Advice on Extra Lessons

While extra lessons can often provide useful support, experience shows that there are some potential dangers associated with them:

  • It often happens that once a boy has extra lessons organised, he feels it is no longer necessary to gain as complete an understanding from his classes as before; consequently he is less determined about deriving full benefit from those classes, or contributing to them, so that the extra lessons no longer are 'extra' but become rather his main source of help.
  • Sometimes the extra lessons become so geared to the work the boy has to do, especially homework, that much of the internalising that homework is supposed to foster does not actually happen.
  • If the extra-lesson teacher is not an experienced teacher, then the method he or she shows, while it may work well for the type of problem actually under discussion, does not work more widely; this kind of quick-fix approach can lead to more difficulties later.
  • If the extra lessons do not tackle the topics that are being covered in class, but rather pursue some schedule of their own, then the boy can find himself actually taking two courses. Alternatively, the method shown by the extra lessons teacher may not match well enough the one expected by his class teacher, which puts the boy in an awkward situation.
  • Individual attention is always going to be better, more pleasant and more effective (at least in the short term) than tuition in a class, and so it can easily happen that a boy comes across as more capable than he is actually able to prove himself to be in exam or test conditions. This then leads to unrealistic expectations on the part of the boy and his parents, which in turn leads to greater anxiety when the marks forecast do not manifest themselves, with corresponding loss of faith in the class teacher, who is probably in fact much more experienced than the extra lesson teacher.

On the positive side, some boys do badly at a subject simply because they lack confidence, or cannot accept that they actually do know all they need to know. For boys in this situation some extra lessons can do a lot to help them appreciate their own potential and to overcome a barrier built by their own anxiety rather than by any real inability with the subject.

Of course individual attention is always going feel more nurturing and sympathetic than tuition in a class, and if this can help a student overcome a dislike of the subject, or a panic about it, so much the better. And there are going to be occasions when through no fault of his own a boy needs some extra help to catch up with the rest of his class, or grade – maybe he changed subject late, or was ill for a while …. our own teachers will always do what they can to help a boy fill a gap, but sometimes the backlog is too great.

Nevertheless, for the reasons given above, extra lessons are not necessarily the appropriate way to deal with disappointing marks. We suggest that parents go through the following check-list with their son before thinking about extra lessons:

If you feel you are battling with your studies, or are simply not getting the marks you want, there are several things that you can do that could make a real difference:

  • make sure you get the full 45 minutes out of each period, by concentrating, making good notes and constantly asking questions. Never let something go by in class that you do not feel confident about
  • make sure that you attempt the homework honestly - that is, that you spend as much time on it as it needs, and that you really try to solve the problems rather than just doing what you find easy. Use your notes and use your textbook - study the worked examples and try to model your own work on them
  • make sure that the difficulties you encountered with your homework are addressed by your teacher
  • ask your classmates for advice; if they cannot help, ask someone in another set, or even in a higher Grade
  • see if you can arrange to meet up with your class teacher in an Open Period
  • find out about and arrange to attend the any Support sessions that are organised by the department at this school, free of charge

If all this has been considered, and extra lessons still seem to be required, we would strongly urge that parents discuss that with the boy's class teacher beforehand, not so much as a matter of courtesy (though of course it would be that), but more to check that the boy's perceptions of the above criteria match the teacher's.

All subjects at schools are undergoing changes as the country continues to revamp its educational system and tries to make it more effective and available. While some topics have dropped out of the syllabuses and others have come in, of equal importance is the level at which topics are now to be handled, and the approach that goes with them. Things have changed significantly, even if the fundamental concepts were established centuries ago, and it is hardly likely that a person who is not engaged full-time with these issues will have a full understanding of the changes. That can well mean that an extra lessons teacher, even a talented university student or retired teacher, is actually not knowledgeable enough to be able to concentrate on the right issues or approach them in the right way. This is yet another reason why we would encourage full discussion with the class teacher before any actual decisions are made, let alone money spent

All this said, it is certainly going to happen that some boys have extra lessons. At Bishops we are not usually able to recommend or comment on extra lessons teachers. We do think it can be useful for the boy's class teacher and the extra lessons teacher to be in contact, which is another good reason for parents to liaise with the class teacher, but our teachers cannot be expected to provide materials for the extra teacher over and above what has already been given to the boy. Please note also that we do not make our facilities available for the teaching of extra lessons.

February 2015