Tag Archives: parents

Back to tutoring!

After all the excitement earlier in the week with the publication on Amazon Kindle of The Vispadjinn – the book which I have co-authored under the name Sherwood H Smith – it’s back down to earth now as pupils start to return after the summer break.

Just this week I have had 4 new pupils start and many more enquiries for later in the term. Once again this year there are many pupils wanting help towards the 11+ for Reading Boys. I notice that parents are seeking help earlier this year – by which I mean  for years 5 or even 4, rather than year 6. It is good that parents are realising that improvements in English are built over time – it is not a matter of acquiring a body of knowledge.


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How to react (or not) to your offspring’s A level results

This is very funny article which beneath the jokes does have some good advice in it.



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Why don’t schools involve parents more?

So many of the parents of my pupils seem to find it nigh on impossible to obtain information from the schools their offspring attend. The best schools send out schedules for the year ahead to keep parents in the loop. That way parents are alerted to important dates of controlled assessments and modules to be taken early etc. They see the books that will be studied and the format, in outline, of the exams to be taken. This information is important for all subjects but vital for English Language and English Literature in which the options are so numerous. Parents shouldn’t have to beg repeatedly for this information as often appears the case. Such knowledge can allow them to help their son/daughter to maximise revision.

I recently learnt of an instance when parents were strongly encouraging their son to revise for a subject (not one of mine) over the half-term only to find out subsequently that the school had taken this module early. Their son could have used this time to revise for another subject – what a waste!

Concerned parent does not equal pushy parent. They want their child to achieve the best possible grade – surely the desired outcome for the school too? Their input can be useful. Yes, some pupils don’t have involved parents and that’s a shame – but don’t punish those that do by scorning any signs of interest and concern.

Why do schools seem to see parents at best as an irritation and at worst as the enemy? They only want to help – what’s so bad about that?

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Plan your revision

Making a plan is vital. Not only does it help give structure and organisation to the revision process but the very act of putting pen to paper makes a commitment. That plan will pull them back to revision more effectively than any nagging parent!

Another useful tip is to get a friend/teacher/parent to help mentor this plan. Once the plan has been drawn up it’s so much easier to hold pupils to a timetable already agreed upon.

Prioritise your subjects – find out the dates of your exams and plan your revision accordingly. Don’t forget that oral exams for French will be early on so the work for those needs to be covered NOW.

Identify the subjects that give you most trouble and give them priority. It’s always tempting to spend hours on the subjects you enjoy and avoid the tricky ones. Be honest about your abilities and spend time on those subjects and topics that need the work.

Revision can be broken into 3 main stages: learning the material, practising on past exam papers and lastly fine-tuning your exam techniques. Practising past papers will help with time management and working under pressure.

Revision sessions can either be time related or goal related. Most experts seem to favour goals such as learning 5 vocabulary topics or   reading through 2 acts of a Shakespeare play.

Don’t forget to schedule in breaks too – they’re very important. Breaks help you absorb and process the information so plan in plenty of them. Lots of short revision sessions (30 mins) plus short breaks (10 mins) works best. This is especially true when you are trying to take in new information. Nearer the exams when you are going over topics you are familiar with you can extend your work sessions to about an hour, possibly 2.

Don’t forget to stay healthy – see my  last blog Keep fit !  for tips on this too.

And lastly if you’re struggling with your revision plan why not book a lesson or two with a tutor to give you some guidance.

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The World of the Private Tutor

For an amusing account of the trials and tribulations of a private tutor, why not take a look at the link below? The column appears regularly in the Daily Telegraph and although obviously written to entertain and amuse it does contain insights useful for both parents of tutees and tutors. This particular article is rather sad, concentrating as it does on lack of parental encouragement. Many of this tutor’s pupils come from extremely privileged and moneyed backgrounds and he makes the point that all the lessons in the world can not substitute for parental support and encouragement.

We live in such a competitive world where the difference between an A and an A* can be crucial at university entrance. We all want our children to work hard and achieve and it’s sometimes easy to get the balance wrong.


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Skype weather


Like many areas of the country Farley Hill has received its fair share of the snow. My lessons for yesterday and today have cancelled, understandably not wanting to take the risk of getting stranded in the snow.  Many schools closed yesterday, at a time when many pupils are faced with exam modules for A and GCSE or mock exams.

But, of course, my Skype lessons can continue unaffected by the weather. I now have four Skype pupils and I am sure many more people will consider this option in future. Apart from the weather factor, there is the convenience of parents not having to be available as chauffeurs or having to while away an hour as their offspring are tutored. There are some limitations – having to scan pages from text books unless the pupil also has a copy at home, for example –  but there is so much material available on the net that there are usually ways around it. Typically lessons on Skype require more organisation in advance and it’s harder to suddenly switch topics. Written work has to be shared by sending files, correcting them online with tracked changes and returning them for discussion. Instant messaging is useful for short answers or exercises.

