Do I Actually Need a Local English Tutor? | Principal Tutors16/10/2023 / English Tuition
It goes without saying that a strong command of English is an invaluable skill for UK students. Of course, English is a required subject through GCSEs – but English proficiency is also necessary for almost every other subject, even STEM ones. If a student is studying mathematics, they still need to understand written problems, which may be complex. A student who’s studying science will need to be able to comprehend their textbook. And, naturally, other disciplines in the humanities rely heavily on English skills for both reading and essay writing.
Given the importance of English, it’s understandable why many parents and guardians seek out English tutors to ensure that their students have the best possible opportunity to succeed in English lessons and throughout their studies. Parents may go through many different avenues to hire a tutor, including looking for a local English teacher who can stop by their home.
But is it essential to look for a tutor who’s close by and can visit in person? Are local tutors for English better than online English tutors, who may be based anywhere?
In this article, we’ll explore the factors to consider when you’re deciding whether to hire a local English teacher or an online one. What are the benefits and drawbacks of each approach? Read on as we delve into the details.
Online versus in-person English tutoring
Are local English tutors better than online ones?
The answer depends partly on whether the tutor needs to be physically sitting with your student. A tutor for a physical skill like a sport obviously does need to be physically present. But in many cases an English tutor doesn’t need to be in the room with their student. To decide which option is better for an individual student, there are four main questions to ask.
Do you want to cast the widest possible net for tutors, or are you okay with having more limited options?
The limitation of in-person tutoring is that you’re restricted to local English tutors who live in your area and are willing to come to your home or a tutoring location, or who are willing to teach students in their own home. This may even leave out talented tutors who live close to you but don’t have time to travel or don’t have a tutoring space in their own home.
Looking for online English tutoring is casting a vastly wider net, giving you many times more options for tutors. It means you can look for just the right tutor to fit your student’s temperament, likes and dislikes, and specific English needs. This wider net also provides you with a better chance of getting a tutor who has teaching qualifications and experience.
Does the student’s personality fit with in-person or online tutoring?
Some younger students who tend to be distractable might need an adult next to them to keep them focused. However, younger children are increasingly familiar with interacting via technology, so they might not have a problem focusing on a screen. On the other hand, older children are likely very used to online teaching and virtual chatting. It all depends on the personality of the individual student.
Do you want notes or recordings for reference?
It can be difficult for students to take good notes for later while also focusing on what’s happening in the current tutoring session. A major plus of online tutoring sessions is that can be recorded for future reference by the student. Collaborative work done digitally can also easily be saved for later.
Which English skills are being tutored?
Why does the type of skill being tutored matter? Because while some academic skills might be best learned in person with local tutors for maths and English, many others actually work better online.
For example, during tutoring in writing, online sessions allow that students and teachers to easily write and edit collaboratively on Google Docs and other online interaction platforms, such as virtual whiteboards. It is often actually more awkward for a tutor to peer over a student’s shoulder to watch them typing, then point to their text and try to explain how to edit it.
Lots of other factors about different skills related to English are in play, too. We’ll explore a few of them below.
How different kinds of English tutoring relate to different tutoring modes
It’s important to recognise that what we call “English tutoring” actually covers a vast range of skills, including reading, listening and writing. Each of these sub-areas of English comes with its own requirements and considerations when it comes to choosing between online and in-person tutoring.
If literary analysis is the focus of your tutoring session, there are some perks that come with choosing online tutoring.
E-books are immensely helpful tools when it comes to literary analysis. Taking time to look up a paragraph or moment in a physical book can eat up precious minutes of tutoring time. In contrast, the table of contents or “find” function in an e-book, whether it’s on Kindle or free to access via gutenberg.org, can help teachers and students to get to key moments in a book near instantly. With screen-sharing during an online tutoring session, the tutor and student can then examine the text together and talk about it – and copy and paste key quotations into a collaborative online whiteboard tool.
Writing and editing
As we’ve said, tools like Google Docs and online collaborative platforms are a game-changer for tutoring in writing. If this is the focus of your lessons, it’s almost certainly better to go for online tutoring. Tutoring writing in person often means clustering around a single computer screen, which is awkward and difficult. Or else you’ll have a tutor sitting next to a student, with both looking at their own screens – which makes it pointless to physically meet in person.
One option is for tutors to screenshare as they do work in a Word document. Many students aren’t familiar with ways in which the features of Word can help them, so tutors can demonstrate these in a way that the student can easily see. For example, a tutor can use the “find” function to show a student how many times they’ve repeated a word.
What’s more, many students actually type on a keyboard rather slowly, as they are more accustomed to typing on their phone. So, it may be more time-efficient for a student to dictate their thoughts to a tutor during a writing session while the tutor types them.
Another option is collaborative platforms like online whiteboards and Google Docs in which both parties can edit at the same time. This means that while a student is rewriting the opening sentence of an essay per the tutor’s instructions, the tutor can use those spare moments to prepare the next step of the tutoring by looking through the document or highlighting another sentence elsewhere.
Tutors can also do extremely valuable work with students by collaboratively going through and modelling good procedures for essay writing. For example, a tutor can ask a student to gather quotations as homework, and then in the tutoring session the tutor can guide the student to re-order and thematically group the quotations in a way that becomes the skeleton of an essay. This can help students get out of the habit of using the ineffective “start the essay at the beginning and write until you get to the length requirement” approach.
Spoken English and reading aloud
When you think about English tutoring, the first thing that comes to mind might be something like help with writing an essay. However, speaking and reading aloud are also important elements in English proficiency. For example, the national curriculum for England specifically states that:
By the beginning of year 5, pupils should be able to read aloud a wider range of poetry and books written at an age-appropriate interest level with accuracy and at a reasonable speaking pace. They should be able to read most words effortlessly and to work out how to pronounce unfamiliar written words with increasing automaticity.
Students whose first language isn’t English may also find instruction and practice with speaking and pronunciation to be helpful.
So, if you’re seeking help for your student in this area of English skills, is a local English teacher or an online tutor better?
The answer isn’t black and white. It’s important for children to routinely practice reading aloud, and reading aloud with an adult is typically done in person, side by side. Yet, as with practicing skills in any subject, routine reading aloud is typically not an efficient use of a student’s time with a tutor. In fact, many experts have suggested that students benefit from reading aloud to a pet or even to a stuffed animal – no humans necessary!
The part that a tutor can play is to listen to a student’s demonstration of reading aloud and give praise, feedback and instructions about what to focus on during the coming week’s reading practice. Students can create lists of unfamiliar words during their independent reading practice, then bring them to the tutor for conversation about pronunciation, meaning and word roots. Also, tutors can monitor students’ development by counting words per minute and errors per passage. These activities don’t really require being with a student in person.
The one caveat here is that a good microphone and speaker are especially necessary for online tutoring when speaking and listening is a factor.
Find the right English tutor with Principal Tutors
If you’re looking for an online English tutor, Principal Tutors is here for you. We ensure you can skip the worry about searching through local English tutors to find one who’s qualified. All of our tutors are fully qualified teachers who are well versed in the UK curriculum.
What’s more, we pride ourselves on making the perfect match between each student and their tutor. Since our fully qualified tutors come from all over the UK, you can be sure we’ll find you a tutor who fits your needs exactly.
Ready to find a great English tutor who can boost you or your child’s English skills? Give us a call on 0800 772 0974 to hear more about the possibilities of online tutoring or fill in our online form to get started finding your tutor today.
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