Tutoring

Top Tips for US College & University Applications

Lots of people feel daunted by embarking on the US application process, but it can be immensely rewarding, and it’s not so intimidating when you get going. Having recently graduated from Stanford, I’ve written my top tips for ensuring your application is as stress free as possible.

1.     Start early – application deadlines can creep up very quickly, and often US applications can seem intimidating because there are a few different boxes to check. It’s particularly important, for example, to take the SAT/ACT exams in year 12.

 2.     Be true to yourself – it’s very easy to tell when an application is honest. There’s no point doing something just because you think it will look good – real passion is very self-evident and makes for the most compelling essays.

 3.     Don’t be afraid to be quirky – lots of universities are trying to ‘build a class’, which is to say that they’re looking for as many different types of student as possible. You never know, they might be absolutely desperate for someone with your passion for biomechanical engineering, or your juggling skills.

4.     Use all your opportunities – to make entry fair, universities don’t compare the achievements of their applicants directly, they look at what they did with the resources available to them. Someone who worked in their local shop to earn money to pay for their studies can be just as impressive as someone who climbed Mount Everest. Universities just want to know that you’ll use all the opportunities they will offer you.

5.     Ask for advice, but feel free to carve your own path – it can be great to listen to the experiences of people who have gone through the process, particularly because it’s a bit different to the UK system that most people know well. At the same time, remember that there’s no one right way to approach it, so follow your instincts.

 6.     Have faith in the admissions system – it sounds a bit trite, but universities are quite good at choosing students who will be well-suited to them. If you don’t make it into your dream school, it’s not a reflection of your merit, it just means there might be a better place for you to study and grow.

By Lucia Simpson, Oppidan 2018 Mentor & Stanford Graduate.

Tips from a Career in Mentoring

After more than three years working one-on-one with children, I have accumulated a set of notes that has helped me make this form of teaching as valuable as I had possibly hoped. No matter how short the course, the most important thing is the relationship. Spending time on this early on pays dividends, and makes it so much more enjoyable. Trust, I would say, is the most important part of a relationship; below are ways to make that come to fruition.

1.)   Encourage them to make mistakes, and make mistakes yourself (this shows that it is okay). Be self-deprecating from time to time; let them correct you and congratulate them for doing so.

2.)   Always leave time for reading. One of my favourite film directors gave this advice to young filmmakers: 'read, read, read, read, read. When you read, you beat the world'. Lead by example. Read to them with passion and expression. Raise your voice, be dramatic, lower your voice, and show sensitivity. Enjoy a measure of silliness.

3.)   Challenge students. Give them Shakespeare to read, without telling them it's Shakespeare. Help them memorise a poem. I spent one whole lesson on a short passage of Henry V. It was one of my most memorable and enjoyable lessons with a tutee who found English very hard, and rather boring.

4.)   Show them paintings you like, music you like, actors you like. You’ll enjoy it more, and they will as a result. Kids know when you're bored or excited. A certain degree of selfishness in this regard works wonders!

5.)   Write a long sentence, and have them cut as many words out as possible whilst retaining the same meaning. Follow George Orwell's 6 Rules for Writing.

6.)   Have short, sharp debates in writing. Which is better: football or rugby? Argue the opposite and argue your hardest. Give them two minutes to write, give yourself one minute. Show them your best, and model for them in the future.

7.)   Let them show you stuff they like. Turn it into an activity without them asking or realising (bring it up later on).

The more the sessions become a “partnership”, the better. Done well, one-on-one tuition has the ability to help engagement, increase self-worth and motivate a student to go above and beyond what is expected of them.

FW, Oppidan Mentor 2016-2018 

Mentoring under the Microscope

“I appreciate what Oppidan are doing, treating children like young adults, stimulating their learning whilst having fun. His confidence is through the roof as is his self-esteem and self worth – this is a godsend.”

