition is at times perhaps a bit of a stretch when it comes to expectations of concentration and computer skills.
However, for those living abroad or in an area where there is a lack of experienced primary teachers or tutors, online tuition is a great second option. With a little extra parental support, technical glitches can be ironed out and over time students do build up a stamina in terms of how long they are able to concentrate independently for. Whether families choose home or online tuition, they should take comfort in the knowledge that from a teacher’s perspective, there is no substitute for reading with your child, discussing homework together, spending quality time with one another and showing a genuine interest in your child’s development both in and out of school.