All my Skype lessons so far are for English and it will be interesting to see how French tutor sessions will work. Written work will need some thought. Although there are ways to register accents etc via the keyboard they are rather time-consuming. Listening comprehension will also be a challenge. Does anyone have any experience of tutoring French via Skype?

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Celebrating success

It’s all too easy as a parent to get caught up in a cycle of constant nagging and criticism as you try to get your offspring to achieve their educational potential. I once tore a strip off my son, aged about 9, for having failed to turn over a school exam paper thus coming bottom in his French exam. A fellow teacher pointed out that the page he had completed was faultless and that was what I should have focussed on. The disappointment he felt was probably enough to prevent him ever repeating that mistake again! So I do speak from experience!

As a teacher and tutor it’s important to praise as well as criticise – it’s finding the balance that’s the tricky thing! Some pupils can take harsh criticism; others need confidence building and lashes of encouragement. With certain pupils in the past I have torn up work in front of them when I felt that they were not putting in the effort and were seriously underachieving – and it worked. However, there are many students where that approach would be totally counter-productive.

All we can ask of our youngsters is that they try their best and reach their potential. Then we must celebrate that success – even if their achievements don’t match our hopes and dreams.

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Au secours!

Many parents ask how they can help encourage students’  French learning. Of course, you can always help with testing vocabulary, for example, but in my experience students often resist the more obvious types of parental assistance.  So, how about some other ploys?

Why not try switching your car radio to a French station – France Inter and Europe 1 are both easy to get on Long Wave – they won’t understand the majority of it but it will tune their ears  to the pronunciation, and some of the words from the new bulletins and weather forecasts should be familiar.

Or, if you’re lucky enough to have satellite TV there’s a movie channel that shows a topical current affairs/news programme late afternoons plus  a variety of French films. You may also find that your local Blockbuster has French films to rent and even if they read the subtitles they’ll still be absorbing some French.

Why not encourage your son or daughter to do a French exchange if their school runs a scheme (and if it doesn’t, you could suggest it)? There’s nothing quite like staying with a French family that speaks no English to force you to speak French!

Or, if finances permit, a trip to France will certainly help. Even if little French is actually spoken (you could try getting your son or daughter to order in cafes/buy food in markets  but co-operation is not a certainty!) they will passively absorb a huge amount of French just by hearing it and seeing signs etc. Even a day trip to Calais to buy wine for Christmas would give them a taster of France.

Learning a language is so much more than just mastering the grammar – it should involve an appreciation of the culture of the country too. And with France’s reputation for good food and wine that’s not a hardship. is it?

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Holiday work

Everyone needs a break and I’m not suggesting that you force your children to study during the summer holidays, however there are painless ways to help boost their literacy skills.

Why not choose a family book that you can all read together – taking in turns to read a chapter out loud. This works particularly well if you are on holiday with another family or are a large group. Younger children enjoy this especially and don’t forget to encourage people to try out character voices for the dialogue. Roald Dahl’s The Witches was a great success for one of our family holidays.

Encourage them to keep a holiday diary.

Why not take your youngsters to a play? Introduce them to Shakespeare with an open-air production – usually great fun. There are regular open-air productions all over the country from London (Regents Park) to Cornwall (Porthcurno). Taking them to any type of play/musical will encourage their powers of concentration if nothing else.

Many theatres run activities for young people over the summer – check out The Watermill in Newbury, for example, in this area. Museums and art galleries also offer similar opportunities – The Lightbox in Woking is a good example in the South East.

If you’re going on a long car journey, what about an audiobook? It’s a great way to revise a setbook, for instance, or to get a head start on one you will be studying when you go back in September.

If you’re going to France don’t underestimate how much French you can all pick up by listening to French radio or watching French TV. I particularly recommend silly quiz games – it’s fairly easy to follow these.

If they see you reading – they might too! Reading is one of the best ways to increase vocabulary and improve spellings. Encourage them to read anything and everything – football mags or OK are much better than no reading at all.

If you’re staying somewhere with plenty of outside space why not challenge them to devise a treasure hunt for the adults (you buy the prize!) perhaps with rhyming clues – or if that’s too tricky you write one for them. A good bottle of red wine can provide excellent inspiration (for the adults that is!).

Learning isn’t just something that happens at school.


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Revision Tips for Parents

If your children are heading for exams there are a few things you can do to help:

  • make sure they have a quiet dedicated space in which to revise
  • ensure they’re not disturbed by siblings
  • encourage them to make a revision plan
  • occasionally check they really are revising – not just on their Playstation/Nintendo or gazing into space
  • encourage them to take regular breaks from revision – at least 10 minutes for every hour of work
  • insist on one complete evening OR one day at the weekend revision free
  • feed them lots of healthy, additive-free food to increase that brain-power
  • offer to help with testing (but don’t insist!)
  • make sure that they have all the equipment they need for the exams well in advance
  • most important of all – reassure them that you only expect them to do their best!

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