As a person I'm patient, flexible and I persevere. I enjoy encouraging people and helping them succeed. I'm happy to go over material as much as a student wants. In terms of qualifications I'm well educated, I've used the things I've learned so understand their context very well, I've had experience teaching in classrooms, at high school and university level, and also in 1-1 contexts from a young age, so I've met a range of different student types, and know how to adapt a teaching style to the student.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: Trinity College Dublin - Bachelors, Maths and Physics
Graduate Degree: Trinity College Dublin - Masters, Computational Physics (Condensed Matter Theory) Research
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
I have a specific example from a high school which gives insight into my teaching philosophy. When I began teaching mathematics I started by teaching at the board--working through examples which were as clear as possible, giving students plenty of opportunities to ask questions. My explanations were clear and concise, and I could break a problem down into steps. However, the classrooms I found myself in rarely had the type of student I imagined I would be teaching, interruptions, distractions, and a lack of questions, all made me consider how exactly I could be effective in a classroom and how students were learning. When I was reading student quizzes, I was amazed at the difference between what I had emphasized and what they had absorbed. But I taught that; they were there (in the classroom, at least), I would think. To be effective, I needed to consider how my students and I spent my time in a given class; there is the time spent at the board, there is time spent observing students, time spent solving individual questions, or checking what students have understood, and so on. There is the question of what students are focusing on during those minutes in class, as well as the minutes at home. At some point, I realized that everybody in the classroom doesn't need to be doing the same thing at the same time, in fact, it was unproductive to work off this assumption, which creates dead-time where students are learning nothing. I had to accept that students will and must get distracted. Students shouldn't be doing the same thing at the same time. That way of teaching (and thinking) is ideal for one-on-one teaching or tutoring but ineffective for a group of students with different levels and interests. I changed my focus about what I was teaching, because I realized here that a greater part of my role was to raise students' awareness about their own learning, how they learn, whose responsibility it should be, about what their aims were. These were longer-term life skills that they needed. By strengthening self-reflection skills, and aiming for greater critical thinking, I hoped to increase their independence, particularly of the stronger students, so that I freed up time in my class to solve the problems of those who were really stuck and needed one-to-one assistance. It is a question of helping them develop productive learning habits. By talking about their own pace, their own goals, what the purpose of writing notes is, I also wanted to build this idea of their own learning, to stop them thinking of homework as a chore done for the teacher; things like this. There are students who naturally learn; if they are given a book, the page numbers, and the exercises they should be doing, they will sit down and work through it themselves. (No incentive is needed). However, they are a small minority in my experience. Apart from the weakest students, the majority need some sort of assistance from students around them or encouragement from the teacher. You show a student you care when you are talking to them one on one (and sometimes it shouldn't be about mathematics). The question is always how to find the time to do this with students, to build rapport which is so important--how to split myself into different people, working through an example with one student while talking to another student who needs to be engaged, or really has questions. In the school in which I currently work, iPads have been introduced into the classroom as a learning tool, and I looked for ways to incorporate it about the same time, and I was thinking about these challenges in my classroom, so I found my answer here, though I'm sure other solutions exist. I was conscious that iPads shouldn't replace traditional learning methods; they should add something new. When I looked at the material I was going to be teaching, or the worksheets the students would be attempting, I made the decision to make videos of all the examples, and all the problems in advance (as much as possible). I also created resource documents, which gathered other useful online material, such as websites with more depth, videos, etc., because students don't have time to research a lot. I also had to teach students for whom English was a second language, and who are used to my ways of explanation. I also needed some way to deliver this material to my students quickly. In the end, to create a system which was as flexible as possible and could be quickly implemented, I chose to record videos without sound, adding everything as notes on the flipchart, aiming at visual learners who comprise the bulk of learners. I created pdfs of the flipcharts, so students could skip the videos if they wished, and scan the pdf instead. All the students have Google Drive accounts (given by the school), so I created a folder structure of units to store all this material, which they access anywhere at any time. They can watch my explanations as many times as they want. They can read the solutions firstly and then attempt the problems, or they can check solutions after they are done, the idea being that