08 Jan 2020

What We’ve Learnt About Tutoring From Teaching 50,000 Children

Tutoring is a very difficult job; even children of the same age will have many different abilities, and find different topics easy or hard. 

To get the best results, tutors have to be able to change and adapt their lessons to what works best for each of their students – not an easy task! 

Luckily, Matr’s tutors have a lot of help and experience to fall back on. Since we started we’ve taught over 50,000 children, and we’ve been constantly changing and improving our lessons and tutor training based on the feedback those 50,000 students have given. 

Here are just some of the ways we’ve put that feedback to good use. 

How To Tutor Primary School Children 

Teaching primary school children is much harder than teaching teenagers. Even the smartest 8 year old won’t enjoy learning maths just by practicing questions over and over again, and it can be hard to know how to make lessons enjoyable for young children while still getting them to learn. 

At Matr, our solution has been to focus on primary school teaching first. Our Curriculum Design Team were primary teachers before joining us, and they’ve designed our tutor training programme with their experience in schools. 

This provided us with a good base, but we’ve been refining and improving the programme ever since, using the best feedback of all: our tutors’ experience with students. 

With over 50,000 children taught from all ages, backgrounds and abilities, this means we have a very large knowledge base to improve our programme with. Even better, new tutors are trained by their more experienced colleagues, so they learn from the best sources. 

All this means our tutors are specially trained to teach primary school children, using the same methods their teachers would in school, by those who’ve used those techniques first-hand. 

Student Focused Teaching

The most important part of our training programme is what we call Student Focused Teaching – teaching methods that concentrate on bringing the best out of children, and encouraging learning at a deeper level. 

Student Focused Teaching is a collection of the techniques and ideas we’ve found have helped our students the most in becoming better learners. 

It includes well-known concepts such as growth mindset (helping children develop a more positive attitude to learning in general), but also covers how to help students with maths anxiety, how to change the pace of lessons to match students, and even how to deal with disengaged children (children who seem distracted or bored in lessons). 

growth mindset diagram

A very simple explanation of how growth mindset works

We use Student Focused Teaching in our tutor training because we believe tutoring is more than learning by rote. To really learn and improve children must have an enthusiastic, motivated attitude, which is exactly what we try and help them develop (as well as improving their maths skills!)

Teaching Lessons That Students Will Learn From (And Enjoy!) 

It’s not just our training programmes we use student feedback for, however. In teaching those 50,000 children, we’ve delivered over 673,000 lessons to them. 

This means hundreds or thousands of different eyes looking at each lesson, answering questions and speaking to their tutors about what they found difficult or easy. 

This has helped us identify when lessons are too difficult, or when a topic needs more time to explain properly. 

For example, ‘Statistics’ is a topic that doesn’t turn up very often in SATs, but pupils have regularly struggled with it in lessons. This suggested to us that it needs more lessons to cover it (if there is time). Because we use an online platform, our Curriculum Design team were able to quickly add more statistics content into the lesson bank, ready for tutors to use with students as soon as possible. 

It’s even helped us identify when the design of lessons should change; we recently introduced small ‘tip’ bubbles into our lessons. These bubbles contain useful hints and tips that are specific to the topic being studied. 

matr lessons tip bubble

These tip bubbles directly replaced our old ‘tips boxes’, because many children felt that these boxes were too vague and sometimes not relevant to what they were learning. 

This might seem like a small change to make, but these sorts of ‘quality of life’ improvements give children a more enjoyable learning experience, making it more likely they’ll learn and improve in maths. 

Praising The Right Things 

As enjoyable as a lesson may be, children still enjoy being rewarded for their work, especially when it has been difficult for them. 

But (as you may already have heard or read) praising a child just for getting a question right isn’t the best way to encourage learning. 

At Matr we know this very well. That’s why we have a system of Effort Points, given to students for trying their best at a question whether they were right or not, encouraging them to try harder questions without worrying that they won’t be praised if they get the answer wrong. 

Because students are rewarded for effort and perseverance they are more likely to continue to attempt tasks, so it’s more likely that they’ll make progress, and that means they’ll get more effort points. And we know this works; have a look at the chart below, which shows the number of Effort Points tutors gave out over the past 90 days.

effort points diagram

That’s 49,000 points given out in just 90 days, including the Christmas holidays!

Our online classroom is also equipped with many other tools to praise and reward students for doing well in their learning. Items such as certificates are awarded to students for reaching learning milestones e.g. improving on a topic they were really struggling with or trying a new and challenging topic.  

matr certificate

By keeping our students motivated and showing them that hard work really does bring rewards, we’re encouraging them to develop the skills and attitudes that will help them do well later on in life – not just in maths.

It Has An Impact!

Matr’s online platform not only lets us make changes and improvements quickly, it also lets us get the best feedback for these changes – children’s and parents’ opinions. After all, they’re the ones who have the most exposure to them!

While we have dozens of charts and spreadsheets of data we look through every week, sometimes the simplest results are the most important:

  • Last term, 87% of our students rated their lessons as 4/5 or 5/5 for both enjoyment and usefulness.
  • They completed 10,277 challenge questions, from across 235 different topics.
  • On TrustPilot, we have a rating of 4.6/5 stars, and of those who’ve reviewed us, 73% rated us as ‘excellent’ (5/5 stars).

Clearly our students are enjoying their lessons, and gaining the confidence and skills to try out more difficult questions. Not only that, their parents can see the progress they’re making and are pleased with the outcome!

If your child is struggling with maths, or you’re just looking to stretch them, see how Matr could help. Try a free 1-to-1 lesson today!


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