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Original Article: BBC News, April 23, 2014

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27087941

 

Murray Morrison probably wouldn't like the title super tutor. And he would be too discreet to mention any A-list families he has worked with.

But after 15 years teaching and tutoring, based in London, he has first-hand insight into how it looks when the tutor rings on the door-bell and steps inside.

Is it all really about the parents? Are they trying to succeed through their children?

"The whole thing about 'pushy parents' is that everyone wants the best for their child. And they want their child to come out of school with the best grades, because the system measures your performance in terms of those stark numbers," he says.

"But helicoptering in an expensive tutor to do hours of extra work can make the kid miserable, it can put undue pressure on them."

'Lack of confidence'

It might not even be the parents doing the hiring.

"You come across tutoring jobs, maybe an international business person or oligarch, where you're hired by proxy by a concierge service, to essentially babysit. They want a London super tutor for their kids.

"And you come across lonely children. They spend their time with tutors rather than friends. There are 10-year-olds with personal trainers who take them to a park.

Start Quote

Murray Morrison

It's always the child's practice that makes a difference, not the tutor alone... It's not rocket science, it's about organised, rigorous practice”

Murray Morrison

"I get asked to find tutors for three-year-olds. Absolute madness."

Before hiring a tutor, he says, parents should talk to the child's teacher.

"If children are unhappy about their ability or struggling, it's important to address it." But, he says, parents should get the teachers' advice before reaching for a tutor.

"Getting a tutor in too early confirms the idea that a child isn't good at a subject. The psychological impact can be quite negative.

"I've seen this quite a lot recently, where I've been asked to find a tutor for a child who is 'really lacking in confidence'. But getting lots of tutoring can be the cause of the lack of confidence.

"It's a case of using with caution."

If parents do want a tutor, he says, it is important to have a "really clear game plan about what you want to achieve".

And any improvement is going to depend on the child working hard. Mr Morrison says for every hour of tuition there should be five hours of practice.

"It's always the child's practice that makes a difference, not the tutor alone."

But he says that grades can be raised. "It's not rocket science, it's about organised, rigorous practice."

Mr Morrison formerly represented Great Britain at fencing, even though he wasn't good at games at school, and he says tutoring is another case of well-organised, targeted effort.

Parents under pressure

Mr Morrison says that the hyper-rich have a "sort of relaxation" about their children's results in school. But the real pressure is on parents who are not so rich and famous.

"They are putting all their money into getting their children the best education they can. They are under enormous financial pressure."

The extra lessons might be targeted at getting a child into a sought-after, high-achieving school. They get caught up in a tutoring "arms race", but, he says, this can be tough for a child who isn't really that clever.

"Where you get real dangers is when a short, sharp, shock of tutoring is successful enough to get a child into an academic school and then they're stuck there under enormous pressure to keep up.

"It can be the parents who are picking a school for themselves, rather than for the child. You see children in these hot-housing schools, after a hard day they come home and need more tutoring. You have children with no outside life at all.

"Parents would do well to protect their children from that kind of competition."

Uniform approach

There can also be some odd insights into wealthy international households.

"I was asked once on arriving at someone's house to put on a uniform. It was a kind of livery of the house." He refused and says it's important that tutors are not treated as a "servant or a nanny".

"It has to be someone a child looks up to for guidance. It's important to instil a respect for academic authority."

Another suspect request, from someone with "a lot of resources at their disposal", was to spend a whole term helping a university student.

"I was asked if I could tutor someone at university who needed to go through a maths course, and could I go and live there for a term? Which I didn't do.

"Reading between the lines," the implication was the tutor would do all the work.

He is also annoyed at parents who think tutors might be useful to get good marks in homework or coursework.

"If you're doing a child's homework you're doing them a massive disservice. You're not helping, you're damaging them," he says.

He is also sceptical about the amount that "super tutors" are meant to be charging.

"I see articles about super tutors with astronomical rates. But I certainly see those same tutors working for a lot less."

In an unregulated business it's also quite possible that some tutors hike their fee depending on the client.

The best tutors? It's not those who charge the most, he says, but those good enough to make sure their services are eventually not needed.

