Building Initiative - by Emma Storey ATA (May '17)

Emma Storey ATA discusses what it takes for a tutor to spur independent learning and foster initiative for students to take control of their own learning.

Particularly in this age of information and technology, it is time to move away from rote memorisation and uninspiring didactic teaching in favour of building skill-sets our children will need to thrive in the modern landscape and labour market. Children will only be able to flourish as confident, independent learners if they learn to think on their feet and take responsibility for their time and tasks. Whilst schoolteachers are restricted on time, tutors can help to build skills our children will need to thrive: Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Exam technique, Revision Skills, Organisation and Time Management. So, what can tutors do to take advantage of the one to one dynamic and encourage children to take ownership of their studies, strategise and make logical connections between ideas?

Identify the root cause of indifference, then address it.
There are numerous reasons why a student may be lacking in drive to do well at school: a disconnect with a schoolteacher, a learning style not suited to a classroom, apathy for a subject… the list goes on. Understanding and empathising with a students’ obstacles to learning allows a tutor to create more targeted strategies whilst building a more productive, trusting and enjoyable relationship with the tutee.

Make the end-goal a personal goal
Getting students to define why learning is important to them and what they want to be or achieve in the future, helps them to take ownership of their studies. David Kwong’s TED article on thinking like a magician, highlights how the process of proactivity starts with envisioning the effect one ultimately wants to achieve. Creative career discussions with a ‘non-parent’, ‘non-schoolteacher’ who brings no judgements or bias and speaks to the child on the same level, can be a fun way to give a student perspective on the need to strategise the smaller steps required to achieve the bigger picture.
Make the content manageable

The sheer content of a syllabus can sometimes be sufficiently overwhelming for a student to become demoralised. Breaking down the quantity of information to learn into manageable chunks and prioritising tasks can help a student feel that the end goal is achievable. A mountain of files on a desk can also be enough to put anyone off their paperwork so it’s good to get students into ‘a tidy desk = a tidy mind’ habit.

Promote Active not Passive learning
To discuss, apply, or teach a piece of information, a student must be able to understand it first. Testing the level of comprehension can be achieved via ‘active’ learning: interactive discussion, engagement with a student, regular questioning and application of knowledge. Getting a student to teach back what they have learnt and apply information to different contexts identifies gaps in learning and helps to show why rote memorisation or cramming doesn’t lead to long-term consolidation.

Develop Critical & Creative Thinking
The ability to think clearly and rationally is important whatever we choose to do in life. Critical Thinking is all about learning ‘to think well’ – it is essentially problem-solving via systematic, objective and rational thought. Whilst schools do not have so much time to focus on this area, higher level thinking can be nurtured in one to one tutorials through the varying of question stems, teaching a student to habitually critique, apply, analyse, evaluate and create information.
Teach the ‘why’ not just the ‘how’
Humans are naturally more conducive to learning when we know why we are learning. What is the relevance? How is it connected to other topics? How does it apply to real life? Teach the ‘why’ not just the ‘how’ and the student is more likely to take interest, follow up with independent research and make logical connections.

Adapting teaching style to the individual
Tutors must not be tempted to solely teach the way they learn best; it may not work for the student. When recruiting new tutors, Bespoke Tuition looks for dynamic teachers who explore different teaching styles with their students and involve the individual in the process. The only way we can expect children to build initiative is if we use it ourselves! Tutors must find personalised ways and put systems in place to help students to learn how to learn, think how to think and study how to study independently.

Listen! Parents and tutors need to allow a student-led approach
If we are given the opportunity to take charge of a process, we are more likely to take responsibility for the outcome. Giving students a voice makes them more accountable for their goals. From selecting a topic to the type of tutor they would like, students will be more inclined to commit to the sessions, understand why they are doing it and drive the process if they are given the opportunity to choose.

Building a student’s inner confidence, not just confidence in a tutor
Monitoring a student’s progress and showing them measurable results will boost confidence and momentum to keep working hard. Tutors can reinforce academic resilience and effort by offering plenty of praise and encouragement, not just when students get something right but when they demonstrate good use of initiative or critical thinking. Once a student feels in control of his/her studies and witnesses the satisfaction of achieving good results, he/she will be internally driven to strategise and take the lead next time around.

Knowing when to take a step back
The best tutors understand their role (and the need to remove it). Far from fostering an academic dependence, a tutor’s duty is to provide students with the tools, prompts and individual strategies to flourish as confident, independent learners. This may eliminate the role of a tutor but encouraging a student’s sense of autonomy must be a priority in order for the tuition to be balanced and enriching. After all, we cannot expect children to think for themselves if we spoon-feed the answers or act as a crutch without which they would fall.

Emma Storey ATA

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