everyone is on the path to becoming that last kind of learner. In this framework, there is scope for students to take a break from learning too, and can be negotiated on an individual basis. All these ideas are readily applicable to a college setting. Class time focuses on students working through problems, watching videos and attempting basic questions for homework. I allow them to solve the problems in any order they choose. One student can be up at the board showing that they can solve a problem, and some will watch while others continue working on the problems they are interested in. The same problem can be solved on the smart board two or three times during one week by different people if need be. Testing and spot quizzes can still be applied easily to measure what people are learning. In the case of broad problems, it is easy to return to the top of the classroom to make clear the concept or the points they've missed, to repeat a particular point. As a group it is conceptual or debatable questions where we interact, or the examples of real-life applications, or in smaller groups when group work activities have been planned.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
Any learner is able to work on their own when they have confidence. To build confidence, self-assessment quizzes and strategies are key. We need to feel we have the right tools to do any job or to achieve a task. Learning tools are simple things, like strategies for remembering things better for focusing the mind on a task (by asking simple questions), by establishing the right habits when learning. How do you learn? What different strategies do you have? If something doesn't work, what's the next thing you try? It's also about asking the right questions, which will bring us more quickly to the answer we want.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
A goal should be established at the beginning. What are we trying to achieve? Then, how are we going to achieve this? What do we need to do to reach that goal? What habits do we need to develop? Markers should be set up along the way, such as smaller objectives or basic skills, which we need to complete or master to achieve our goal. These should be emphasized when they're reached (because the stages are important). And, there's never a reason to give up.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
There is never one way to explain a skill or concept. Others can be tried, but the student should be allowed to express their confusion. Things like visual aids or animations can be brought in, if they aren't being used already. We can walk through a question again together, and walk through another few like it, until it's time to have another go on our own.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
I try to break up the notion that we read from left to right. There is no one way to read. Basic vocabulary can be taught and concepts checked, but pick out information from a question. I start from what a student notices and work from there. Their way into a problem is often different than mine (because we've learned differently).
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
Build rapport. Get to know them. Don't judge them, but be patient. Allow them time to get comfortable with my style too.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
Well, there's the real world; if there's a good example to hand, I use it. I try to relate it to their own experience. I try to find a use, and draw out their own common sense from a particular situation. Something from the news can be good, where the very thing we're learning is used (the concept, I mean). If it's patterns, shapes are good, but patterns in language are equally interesting to the right kind of student.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
I always concept check. I ask factual questions, as well as conceptual and debatable questions. Things that are defined, things that are theoretical, and things which include a point of view. After a demonstration, the student should be doing problems to practice so that I can see what they've understood.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
I'd make them aware of how much they already know, and what they know now which they didn't before. Also, students generally have terrific ideas, and I make that clear with the feedback I give. Confidence is really about having the feeling that the number of things to master is diminishing.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
Ask them! That tells me what they feel under-confident in. And then when I give them questions to do, I keep an eye on what basic skills cause problems, and what repetitive errors they make. I give small quizzes with a range of questions.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
I aim for the middle usually. I always prefer my students to be doing problems themselves. I use visual props, etc. I'm flexible about how they want to be taught. If it's too fast, I would ask questions and give more time to practice before moving on.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
Ideally, I'd use a student's books and online materials, so they can access them when I'm not there. If it's 1-1 tutoring, not online, then if they have calculators, I'd use them too. There are online calculators, and good animations which can be drawn into many topics. I use the worksheets that are all over the Internet, and I have some of my own.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
Find out if they had a tutor before, and how successful they felt it was. I'd talk about what they are learning in school, and the style of teaching in their classroom, and how effective it is for them. I'd get to know them a little. I'd have some quiz questions of various levels of difficulty prepared to figure out where to start the student.