Are you a parent or a tutor? Either way, it is essential to consider carefully the goals of a tuition programme to ensure that the money, time and effort invested produce the desired educational impact.


Setting Goals for a Tuition Programme

Parents seek private tuition for all sorts of reasons, but one common theme predominates: the student doesn’t yet understand something but would like to (or needs to in order to achieve a certain goal). It could be anything – from biology to Mandarin or from playing the piano to passing an entrance exam. In every case, we want the students to learn and to succeed in applying that learning (often in an exam of some kind). It sounds very obvious, but what is less clear is how best to achieve this overarching objective.

Whether you are a parent or a tutor (or even a student) this article should help you to understand the sort of ideal situations we want to work towards to ensure that students succeed.


What Makes for a ‘Successful Student’?

Some students perform exceptionally well without any additional tuition – why? Students that are successful tend to have a combination of factors contributing towards this success. These generally include the following:

  1. Clear and accessible sources of educational content, knowledge, and training – such as well-planned lessons, well-delivered content or well-written and accessible educational resources (such as books or online platforms like Get My Grades).
  2. Motivation to learn (by which we primarily mean ‘intrinsic’ rather than ‘extrinsic’ motivation) – often because they appreciate the value of the subject in question, which may stem from an existing understanding of its content).
  3. Discipline to keep going when times are tough – ideally, self-discipline but externally applied discipline is necessary if this is lacking.
  4. A clear understanding of the required standards that need to be reached (and what a ‘good’ answer looks like.

This might sound like a short and simple list of requirements but it is fairly rare that they all come together by chance. To varying extents, the student’s family, school, peers, and childhood development will all influence these factors. The vast majority of students will not be so lucky to have the above factors combine to enable them to excel in every subject.

The fact that many students are not doing outstandingly well in all subjects is not necessarily a reflection on their schools or parents; creating the perfect conditions for success is extremely difficult and both schools and parents have huge pressures on their limited resources. Some students simply require a bit more support.


The Easy Goals: Educational Content and Setting Expectations

Tutors should be able to identify the underlying causes of a student’s lack of progress and plan accordingly. Delivering educational content in an accessible way includes many of the core tasks expected of a tutor, including the clear explanation of concepts and the assessment of student understanding using relevant and appropriate questions. It is also not particularly difficult to provide students with an awareness of the standards required to succeed. Tutors are ideally placed to give tailored feedback on the student’s written tasks or answers to questions. Moreover, the tuition programme will probably be run with some reference to relevant specifications.

It is often the case that tuition is necessary because the content delivered in a school is too easy, too difficult, or too dull – and not specific to the needs of a particular student. This should not be a great challenge for tutors to deal with. Every tutor should have knowledge of their subject and access to appropriate resources such as a combination of textbooks, revision guides, past papers/mark schemes, and some way of recording progress. We designed Get My Grades to be the perfect tuition resource: accessible educational content, questions of different types organised by difficulty and topic, detailed feedback, and automatic data recording and tracking.


The Difficult Goals: Motivation and Discipline

Getting students to the point where they are self-motivated and self-disciplined is a lot more challenging. Sometimes it is simply impractical for tutors to achieve this – for example, in a tuition programme that is only going to last a few months leading up to an exam. However, without encouraging at least some element of self-motivation and self-discipline, tutors can fall into the trap of constantly dragging the proverbial horse to water and not being able to make it ‘drink’.

There is a substantial risk that the whole tuition programme will fail if the tutor-student relationship becomes a regular exercise in chastising the student for not doing enough work. The student may become disengaged, dislike the tutor, and pressure their parents to stop the tuition. Even if the parents continue to approve of the tutor, this is a far from optimal situation. Tutors have relatively little power to impose sanctions on students and, in all honesty, this is beside the point; this is an ineffective way of developing motivated students. It is usually better to use a carrot (rather than the stick) approach.

Ultimately, helping students to develop motivation and self-discipline is a long and drawn-out process. Certain techniques can help – such as being enthusiastic, giving students a positive experience of a subject and encouraging them to persevere with difficult challenges, praising them gratuitously when they do.


Setting Goals with the Student

It is not usually necessary to explain to a student on day one that you’re going to work on developing their motivation and self-discipline, provide a copy of the specification and give them accessible educational resources and tuition. It is important to make it clear to the student that there is a plan. The first step is to work out where the student’s starting point is – and we have a whole blog on how to do this.

Once the student’s starting point has been established, explain the key goals that will be specific to them. It may be that they are very motivated and reasonably self-disciplined but they simply have a lot of complex content to learn, in which case the main goal for that student will be a plan on how that content will be delivered and agreeing on a target grade. Alternatively, a student may be doing badly across the board because they lack motivation or self-discipline and a discussion will need to be had on what their long-term goals are and how they can be reached – including any important shorter term goals to work towards along the way.

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