Making tutor time count

Tutor time is a feature of most secondary schools, yet despite the amount of time students typically spend with their tutor every week (95 minutes at our school) it is not always used effectively. At busy times of the school year, tutor time too often gets pushed to the bottom of the agenda by teachers and school leaders whose priorities lie elsewhere.

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This week’s blog, therefore, centres on the work of Laura Freeman, an NQT at our school whose exemplary work with her Year 7 tutor group has helped them to make a smooth transition to life at secondary school. Here is Laura’s recipe for success …

Teach tutor time as if it is a lesson. Laura takes tutor time as seriously as an ordinary lesson. She plans the sessions carefully and uses them as an opportunity to improve her students’ knowledge and understanding. At Durrington, all tutor groups watch and discuss a series of weekly news videos which cover complicated and sensitive news items – for instance, the recent talks between North Korea and South Korea, and the Parkland High School shootings in Florida. Laura uses her skill as a teacher to break these topics down and field questions from the class. When she does not know an answer, she helps the class develop strategies for finding out.

She also makes it her mission to use these regular news discussions as an opportunity to get to know her students individually. The question ‘How do we feel about this?’ has proved especially powerful when working with her group.

Make links between lessons and tutor time. In her work as a citizenship and social and moral education teacher, Laura makes deliberate references to content and activities that she knows her classes have covered in tutor time. This way, she helps students to form connections across the curriculum. For instance, in one form time activity on ‘dual-coding’ Year 7s were shown how to organise their knowledge into visual-spatial organisers. In later lessons, Laura took the time to show her classes how they could transfer this new study skill into their lessons with her.

She also feels that referring to tutor time activities in lessons helps to improve her status as a new teacher at the school which, in turn, supports behaviour and engagement. The fact that she knows what’s happening in their tutor time means that children see her as a credible member of staff.

Support organisation skills. One of the hardest aspects of joining secondary school is keeping on top of homework. Laura helps her form to embed excellent homework habits in a number of ways: by giving them a daily opportunity to remind each other when the homework is due; by discussing the content of homework tasks; and by promoting pro-social skills – e.g. prompting students to go and see teachers to apologise if they have not completed their homework.

Create competitions. Laura constantly supports academic learning through vocabulary, note-making and word competitions. She makes it fun – but keeps it focussed on school.

Devise seating plans with care. Laura is strict with her tutor time seating plan. She uses it not only to foster exemplary behaviour, but also to ensure that the pairings are designed to encourage and support quieter and less confident students in the group.

In all, Laura’s approach to being a form tutor hinges on three things: knowing the students individually; making links between tutor time and the wider academic curriculum; and combining care with high challenge.

By Andy Tharby

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