General Paper (GP) Tuition & O level English Tuition specialists
– copyright Knowledge Skills LLP –
Deciding which General Paper / GP tuition to attend can be complicated. The decision making process is oftentimes a series of guesswork and faith. Every tuition centre boasts of their unique GP techniques and achievements. The variety of choice can sometimes be bewildering.
Being in the education business for over 20 years, we try to take away some of this guesswork and assist students and parents make a more informed decision in selecting a good GP tuition centre or tutor. These points are also relevant when searching for O-level English tuition but for simplicity’s sake, we will just use GP as our subject focus.
Which quality should I look out for?
There is no one magical quality that allows you to instantly make a good decision. However, there are definitely some qualities that are more important.
Eventually, you will need to make a holistic assessment of all these qualities and select the tutor that is appropriate for your learning style and needs.
Here are 3 important aspects to consider:
1) Teacher Quality
2) Class Size
3) How lessons are conducted
How to evaluate a teacher’s qualification?
What does it mean to be a “trained teacher”?
Are current teachers much better than ex-teachers?
As highlighted by then Minister of Education Heng Swee Keat, much research has shown that teacher quality is the number one determinant of a student’s success – more so than any other factor.
Unfortunately, most students seek GP tuition due to dissatisfaction with their school GP teachers. Oftentimes, they believe the teacher is not very competent or does not utilise lesson time properly. Other times, they face a revolving door of relief tutors and lack consistent guidance. Hence, they turn to tuition in the hope that these tutors will somehow be better than their school teachers and help them master the secrets of the General Paper.
Since teacher quality is probably the most important factor, it’s important that one is able to evaluate the teacher’s qualifications.
Here are some pointers to help clarify what you may find in various tuition advertisements.
What does it mean when a GP tuition centre says they have “trained teachers”? How does one get certified as a General Paper teacher?
In Singapore, to be called a ‘trained teacher’ means the individual has undergone the year long NIE Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) or the NIE Teaching Degree course. This certifies that the teacher is familiar with the teaching pedagogies used in mainstream schools and the requirements of the subject’s syllabus.
Independent Schools have more freedom in accepting non-NIE teachers as full-time teachers but even then, such teachers are also required to either go to NIE or undergo a year of in-house training and probation before they are deemed fully qualified GP teachers.
So if the teachers were full-time (not relief or contract) teachers from government schools or Independent schools, then most likely they are fully trained teachers.
How about non-NIE trained teachers?
Others consider themselves as trained teachers when they have received their teaching accreditation from overseas courses or distant learning programmes. As in all other programmes, such accreditation can be of varying quality – largely dependent on the reputation of the organization or school giving out such certificates.
Most MOE schools generally do not recognise such certification and require these applicants to still undergo NIE training to be employed as full-time teachers.
Does that mean all non-NIE trained teachers are no good?
Not so. Yet, as seen from MOE’s stand, some discernment will be required.
How about untrained GP tutors who have never taught in schools?
Untrained GP tutors are generally defined as having no formal teaching experience. They might hail from other industries but would say their industry knowledge or life experiences are relevant to teaching General Paper. From an education perspective, these are not professional teachers and are the most risky when engaging one as a tutor.
There are of course some competent GP tutors who have no formal teacher training. Their methodology was built probably from experience, trial and error and general self-development.
You just have to hope you are not among the tuition batches during their ‘trial and error’ phase.
Are current teachers better than ex-teachers?
This is a tricky question.
Firstly, many students come to us for GP tuition because they feel their teacher is not doing a good job. Oftentimes, they complain that their teacher seems inefficient, incoherent, lazy, etc. (students can be so harsh!)
So there’s no guarantee that a centre having ‘current school teachers’ means they have good teachers.
But usually employing a current teacher or someone still involved with schools provides several advantages:
- The teacher is aware of the latest changes with respect to the subject.
- They would have access to restricted resources such as the examiner’s guidelines from Cambridge or up-to-date exam papers
- They benefit from the training programmes and courses MOE requires them to undergo and are generally aware of the latest teaching methods
This is useful for General Paper due to the nature of the subject. Currently, GP is undergoing some syllabus changes. Being cued in on the shift in focus for content or marking guidelines will help greatly when offering feedback to the students.
