Next steps

August in the UK – GCSE and A-Level students get their long-awaited results and either finalise or revisit their next steps – University? Gap Year? Resits? BTEC or A-Levels or Apprenticeship? Proudly Instagram their results slip, or slip into a corner and cry?

GCSE-prep starts in earnest for the new Year Tens – sometimes even the Nines. Early-entry English can be tough on students – many need another year to develop their skills of inference and response, one of the key areas in my lessons, whether online or in-person.

Eleven-year-olds get bus passes and oversized blazers and ties for the move up to Secondary School in September. Proper ties for the private schools, clip-on, strangle-resistant versions for the state ones – so I’m told. Maybe it’s a myth. Boys with long hair are shorn, girls wonder if earrings are allowed in PE. All of them now have phones and belong to unwieldy Whatsapp groups, and not a single one has any idea what they’re in for in Year Seven.

Some of the new Year Sixes have spent the summer learning homophones, shuffling sentences and finding odd ones out for the imminent 11-Plus and Independent School Entrance exams. They’ll have a brief respite before everyone starts worrying about the SATs.

Four-year-olds get grey shorts or red gingham dresses – the Reception class uniform. Landfills thoughout the country overflow with rucksacks, pencil cases and lunch boxes, education apparently depending upon new equipment every September. Such are some of the rituals of Leaving, Going Back to or Starting School.

Meanwhile teachers stagger back from Greece and Cornwall, swapping schemes of work and tales of woe on Edu-Twitter. And private tutors like me open up their timetables to children at all stages of education, whether they’re in school or home-educated. In my case, it’s Key Stages 3, 4 and 5 – pre-GCSE, GCSE and AS / A-Level. Students can join me at any point in the academic year, for long-term tuition or short, focused boosts on areas that need attention. Have a look at my Lesson Information page for more details – and do get in touch if you think your teenager might benefit from one-to-one lessons in English Language and/or Literature with an experienced and successful tutor. Happy New Term everyone!

Stepping into the Virtual Classroom

Skyping with my Dubai students just wasn’t working in early January.  Literally not working – they could see and hear me perfectly but the audio/visual at my end seemed scrambled. We soon discovered the reason – UAE had banned the free communication services I, and many other online tutors, use.

We tried the UAE’s approved VOIP service. The audio crackled, the video wouldn’t kick in, and I struggled without screensharing. We resorted to an old-fashioned method: collaborating on a powerpoint shared via Google Drive, while talking by phone. But that’s a poor substitute for being able to see each other and work on a document controlled by me.

It was time to step into the world of virtual classrooms, properly interactive online learning. But which of the many products in the marketplace suited me best? The right one would be easy at the student’s end. The audio and video would be audible and visible. The interactive whiteboard would work. And if I could also show videos – my own, or from YouTube – well, hurray! Techies might be able to do all this by manipulating a variety of products during one lesson. I am not a techie. My students are invariably aeons ahead of me when it comes to technology, and it’s not good business to test their patience too far….

After some research, I signed up to WizIQ, and so far, I love it. Better still, so do my online students . It’s early days, and there’ll be a learning curve (for me – all the students have to do is log-in.) I’m now using this everywhere online, not just where Skype and the rest are banned.

And I case studied the situation to teach an EAL student the meaning of the idiom “cloud with a silver lining’…