An interview with one of our volunteer online tutors – Janet Cheney
What have you been up to since your last volunteer spotlight interview?
The main thing has been moving down to a house in Devon. Online tutoring has been really important for me because I do move around a lot. My parents live up in Lancashire and my daughters live in London, so I’m constantly travelling between these places to be able to see everybody. Being able to still tutor no matter where I am, has really fitted in extremely well and I find it very rewarding
This term you’ve been matched with Ladan. What did you enjoy most about tutoring her?
Ladan is an absolute delight! She’s so enthusiastic and also so eager to learn and doesn’t give up. She keeps persisting till she gets something and that’s just wonderful. She’s done some end of year tests in school recently and some of the questions that she showed me asking me: ‘’Have I done this right?’’, were perfect. I think by doing things and showing she can do it gives her more confidence. It’s great working with her, she is on top of everything.
What goals have you helped your scholar to achieve?
Her main target, right from the beginning, was to move up to higher GCSE work. She was on foundation stream. Her predicted grade from school is a grade 6 which is just over the boundary of foundation. But I can understand that perhaps she has struggled a bit but I do think a lot of it is confidence and that’s what I’ve been aiming to do, is really build her confidence up. I think by having a bit more time in the tutorial to really understand topics, she then has more confidence to apply them. We’ve spent a lot of time going through exam style questions because they can be very different from class exercises. You know, even if you’ve got the basic techniques, actually learning to understand the question, turn it into a math problem and solving it, that’s what we have focused a lot of attention on.
She is now doing these steps herself without me having to prompt her. So I think that’s made a big difference and I am pleased to hear that she has now been moved up to a higher stream. We’ve done a bit of work on the higher level, you know, just to show her what it’s like and to start looking at how she has to apply and use several techniques together to solve a problem and I think that is quite a big step.
What challenges at the start of your relationship that was clear to you and that she’s made a massive improvement on?
When I started with her in February, she had just taken an exam at school. I think if she’s done particularly well in that she might have been able to go up to a higher stream then, but there were some areas she found challenging. We focussed a lot on basic manipulation and fractions and she is definitely more confident about that. My strategy was that I thought she could gain a lot of points in quite a lot of areas by paying attention to the basics.
It was rewarding going through recent questions and she took me through what she did. The way she modelled her answers were good, the same way we did it together, and it showed that she had learned and that she can now apply it herself. Speaking to her mother, she had feedback from school that she’s improved her confidence as well. She did another end of year test, she said that she felt a lot more confident in it than her previous test and indeed, she has now been able to go up to the higher level.
Why do you think tutoring is valuable to young people?
I think the one to one aspect is particularly important, being able to concentrate on the points that they are struggling with. I think it must be very difficult in class for a teacher to cover everything. In a tutoring session, you can focus on the aspect that your student is struggling with and so the tutoring is more targeted. The focus on doing exam style questions is very useful for most students. I will make sure that the student is sound on their basic technique, but then move on to applying it successfully. Also working with a student to develop a methodology which works for them.
I made it very clear, I can’t help you to solve every question, you’ve got to find ways of doing that yourself. So you’ll need to be able to read a
question and take out of it what you need to find out what the maths problem is. I think that’s something again that must be quite hard in class to do. I’m sure they do try and do that but again, probably different styles suit different students. You know some will find they do better in a certain way. Some like a pictorial view, some like to have a diagram or a tabular view. You can be more flexible if you are doing it one to one.
You’ve been a volunteer tutor with us for a couple of terms, what made you decide to continue volunteering this term?
I thoroughly enjoyed it last year, particularly because it fits in with my lifestyle. I have done quite a bit of tutoring in school over the last few years with another organisation, but unfortunately, it is all based in London and you have to commit to doing it there every week and I can’t always do that, so this fits much better.
The other thing I enjoy about how you are set up is that you have a relationship with the parent, which again, I did not have when I went into school. You can set the homework and they can help with the mechanics of that. Also when you have parents involved they will encourage their children and I think it does make a big difference. I had a student that needed a bit of encouragement and his parents were there to do that. When he got his results he was very pleased, he got his grade 5, and his parents were also delighted, this was very rewarding for me as it is nice to be appreciated and it has also given me the confidence to continue with the online tutoring.
What is the one quality of Ladan that stands out above all others that make her a good tutee?
I think it is her determination. She always wants to do more, she’s not content to just work at a certain level, she wants to do better all the time. I think she’s very mature in that way, certainly in comparison with a lot of students I’ve dealt with. She’s mature for her age. At the end of the day, they have to go away and they have to achieve on their own. I have no doubt that she will do well.
What have you gained from volunteering with GT Scholars?
It’s a sense of achievement and I also enjoy working with young people. We can have a laugh about things and it’s a nice routine, once a week. The job I had before I retired was very demanding and when I finished doing that I wanted to do something which was more for me. I’ve always enjoyed doing Maths and helped my own children through their GCSE and A levels and I enjoyed helping them. I just wanted to carry on really and it is an important part of my life that I get a lot of enjoyment and fulfilment out of.
Do you feel that you’ve got support from the GT Scholars team? What was your experience like?
It’s been very good. I think the way it’s been set up, you know, with the weekly reporting, it’s good to have that, it’s a discipline that I wouldn’t necessarily do myself, to be honest, but it is good to have as a back up to go back and being able to see what you’ve done. Also setting the end of term assessments, that’s useful, although sometimes it can be difficult for the students to fit them in because it takes quite a long doing them, but I think if you’re flexible about it, it is not really a problem. The initial training I had was also useful and I also find the online whiteboard generally pretty good.