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How to Tutor Science: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

19/02/2024 / Science Tuition

If your child is struggling with their science schoolwork, you might consider helping them yourself before looking for professional science tutoring.

But where do you start? Even if you’re a pro at science yourself, you might not be sure how to tutor someone in science – especially if your child is operating at quite a different level of vocabulary and understanding.

That’s exactly why we’re sharing this article. In this piece, we’ll explore how to tutor science and what pitfalls you should avoid as you do so.

Mistake 1: Not setting goals

Whenever you start a project, whether it’s something at work or a more personal endeavour like DIY in your home, you’ll naturally set goals before you start. Knowing what you are aiming for will help shape everything that you do later on. Without pinpointing a destination for your journey, you’ll just be wandering and perhaps not going anywhere at all.

The same principles apply to science tutoring, too. When you start tutoring, it’s best to speak with your child and their teacher to decide on a few concrete goals that you’re working towards. That way, you’ll be able to measure your progress and how far you’ve come.

To do this, you can ask your child about their feelings towards studying science and ask their teacher for feedback on their work and progress.

Concrete goals don’t always have to relate to school marks, although they might. A concrete goal might be identifying 9 out of 10 terms correctly, or even completing a certain number of assignments if your child has been struggling to complete them at all. The right goals completely depend upon the individual situation of your child.

It’s also fine to include a less concrete goal. Perhaps your child really wants to feel more confident about their science work. That’s not necessarily measurable, but it’s still important to know.

Mistake 2: Not using assessments effectively

There are three main types of assessment we’ll talk about here, and all of them are useful when tutoring your child. They are:

  • Summative assessments
  • Formative assessments
  • Diagnostic assessments.

Summative assessments

End-of-year exams are good examples of summative assessments. They come after a course of study and assess, broadly speaking, “how you did.” They’re useful because they tell you and your child how much they achieved or got out of a class.

Parents are often at risk of focusing too heavily on summative assessments. The problem here is that summative assessments come too late for you to adjust your tutoring to address any gaps in learning. Other types of assessments are also necessary, such as …

Formative assessments

Formative assessments work differently. They’re mostly done during a course of study, rather than after it, and they’re meant to inform you about what you should focus on next and whether you should change your current strategy. They’re all about “how you’re doing.”

Formative assessments can be very subtle – you definitely don’t want your child to feel as though they are being tested all the time. For example, a formative assessment might happen in a conversation where you casually ask your child, “Does a salt molecule have ionic or covalent bonds?” Then you mentally make a note for yourself about whether they seem to be grasping these concepts or whether you need to focus on them more.

In other words, doing formative assessments ensures you never tutor “on autopilot.” You never want to plough ahead with a predetermined plan of study without pausing frequently to assess whether you need to tweak your approach.

Diagnostic assessments

As a parent, you’ll want to do a diagnostic assessment of your child right as you begin tutoring them. This doesn’t have to be something that feels serious or scary to a child, but it is important that you know exactly where their abilities are when you start. Otherwise, you could be making a major mistake by wasting your time on material they already know – or covering material that’s far beyond their current knowledge.

Your diagnostic assessment may also inform your goals or shed light on some issues. Perhaps your child has been struggling in science but doesn’t quite know why. This type of assessment could reveal a significant gap in understanding that’s been tripping them up until now.

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Mistake 3: Not knowing the curriculum

So, you know that you should begin your tutoring with a diagnostic assessment. But how do you know what exactly you should be assessing? What topics should a child know at their age, and what skills they should possess? These are key questions to ask in order to figure out how to tutor someone in science.

For example, if your Year 6 child is learning about electricity, should they know the terms “circuit,” “resistance” and “current”? (The answer – students do learn about circuits in primary school, but resistance and current aren’t in the curriculum until Key Stage 3.)

The national curriculum provides the answers to all of these questions – that’s why it’s so important. The curriculum sets out what a child is expected to know at a given age. It provides terms they should be familiar with and gives a sense of the skill level they should ideally be at. It also provides the overall shape of learning as it develops over time – so it’s helpful for parents to know what was in the curriculum for their child’s previous years and what they’ll face in future years.

If you work without a deep knowledge of the curriculum, you risk focusing on the wrong topics, explaining at the wrong level of depth, focusing on the wrong skills, and perhaps even upsetting your child by expecting a level of understanding that they developmentally can’t yet reach.

In contrast, a parent who really understands the curriculum can help their child in their current year and set them up for success in future school years. Of course, gaining a thorough understanding of the national curriculum is a big ask when tutoring as a parent, which is why fully qualified science tutors are worth their weight in gold!

Mistake 4: Not making the most of tutoring time

Now you know how to tutor science on the large scale – how to structure your overall learning plan and adjust it as you go. But what about deciding how to tutor someone in science on the small scale? What do you do each day or in each session as a parent?

It’s very easy for parents to fall into the trap of not getting the maximum value from their tutoring time. In most cases, you don’t want to find yourself sitting there and watching as your child reads through an excerpt or works through problems. However, you’ll also want to avoid lecturing for long periods while your child sits there. And you probably don’t want to just test them with flash cards, either!

The great advantage of science tutoring is that it provides personal, direct attention to your child, rather than a sliver of a classroom teacher’s attention. You want to take advantage of that. While the activities in a tutoring session might vary, it’s often good for there to be conversation and exchange of ideas between you and your child. Rather than lecturing, you can model a skill or work through a problem together with them.

Just as you’ll set goals for the overall tutoring effort, you’ll also often want to set goals for each tutoring session. So, rather than saying you’re working on Chapter 5, you can say you’re aiming for your child to be able to understand and identify the components of a bacterium.

Mistake 5: Not tailoring tutoring approaches to the individual child

We’ve already mentioned that one of the greatest benefits of tutoring is the fact that it gives your child undivided attention. And we’ve also covered how it’s not a good idea to just plough through a plan of learning without considering how well it’s working for your particular student.

These ideas both touch on an important point about tutoring – students get the most out of it when it’s individualised.

The great thing about tutoring is that it can be tailored to a student’s skill level, learning style, personality and more. Knowing the expectations for each year group is important – but if your child’s abilities aren’t there yet, then you can’t forge ahead with material that’s simply too challenging for them.

If your child is a jokester, you can weave some humour into a tutoring session. Or if they get distracted taking meticulous notes, you can try recording tools to free up their energy so they can focus on the present moment.

Succeeding in science with Principal Tutors

As you can see, science tutoring is a skill that takes time to hone. In fact, many parts of science tutoring really need the expert abilities and knowledge of a teacher. While parents can work hard trying to learn how to tutor someone in science, they’ll find it very difficult to match the skill of someone who’s made teaching their career.

That’s why all of our tutors at Principal Tutors are qualified and experienced teachers. You won’t have to worry about your tutor’s familiarity with the curriculum or understanding of assessment and lesson planning – our tutors have that covered.

Moreover, we know the importance of individualisation in tutoring. That’s why we focus on our student-tutor matching process, ensuring that each student gets the tutor who’s a fantastic fit for their learning goals and their personality. Want to know more about what our science tutors can do for your child? Give us a call on 0800 772 0974. Alternatively, you can reach out to us via our online form. Either way, we’d be thrilled to talk with you about our approach to tutoring and to helping your child achieve their very best in science.


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