So, Pauline, why do you think tutorials are so important?
Yes, well, that’s a good question. I think, from a student’s point of view – they give them time to reflect on their progress and with the teacher, set short and long term learning goals.
It can also be the only opportunity they get to speak to the teacher on a one-to-one basis – and vice versa.
Yes, and students seem to really appreciate that ‘quality time’ with their teacher.
Exactly. It helps them to feel that their teacher is interested in their particular learning needs, not just the class as a whole.
It’s not just a quick conversation about going up or going down a level but a more meaningful discussion about their individual progress and how they feel about it.
This is something that happens every four weeks here at International House London.
And what do you think the teacher can get from doing tutorials?
They are a great way to check in with the students and to find out where they think they are at. Sometimes their perception of where they are at can be different to yours as a teacher, so it is good to give some reassurance if that is the case.
Of course, it is also an opportunity to offer a little pastoral care and find out if there is anything outside the class that may be affecting their studies.
Do you think tutorials can be useful for teachers in terms of course content?
Yes. Regularly checking in with students can help teachers better understand general concerns and anxieties that students have with their learning and so can plan their courses accordingly.
Speaking to students individually may also help you to deliver what they want and what they are excited about learning.
Why did you start looking at ways to support teachers further when they are doing tutorials?
Well, this was one of the things that was raised by teachers in our annual staff survey and although teachers were doing tutorials, some didn’t really feel that neither they nor the students were getting enough from the experience.
And then there’s the question of what the rest of the class does while you’re having a one to one.
Yes, that’s a big question. What were the other challenges that were flagged up?
Well, some teachers, particularly newer teachers, did not always feel confident that they knew what a typical learner’s capability should be at each level – aside from just following the book.
Also there are many different approaches to helping students reflect on their learning and evaluate their own progress and some teachers were unsure about the best way to do this.
And then, along with the question of what the rest of the class does while you are out of the room, the other practical issue was, how do you find the time to give meaningful tutorials to, say, 14 people? And where?
So, what did you do next?
We started by holding a number of Teacher Development (TD) sessions on how best to evaluate progress and encourage students to reflect. During these sessions, teachers were able to share ideas from their own practice but also to share their concerns and questions about the process.
And so, these sessions highlighted some areas in which teachers needed much more support from us.
How have you responded to this?
We have re-written the Can-do statements (CEFR) for each level so teachers have a clearer idea of what is expected from a student at each level. Students are also given these at the beginning of their course and the statements can be used to set individual learning goals for the week.
One of the important things is to give students time to prepare for tutorials – which we why we devised the
Student Progress Report Form. This is used by students to get them thinking beforehand and to guide the discussion during the tutorial. Students are encouraged to keep these forms for their next teacher to see the following month.
And what about those practical issues, what should students be doing while the teacher is out of the classroom?
On a practical level – and as a result of some really great TD sessions – we compiled a list of ideas. Although this was one of the biggest concerns, when a group of teachers came together and started discussing the possibilities, those possibilities became seemingly endless.
All the ideas encourage students to work independently: from preparing individual or group presentations; to using their mobile devises to talk about articles, videos or music that they have enjoyed that week; or, from doing collaborative review tasks; to taking a formal test.
We are lucky enough to have some fantastic learning software in our Self Access Centre but there are also some great websites to introduce students to as well.
Don’t students complain that the teacher is out of the room for so long?
Not in our experience. Students tend to really value the one to one experience and totally understand that the teacher needs to take time to be able to give it to everyone. And with such a wide variety of independent learning activities, both for individuals and groups, students are simply too busy for that!
TEFL training and CPD
If you would like to know more about training options for teaching English as a foreign language visit our teacher training page.