Yet, we also personally know many competent and very good GP tutors who are ex-teachers. They left education for a variety of reasons but that does not mean they have left their teaching skills behind. Some of these ex-teachers are still very popular, up-to-date and with good track records. The best way to decide is to speak to the teacher personally.
You have to do your own research first, and decide if the teacher sounds informed. Does he or she seem aware of the latest syllabus changes?
Most of the competent ex-teachers are still involved with schools in some way so as to stay current.
The more questionable ones are those that are still using the same materials and pedagogies without updating them. Even now, parents or students feedback how their ex-tutor was using outdated exam papers or marking schemes.
As always, caveat emptor!
Bonus – Other positive qualifications:
Other selected qualifications possessed by the GP tutor tend to have a positive correlation with good teaching quality. These would include being an MOE scholar, having a good & relevant degree, or holding key positions such as Senior Teacher, Senior Education Officer or Heads of Departments with long years of teaching experience.
Usually, to achieve this, they would have undergone several rounds of vetting and interviews. So take MOE’s approval of them as an initial stamp of approval before you do your own selection.
A rough conclusion – Look for GP tutors who are:
1. Current or up-to date ex-teachers
2. Fully trained with significant school experience
3. With excellent credentials and track records
Small group tuition is especially important for General Paper.
For GP, sufficient individual attention and personal feedback is key to improvement. This is due to the nature of the subject. Unlike the sciences or math, there are no standardized answers and each student can provide a different and valid response to the same question.
It is also commonly understood that large class size negatively affects students’ academic performance. Qualitative studies consistently support that in smaller classes it is easier for teachers to spot problems and give feedback. Regular and high quality feedback is pedagogically proven to be one of the best ways for rapid improvement.
This is the reason why GP remedial or support classes conducted in school tend to be much smaller than the average sized class. This is also the reason why MOE is consistently trying to improve the teacher-student ratio.
Yet surprisingly, many students go for GP tuition where classes can be just as large than their classes in school. Mass lectures can still work but at the end, your essay or AQ is still very personal. If you need feedback on how to improve, close guidance is still necessary.
In addition to teacher quality, seek out a GP tuition centre that guarantees small and manageable class sizes where the teacher has time for personal guidance and gives consistent feedback.
How Lessons are Conducted i.e What Goes On During Tuition Lessons
The last essential factor to consider is how lessons are conducted and whether time is spent meaningfully.
Students usually approach us for GP tuition due to dissatisfaction in how GP is taught by their teachers. Complaints would include the random discussion of articles, endless video screenings or poorly guided class presentations.
Hence, it is silly if you go to a tuition centre that duplicates the same processes that drove you to seek tuition. A 2 hour tuition session can pass by very quickly but yet with little learning if it consists of much ‘individual presentations’, ‘peer-marking’ or video discussion and with poor follow-up.
Time can also be consumed without much tutoring if the majority of the lesson is spent doing an assignment and the learning or guidance only comes in the last 10 minutes.
GP tuition should be concerned with the teaching of skills and content. These are the foundations. Without skills, you can’t write your essay coherently. Without content, you have nothing to write about.
Yet knowing what is needed is one thing. Being able to apply it is another.
Hence, tuition should also be about helping develop masterful application of these skills. There is no short cut as this is not possible without sufficient practice.
Furthermore, students cannot get the most out of these practices or assignments if the GP tutor utilises a one-size-fits-all approach for responses that are inevitably very personal.
You have to check how does the GP tutor track and help the student. Is there sufficient time for feedback and guidance? How often does the GP tutor mark your work? Essentially, does the tutor provide that additional support that schools cannot do due to the large class size?
Even then, the quality of the guidance matters; being dependent on the tutor’s qualifications and experience.
In the end, it all comes together. A productive, meaningful GP tuition lesson needs to be paired with a quality tutor who in turn should operate in a small sized class environment to provide effective tutoring.