The Cult of ‘Hard’

Picture the scene: a parent and child, at the end of an hour’s tuition. Looking for confirmation as to how her son or daughter is progressing, she asks how the lesson went, and is told in a small, emphatic voice that “it was really hard!” Very possibly she’s pleased, and feels that this kind of challenge, these high expectations, are exactly what her child needs.

I’m going to say something mildly controversial here: if she does, she’s almost certainly wrong.

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What Maths Tutors Do Wrong

These days, a lot of students receive extra help for their maths. So why aren’t they doing better?
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‘How Does The Author’?

If I had 30 minutes, a gun to my head, and a mandate to improve a ten-year-old’s comprehension mark by as much as possible, this is the question with which I’d start.
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Three Good Questions about Fractions, Decimals and Percentages

I’ve talked before about the importance of the next question, the principle that every question one asks of a pupil should be intelligently tailored to that pupil’s individual needs at that exact moment. Not all questions, however, are created equal. Here are three that I’ve found particularly good over my time helping my students to understand fractions, decimals and percentages, along with the principles that I believe that they demonstrate.

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Rote Learning and Mathematics

Most people who care about what they do, in any profession, can suggest a couple of ways in which they feel that their field of expertise is being ill-served by its conventional wisdom. Sometimes, these will be cries to tear up the rulebook, new and progressive ideas about how everything could be moved forwards.  Just as common, however, are rather more reactionary ideas – a conception that their peers and colleagues have gone ‘too far’ in some particular direction. In my own case, this contradiction comes to the fore in the matter of mathematical rote learning. Read More…

The Next Question

If you studied a videotape of one of my classes, you’d notice that for much of the time, I don’t seem to be teaching at all. To all outward appearance, all I’m doing is watching the pupil attempt the current question, leaning slightly forwards, saying nothing whatsoever. And yet, I’m going to argue, it’s what happens in those 5-to-10-second chunks of silence that separates good maths teachers from bad ones.
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On “Lack of Confidence” and Times Tables

Here’s a line I often hear from the parents of younger children, and from far too many teachers:

{Child} knows their tables really, but he/she just lacks confidence and must believe in themselves. 

Lack of confidence is something I’ve heard about a lot since I became a full time tutor, and I always almost respond in the same way:

Ask him when his birthday is. Read More…

First Impressions

Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram received her very kindly; and Sir Thomas, seeing how much she needed encouragement, tried to be all that was conciliating: but he had to work against a most untoward gravity of deportment; and Lady Bertram, without taking half so much trouble, or speaking one word where he spoke ten, by the mere aid of a good-humoured smile, became immediately the less awful character of the two.

— Jane Austen, Mansfield Park