Why Tuition Is Particularly Helpful In Maths

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GCSE Maths By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Maths » GCSE Maths
Last updated: 02/09/2017
Tags: benefits of 1 to1 tuition, maths

I have spent fifteen years teaching maths in some excellent schools, and have been lucky enough to have some amazing and inspiring students – but one thing has always struck me about why so many people find maths hard.

Even teachers who think they are doing a great job have days when students look back at you completely baffled. There's nothing more demoralising than reaching the end of what you thought was a brilliant explanation, only to be confronted with stares of blank incomprehension and the sound of quiet weeping coming from somewhere on the back row. But I felt much better the day I realised that it wasn't always my fault. Because when kids struggle in maths lessons, it's almost never the new material that's just been presented to them which is causing the problem: the difficulty almost always lies with something they were taught four years ago, on which the new material totally depends. Perhaps they knew four years ago that they didn't understand it, or perhaps – which is worse – they thought they understood it four years ago but now realise that they didn't. Either way, it means that they haven't got a cat in hell's chance of getting their head around the new stuff they're meeting now. The only solution is to go all the way back and re-teach the material which you assumed they already knew.

Don't feel confident about algebraic fractions at GCSE? It's almost certainly because you never really got the hang of numerical fractions at Key Stage 3. Can't use the cosine rule to find an angle in Year 11? That might be because you didn't properly understand right-angled triangles in Year 9. Terrified by logarithms at A Level? Then let's take a deep breath and go back to all that work you did on indices when you were fourteen. The problem is never what you're trying to understand now, but what you didn't understand a few years ago.

This pattern – that the best way to move forwards is almost always to go back – is peculiar to maths. In English, if you haven't read Macbeth, that doesn't mean you can't join in a discussion about Middlemarch. In History, not knowing about the Tudors won't stop you picking up what went on in the First World War. But in maths, in order to follow today's lesson, you need to have understood pretty much every maths lesson you've ever had before today. Miss one topic, and you're done for. A bad explanation of a single technique can cause years of damage. Mathematical knowledge is a house of cards; if just one stage is insecure, there's a high risk that eventually the whole edifice will collapse. It's not surprising that so many students find the subject difficult.

Good school teachers know this. Good teachers know that the Year 11 student who can't confidently add two-fifths to three-sevenths is in a lot of trouble – and that it's going to be completely impossible to fix this problem during a normal lesson. You can't spend valuable lesson time going back to re-teach one individual something they should have covered years ago. There's lots of the syllabus still to get through, not to mention the twenty or thirty other students who deserve some attention as well. There's only one way to fix a deep-rooted problem like this - set aside an hour or more to sit down with the student on a one-on-one basis and go right back to the basics. Some students have school teachers who can do this – who can somehow manage to find the time during a lunch break or after lessons to provide the one-to-one tuition needed to repair the damage. But not everyone is so lucky.

This is where a private tutor can come to the rescue. No longer surrounded by their friends, the student won't be afraid to admit that they don't understand the basics. No longer pestered by two-dozen other teenagers clamouring for their attention, the tutor will have the patience to explain everything right from the beginning. And most importantly, with no bell telling them when to stop, a tutor has as much time as he needs to go back over the foundations on which everything else is built.

If you are on this website as a parent, it is because you are considering one-to-one tutoring for your child. For most subjects, this will merely be an opportunity to recap what's been going on in lessons – at best, an alternative presentation of the same material. at worst a good excuse not to have to pay attention at school. But a maths tutor provides something different, and far more valuable - a rock-solid understanding of the underlying principles, and the confidence to reinforce them every time they put pen to paper.

Kevin Baker A-level Maths Tutor (North London)

About The Author

New availability September 2017

Exceptionally clear, patient and encouraging maths tutor with a love of colourful pens

15 years` experience teaching maths in top independent schools (Eton 9 yrs, South Hampstead 4 yrs, Highgate 2 yrs)

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