For those who don’t know, I do personal tutoring for kids in primary and secondary school. As of late, this work has been exclusive for one family near me with two children. I tutored both, but the oldest is now at university, so now its just the youngest who works with me. With him, I usually only tutor in writing; it isn’t his strongest area, even though he still does a really good job. He takes AP classes through his school and while they don’t particularly challenge him, practice prompts for the AP tests do.
In my second half of high school, I also took AP courses. I found them challenging only because I have always procrastinated and I didn’t like the way the courses were taught, so I didn’t pay much attention. Now reader, you may be confused because on paper, it would seem that I would have enjoyed these classes: I’m a huge nerd, I currently work for an academic resource, and I plan on collecting degrees like Pokemon cards. However, I didn’t realize how amazing learning could be until I got to college. Here, classes are structured totally different. Granted I spent the better part of my undergraduate work in the English department so that may account for my experiences, but I feel I learned more here than in high school. I attribute a lot of this to a vastly different set up in the classroom.
In my old high school, which is that of my student, the teachers used powerpoints with the information we “needed to pass the tests” and showed movies. Rarely was there conversation and when it did occur it usually stemmed from a question trying to understand the material. Said conversation often contained more technical jargon than the previous explain had. To avoid further confusion, we would slightly gasp and say “oh” or make a half-hearted attempt at writing down what the teacher said. I’m sure this is nothing new to anyone who has been through the public education system. Now, I came out of this teaching paradigm okay, but my student struggles with simple tasks in the same structure. The complicated things take their time, but he has difficulty making sense of things that other students can do without assistance. He says that when I just talk through writing prompts with him, they all make more sense. Once a week or two weeks, I get a text saying that he needs to meet up to figure out his paper and he ends up asking me things I think he should ask in class.
When he and I meet, usually our sessions sound like conversations between friends and sometimes parents and their children, yet he feels much better prepared for his work afterwards. In addition, he often reports better scores after session with me. I’m nothing special though; I have no formal education to teach and I barely have chemistry with other humans in general. This has led me to think about the way students are “prepped” for college. The discussions I have with my student are ones I would have in my own classes and require a lot of critical thinking. This is the kind of thing (teaching strategies) that were mostly used for my undergraduate education and I felt like that encouraged the skills needed more than any lectures. This interactive kind of education seems to be helpful for more than just me and has made me question what my own AP instructors were thinking with their methods. Many said that the ways we were taught would be what we experienced, but that obviously wasn’t the case. Perhaps the formal education to teach got in the way of helping students actually learn.