Soraya

StudentinzetopSchool helps final-year pupils pass their exams

Character 3 min. Melinde Bussemaker

Final-year pupils were less able to prepare for their final exams this past year because of the corona measures. This led to the establishment of the national StudentinzetopSchool platform. As part of this initiative, university students offer tutoring to high-school pupils to increase their chances of passing their exams. Tilburg University students also participate in the project. ‘It is fun when you see the penny beginning to drop.’

Director of HAVO-VWO Peter Boone of Lodewijk College in Terneuzen welcomed the help of StudentinzetopSchool. “We have seven years’ experience with senior pupils tutoring the junior ones. In the past year, our pupils had very few in-person classes, which led to many falling behind. At first, we tried to address this with extra classes by our own teachers. They were certainly prepared to invest those extra hours, but there was too much demand. Then I started looking for an external alternative for the final-year pupils: they needed support in the short term.”

At first, we tried to address this with extra classes by our own teachers, but there was too much demand.

Not so commercial

Given the fact that Boone’s own daughter was studying in Tilburg and tutored high-school pupils as a student, he went looking in that city. “And so I came across StudentinzetopSchool. Following the attention for the problem and the money made available by the Ministry in the context of the National Support Program for Education (NPO), many commercial providers of tutoring are active at the moment. The disadvantage is that a relatively large amount of money goes to the organizations. StudentinzetopSchool has very little overhead, is more affordable as a result, and the money is spent on the tutoring itself.”

Information meeting

Soraya Corten is a second-year Law student, who tutored four pupils of Lodewijk College in Zeeland at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. “I saw the appeal in Canvas, Tilburg University’s online platform, and was immediately excited about the idea. I used to enjoy tutoring a twelve-year old in reading comprehension. I thought it would be nice to teach high-school pupils this time.” Corten signed up and went to the information meeting. “There we were given information on how to go about it. That you first have an introductory interview, than you discuss the plan with the pupils, what is in the syllabus for the final exams and, for example, what teaching methods you can use.”

How to tutor

Approximately fifty students attended this meeting of the Tilburg Academic Teacher Training program on April 2. Things discussed included how StudentinzetopSchool is organized, but mainly how to effectively tutor pupils: how to plan the process together with the pupil and what study skills are needed. There was a brief introduction about didactics, ranging from learning objectives to evaluation. In break-out rooms, participants subsequently further discussed subject-specific requirements and problems that pupils face. The students who became tutors joined an App group in which they could ask questions. Given the short timeframe, there were no refresher days this time. The intention is to organize them as usual next year.

Getting started

After the meeting, Corten received an e-mail with four names of pupils needed to brush up their math, a subject which she had indicated beforehand that she could tutor in. “I immediately contacted the pupils and receive enthusiastic responses. Because it was only four week until the first part of the final examinations, we had to get started at once. Once a week, I taught every pupil individually and there was one group class every week.” Corten started with the introductory interviews. “That allowed me to assess whether they found it easy to ask questions, what they found hard, and how they were doing. I was very interested in how they had experienced the past 18 months. It proved to have been tough going. All four of them found math a difficult subject to start with, and they had just managed sixes, but now it was all insufficient grades. They had fallen behind as a result of the online classes. Some had missed an entire chapter. So we had to work hard to get their knowledge up to scratch before the exams.”

Refresher

Not only the pupils had to work hard, so did Corten herself. “My math had gotten a little rusty because I hardly use it for my Law program. So I needed a bit of a refresher course myself. The pupils mostly had the same problems and found the same subjects tricky. Still, one type of explanation did not work for all of them. For one, reviewing worked well, another mainly needed to do more exercises. I saw that they were making progress.”

Online tutoring

“It is great that a student explains a subject in different ways,” Boone says. He is very appreciative of the assistance provided. “I am still evaluating but have received thank you notes from parents, for example, saying that their son or daughter succeeded thanks to the tutoring. StudentinzetopSchool is an interesting side job for the students and it is a real help to our pupils.” The tailored approach in small groups was online in this case but it can also be provided in-person if the distance permits. “The advantage of online tutoring is that it can be provided any time, anywhere. We saw that there was also contact during the spring break. Asking questions via the chat is low-threshold, short, and to the point.” At the same time, online tutoring has its challenges, too. Corten: “If you are sitting next to someone, you can see what they are doing and the body language indicates whether or not they understand something you are explaining. That is harder to perceive online. You can’t watch them very closely.”

It is such a good feeling to be able to make a difference

Little time

Four weeks was a short period for tutoring. Corten: “One girl dropped out early on and two other pupils unfortunately didn’t pass. One boy I was tutoring took his math exam in the second period. Pupils were allowed to take one or more subjects later to compensate for the corona measures. So he had eight weeks to prepare and that made all the difference. The results aren’t in yet, but we think he did well.” Boone thinks that pupils had sufficient time to prepare following the extension of the final examination period because of the corona rules. “I can see that some pupils contact their tutor as many as 22 times. And that wasn’t just for a few minutes.”

Stepping it up

For Corten, it meant a busy conclusion of the academic year. “I had to step up my own studies. I already had another side job and spent quite some time tutoring. But it was all worth it. It is such a good feeling to be able to make a difference. That you can see progress when someone is giving it their best. I would do it again tomorrow. That’s why I will remain active as an on-call worker.” The idea is that, by tutoring, students get a taste of teaching professionally and may become enthusiastic about a teaching job. It hasn’t worked out that way in Corten’s case. “Much as I enjoyed it, it is still my dream to become a lawyer.”

Continued collaboration

Boone wants to continue the collaboration with StudentinzetopSchool. “It is a wonderful way to supplement our regular classes, the tutoring by our own teachers, and the senior pupils tutoring the junior ones. I know there is more catching up to do than we can ever provide internally. In the coming year, we can enlist the help of StudentinzetopSchool again, thanks to the NPO funding. Moreover, the school scan we conducted for the NPO allows us to look even more carefully at what pupils need. We used to do that based on notes in Magister, our pupil monitoring system. But there can be various reasons why a pupil struggles with math. Does the pupil fail to understand a formula, does he/she have trouble planning, or is there a language problem as a result of which he/she does not correctly interpret math story problems. These are essential differences. The only thing I am truly dreading is that too many schools may want to use StudentinzetopSchool. But hopefully they can expand with students from other universities.”

Tilburg Academic Teacher Training program

Students who provide tutoring via StudentsinzetopSchool are trained and supported by the Tilburg Academic Teacher Training program. The program hopes to achieve four objectives in this way. Marije van Amelsvoort, program director of the Tilburg Academic Teacher Training program: “Firstly, we want to help tutor pupils for their final examination; in corona times, the need for this is greater than usual. Secondly, we want to ease the burden of teachers who work under great pressure because of the teacher shortage. Thirdly, we want to give students the opportunity of a good side job that also teaches them something. And fourthly, we want to enthuse students for teaching jobs. We hope that students who become tutors experience what is fascinating about this job and consider taking a teacher training program.”

Education at Tilburg University is based on three pillars: knowledge, skills, and character. During their studies, students are equipped to further develop their talents, increase their knowledge, and to contribute to society. The Tilburg students tutoring high-school pupils are a case in point.

More information on the Tilburg Educational Profile