Telegraph Education

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10692780/Hooked-online-hooked-on-learning.html

 

Children nowadays, so we are told, are addicted - addicted to sugar, addicted to their smartphones and addicted to video games.  And as a result, they have a bleak future of obesity, indolence and indifference… right?  Well, this description applies to precisely none of the children I’ve ever worked with.  Despite their heavy use of technology and gaming – or because of it – children today have extraordinary mental abilities, which are unfortunately not being realised in the academic environment.  The key to making your child reach their potential may just be the Angry Birds app on their phone…


The problem is that we are looking at learning the wrong way: many of my students’ parents have come to me over the years brandishing school reports that say, “Class position, 7th of 18” or “Position in year: 14th of 57” – and they want to know how to improve the situation.  I have even had a client in the past concerned about a report that put their daughter top of the class, asking, “how can we make sure she stays there?”  A pernicious system that ranks students in this way can have a very negative effect on their academic development and, in particular, their development of a love of learning.  We urgently need to address the way we look at measuring academic progress if we are to unlock every child’s potential; instead we should be looking at why the games our children play help them to increase their brain-power without restriction.  Let me explain…

In his seminal sport psychology book, The Inner Game of Tennis, Timothy Gallwey discusses the competitive nature of games and sports, how they so often require one to make another lose in order to win, and how this dynamic of the ‘zero-sum game’ can cause a psychological turbulence in the players.  Those at the top feel immense pressure to maintain their position, and for everyone who climbs a place, another must fall. But then Gallwey turns his attention to the sport of surfing: there’s no opponent in surfing, but it’s a sport nonetheless.  When you surf, you test yourself against the ocean; you compete against your own standards; you strive constantly to catch the better, bigger waves and maintain your balance and posture – and your reward is not your victory or another’s defeat, but simply the thrill of the moment and the feeling that you surfed well.

As soon as I read this book (as a competitive fencer in my 20s), I learned to forget about my competitors and focused instead on participating in the game to the best of my abilities; I lost all my fears about the objective ‘result’ (win/lose) and instead found that my standards and quality of performance improved dramatically.  I also, almost incidentally, started to rise quickly up the UK rankings.

The same lesson can and should be applied to how we motivate our children to learn: one’s position against one’s peers is so distracting, so destructive and so misleading as to be almost irrelevant.  It’s how one progresses that matters – how one compares to oneself a week ago, a month ago, a year ago – and the quality of one’s efforts and attentions in that moment.  If you improve a little this week and somebody ‘below’ you improves a little bit more, you might find that you’ve slipped a place in the ranking – that doesn’t mean you’re worse than you were last week.  And if you’re top of the class, is there nowhere to go but down?  Of course not – you can still be improving even if next month somebody else is top of the class….

How can we encourage students to play the ‘inner game’ – to compete against themselves and strive to do better for the sheer thrill of self-improvement – to be the scholastic equivalent of the lone surfer out on the waves?  How can we change their focus and that of their teachers from ‘comparison’ metrics and ranking activities to pursuits that reward concentrated focused efforts, improving performance and that chart their passage through a subject?

Well, kids today are already playing them: these activities preoccupy children largely because they exploit that innate desire to better themselves by practising and honing a particular set of skills: Angry Birds, for example, Flappy Bird (if you managed to get it before it was taken down), good old-fashioned Tetris, or (my favourite) Trainyard.  Thousands of smartphone games, rather than merely whiling away a few minutes on the bus, present to children the challenge of beating their previous best and the reward of achieving it: a virtual puzzle-solving surf-break. While many of these games may appear trivial, they are frequently developing their cognitive abilities, coordination, memory, reasoning, logic and spatial awareness.  

Because the games are so absorbing, frequently the children who play the game enter that state of ‘flow’ (as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly in his book of the same title).  Flow is the state of mind where one finds oneself utterly absorbed, completely focused, ‘in the zone’, happy, and capable of extraordinary mental agility and acrobatics… not a bad state of mind for young people to practice achieving, especially if they can replicate that ‘flow state’ in stressful conditions such as examination halls.

While media discussion surrounding games centres around the dubious perception that violent games beget violent behaviour, or that compulsive gaming addles young minds and anaesthetises our youth, there is little focus on the true value and benefit of these games.  We are missing a huge opportunity if we ignore this important aspect: the truly ‘addictive’ part of gaming is the challenge we lay down to ourselves to beat our old high-score. The ‘reward’ that we get from completing a level in our favourite game is not a reward of seeing another beaten, it’s knowing that we have done better.  The prize is a keener perception, more rapid cognition, better memory and improved problem-solving ability.  Games that exploit our innate desire to beat our own score are a big key to the puzzle of how better to educate ourselves in the future.

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Client Testimonials

Murray,

Just wanted to let you know that E*** did very well in both his papers, passing both to interview stage.  He recently got 80% in a science test and his mental maths papers consistently come out at 80% plus. So we are delighted with his progress to date.

French next!  We are on half term this week, perhaps after we can add some French vocab?

Thanks for your help,

Kind regards,
Phillipa

 

 

 

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