In this Tutor Spotlight series, we feature private tutors with years of tutoring experience in areas where we often see many questions and misconceptions in. See the other interviews here.
Having a joyful and lively personality, Ms Sufancia is well-liked by her students.
Ms Sufancia is an NTU Engineering graduate, and has started giving private tuition part-time for the past 10 years, ever since her schooling days. Although she holds a full-time job now, she continues to pursue her passion in teaching. She specialises in Secondary school students in Science, Chemistry and Physics, including N and O Level students.
We speak with her to try to understand more about her approach in teaching Science. Hopefully you can uncover some useful tips to apply as well!
Why do you teach mainly Science?
Ms Sufancia: Growing up, Science has always been my forte. I took triple pure Science (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) at O Level and went into Science Stream (H2 Physics and H2 Chemistry) for A Level. At both my O Level and A Level, I have achieved Distinctions for these subjects. Hence, it’s a natural progression for me to teach mainly Sciences.
Besides Science subjects, I also teach a variety of other subjects such as Maths and Bahasa Indonesia.
How do you usually conduct your lessons?
Ms Sufancia: I teach Science at Secondary school level. For my classes, I would find out what the student’s weaknesses are and try to focus on building a stronger foundation from there. Afterwards, we will drill on a lot of questions.
I always tell my students to not spend all the time memorizing. More importantly, they need to know how to apply the knowledge and concepts in tackling questions. I like to guide my students on how to study smart, for example, by showing them what key words to expect, tips on what to do if they are stuck in a question, etc. I also like to give real life examples and analogies regarding the concepts we are learning to inject some relevance and make them interesting.
Do you do hands-on activities/experiments with students? If yes, can you elaborate on some of them?
Ms Sufancia: My classes are always dynamic and flexible to adapt to the student’s needs. We do hands-on activities as and when needed e.g. when students are unable to visualize the concept. Once I had a student who can’t understand the concept of pivot under the topic of Moment in Physics. So, I used a ruler and eraser to simulate a see-saw. I will use whatever tools available on-hand to illustrate the points.
What are your teaching methods for students to remember?
Ms Sufancia: There are a few methods to help students with memorization. For concept-heavy topics, I will make sure the student understands the concept by asking them to verbalize to me. We will do it until the student gets it right, repetition is necessary. I would also have a speed quiz with them to test their memory. For certain material that just requires pure memorization, I give them fun acronyms that are easy to recall.
I believe struggling is an important part of learning. If used at the right scale, it can actually accelerate their learning. So I do not like to give answers directly. Rather, I like to ask questions to help them with their thinking process and ultimately guide them to reach the final answer.
Personally, I feel that quality is more important than quantity. Sometimes we may not be able to finish a lot of questions in a single lesson. However, if the student is able to understand all the questions that we have gone through, that’s a greater achievement in my eyes.
I would like to say that I am someone who is highly flexible and adaptable. As such, I would always find a way to apply different techniques on different students.
What are some of the common weaknesses that you have come across in your previous students, and how do you have them overcome them?
Ms Sufancia: One common weakness is that, students tend to forget everything they have learnt and this is a vicious cycle. That’s why I like to have constant reinforcement during lessons by asking them further questions to link to other topics that they have previously learnt.
Also, careless mistakes, especially for topics involving calculation, are very common. Unfortunately, this is something students have to overcome themselves. For my part, I try to identify the typical careless mistakes that a certain student tends to make, and will keep dropping them reminders as they are practising questions. Hopefully my constant “nagging” will stick with them. There was once a student who told me that she actually “heard me nagging” when she was sitting for her exam and that made her conscious of her frequently-made careless mistakes.
How do you make sure students understand what you’ve taught?
Ms Sufancia: A simple test I like to use would be to let them explain the concept to me. If they can verbalize it , there is a high chance they have understood what was being taught. There are many more methods that I can apply, to find out more, maybe we can schedule for a lesson to try it out
* Interview edited for brevity and clarity
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