Mr. Velez

August 2017

At the risk of self-promotion, this testimonial from an Oppidan parent encapsulates the breadth of education that mentoring allows.  The narrative of mentoring and the success it brings focuses on support, direction and guidance. It highlights the role of the mentor in promoting development and potential commensurate with a child’s ability. It advocates humble curiosity, confidence and adaptability as the soft skills associated with “slow education” at the expense of prescriptive target-based tuition. In turn, this helps foster independence at school and at home, and a sense of self-worth which goes some way to helping manage the stress for children and parents in pursuing academic challenges.

It is self-evident that the mark of a good mentor is the rapport they are able to nurture with a student. This should be obvious. If the student doesn’t trust or value the mentor, little progress is made. We often say that the difference between mentoring and tutoring is intrinsic: as the relationship develops, the shift happens organically and the mentor takes on a different role that transcends academia. Once the child is invested in you, the sky is the limit as to what can be achieved. You are as much a mentor in the enthusiasm and the personality you bring to the lesson as you are in the actual content of the lesson.

As already discussed, the ethos of mentoring stresses encouragement, empathy and creativity within learning: above all, a sense that learning is fun and to be taken advantage of. But how does that manifest itself within a lesson? This is a question Henry and I are often asked. “The narrative sounds wonderful but what will you do differently?”

Mentors differ in their approach to one-on-one teaching not only in the personality they exude within that lesson but also in the way they teach and the content and the creativity they bring to it. A child will more likely do well with a teacher they like, but there are also specific techniques that help engage and promote active learning. Through these, they take mentoring from a frilly add on to something tangible which produces results and practical progress.

1.)   Lessons must be student led: Too often tutors follow the same passive form of teacher-led teaching at schools. Instead, students of whatever age must be encouraged to take the initiative on what they want to learn and what they think would be beneficial to study.

2.)   “I teach, we teach, you teach:” Research shows that if a child has to teach the material they have learnt, the material is far better understood. A move from lecturing to discussion and then onto teaching ensures marked improvement and gives children the confidence to be able to tackle difficult material.

3.)   Active Learning:  Encourage movement during lessons. Whether that be through placing an exercise on each side of a table and moving around it completing each exercise, or simply taking the lesson outside, taking a lesson outside a classroom environment helps a child relax and feel at ease.

4.)   Focus on Self-Projection: Lessons should involve situations where children (and mentors) are asked to present, to speak about themselves, to debate, critique or question an article, passage or piece of literature. The Radio 4 game show “Just a Minute” is brilliant preparation for interviews as well as vital in learning to project.

5.)   Mentor - Child Performance Reviews Mentors and their charges should spend time focusing on how the other person is performing. A novel concept at first, barriers are broken down and it’s hugely rewarding for the child to take control of the lesson.

6.)   Demystifying the Comprehension: There is reason to suggest that the comprehension is the least popular task within the English syllabus. And rightly so – the concept is disconnected from what students take satisfaction from: real-life learning. A good tip is to practice comprehension skills on the book that child is reading – they’ll take far more interest in something they are already invested in.

7.)   Overcoming Perfectionism: Allow a child to be wrong. Often. Discussion on “thunks”, a collection of questions with no simple answers, helps children understand the process and train of thought and the need for clarity in explaining their reasoning.

8.)   Super-Curricula Studies: A brief from a parent to improve a child’s English or Maths should still involve aspects that go beyond what the curriculum dictates should be taught. 20-word summaries of books they have read, poetry analysis contextualised within what they are learning at school, art history or even situational thinking (working out the date of historical events based on clues you are given) help keep things fresh in otherwise often-dry subject matter.

9.)   Lesson-Analysis Oral plenary sessions at the end of a lesson help round off what has been learnt and negates any sense of confusion within the child. What has been learnt? What are the key points? How do you evaluate what has been learnt? How could you apply this knowledge?

These techniques are neither novel nor are they the only way to make a success of teaching one-on-one. But if in a small way, they help change expectations and make the child look forward to the lesson, then I would argue progress is being made.

By Walter Kerr