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.
In the past 6 years of Mr Tan JH’s tutoring career, he has encountered all types of students: weak students, disinterested students, students with dyslexia, etc. Regardless of their background, he puts in his utmost effort to coach these students. It’s this passion in teaching that led him to pursue full-time tutoring after graduating from NUS. He specialises in Secondary school Maths, Chemistry, Physics, Biology.
“Tutor is good. My son understands better”
“My son just had his review test in school and had great improvements”
“He is clear in his explanations which my son has better understanding in his subjects now”
“Great! My son likes tutor“
We have been impressed with some of the feedback that previous parents have given to us. Find out from Mr Tan directly about some of his teaching methods, especially in the area of weaker students and children with dyslexia!
What are some of the challenges that you have encountered while teaching children in your career so far? How did you overcome them?
Mr Tan: One of the main challenges that I have encountered is how to change the learning mindset of students. Some students adopt an “All or Nothing” approach towards learning, where they give up when they are unable to answer a question. Such a mentality is often difficult as progress requires the student to take action to help themselves first.
An effective strategy that I usually use is to build confidence in the student by having an open culture that encourages them to try. This is very important since it enables them to take charge of their own learning. Over time, this approach has reaped benefits for my students, for they become more inquisitive learners who adopt a healthy and proactive relationship towards their education.
How do you make sure students understand what you’ve taught? Is there a difference when teaching Maths versus Science?
Mr Tan: To check for their understanding, I will ask questions that are designed to test how well fundamental concepts have been internalized.
For Maths, there are 2 main ways: knowing when to apply the formula, and, being able to perform the workings in a logical manner. The latter is important because it distinguishes whether the student understands the question. It also serves as a diagnostic tool for me to know where the gaps in understanding are.
This approach applies for teaching Science subjects as well. The main difference here is whether students are able to appreciate the key words and how they influence the style of answering the question. I realize that, while many students are able to understand the content, they are usually unable to apply the knowledge in structured-based questions since they are often not as straightforward to explain in words.
As such, I would encourage the student to explain their thought processes to me verbally. Such conversations are effective for us to understand where the gaps in understanding are.
Are there some tips that you can share with parents on how they can help their children become more interested in Maths &/or Sciences?
Mr Tan: Maths and Science are subjects which require cognitive thinking and therefore demands a strong understanding in its application. While practice is important, I feel that parents also need to be aware on expanding opportunities for their children to be more engaged in these subjects. For example, discussions regarding the applicability of scientific principles can spark a deeper appreciation in their learning.
For children with dyslexia or autism, what specific challenges exist? What are some methods that you utilise in your classes with them?
Mr Tan: I have taught children with dyslexia. I think that the main challenge is to ensure that they are able to comprehend the question with minimal difficulty (for example, how to reduce the time taken to understand the sentence).
An effective method I have used is to deconstruct the sentence into key ideas and link those ideas together to illustrate a central theme. From my experience, they are better able to grasp the execution process in their daily work and that has enabled them to be independent and confident in tackling the comprehension of long sentences.
To help reduce the complexity in comprehending questions, I usually implement a flow process/mind-map approach. This has been helpful as it enables the student to stay motivated in tackling problems and reduce the fatigue associated with reading long sentences.
How do you usually start with a new student? In terms of building rapport, understanding the degree of their special needs, their learning style, etc.
Mr Tan: I usually begin by understanding the main challenges for each student. And for that to happen, it requires patience and empathy because every student has a unique way of communication. Rapport has to be built to establish trust between both parties.
I think that keeping the lesson light-hearted is an important first step because it enables the students to be themselves. This is especially crucial in identifying the key areas which we can work on.
For example, if the student approaches a question through visualization, it is an indication that future lessons can be conducted through visual cues to expedite the learning process.
What are the qualities that you think a tutor should possess?
Mr Tan: Patience and empathy are the most important qualities a tutor should possess. As a teacher, it is vital to impart confidence and trust within the student to continuously strive for improvement. And for that to transpire, we need to be able to understand their challenges and to motivate them in the long-term as individual progress is dependent on each student.
We’ve gotten positive feedback from past parents about your teaching methods or explanations. What are some of your teaching methods or practices that you apply for most of your students?
Mr Tan: I think the most important teaching method is to promote clarity and a consolidated learning experience for the student. It’s common to see students confused about what the key concepts required by the syllabus are. As a result, students spend too much time memorizing the content instead of understanding it.
Therefore, a key priority for me is to always establish a strong foundation and set the learning objectives clear for the student. In my opinion, this methodology is useful for students to be consistent in their learning through a bottom-up approach whereby the understanding of fundamentals is prioritized.
Can you share with us some stories of your most memorable students?
Mr Tan: I have an ex-student who left a very good impression in me by virtue of her earnestness in wanting to learn. What I admired most about her was her tenacity in not giving up and an openness to try. Her main challenge was that she wasn’t able understand the application-based questions and explain her answers in a cogent way.
For her specifically, my mentoring approach was to encourage her to practice writing her answers in a systematic manner to convey the main points. I tried using the analogy of explaining a concept to her younger siblings as a benchmark for her to achieve. This practice yielded amazing results in her constructing explanations that address the questions holistically.
It was very inspiring for me to witness her journey in becoming a more confident learner and she eventually achieved an A for her N Level Biology examinations.
* Interview edited for brevity and clarity
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