How Custom-Made Lesson Materials Create a Passion For Learning and Break The Ice

Create motivation by tailoring your approach to the student, and help them discover a love for the subject.

This story is written by a tutor, whose profile can be found here:

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Diogo teaching a student through

As a math teacher, I usually receive two kinds of class requests. The first one is made by students who are struggling with the material. The second one is a student who is worried about an upcoming test.

When dealing with the nervous test-takes, I always find it easier to get the results my client needs. As a general rule, these students are more dedicated, complete their assigned exercises, and generally have a stronger base of knowledge of the material.

The first type, however, the struggling student, often comes to the session seemingly less motivated. A significant reason for this lack of motivation is that we, as humans, rarely feel motivated to do something that we already believe we’re bad at. This kind of student often comes to me already holding the belief that they are “simply bad at math”. Of course, often they also come with a list of complaints about the teacher, the school, and a sincere belief that they don’t understand anything.

In my early career as a teacher, I have found these students challenging. Over time, I realized that my responsibility wasn’t limited to presenting the content quickly and effectively. Instead, I needed to tailor each class, regardless of the subject, to fit the individual profile and personality of the student.

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With this realization, I started making my own class materials. The substance of the lesson didn’t really change, just the presentation, but the impact was astounding. I used the same questions that my source material used to demonstrate the rules and principles of what we studied, but created an experience that was tailor-made for the student. The response to this individualized response was immediate and very encouraging for me and for my students.

At first, I would make exercise lists by hand, in my own handwriting. I would generate the tasks as the student solved them, creating a side-by-side process. After a while, I switched to making the exercise lists digitally, adding images and other content in with the questions themselves.

By working with the student in real-time, I have encouraged them to be more focused on the problems and the explanations. The students were more present, and more interested in figuring out the solution when the material felt relevant to them. As I made lists of exercises, I would remember our conversations, helping me further personalize the material teaching material.

These interactions helped create a more relaxed atmosphere, making the session feel less stiff, and more like a hang-out session with a friend. After a while, usually two months, this sense of relaxed, friendly interaction stuck for many of my students. They would look forward to our sessions. Instead of dreading spending an hour or more doing math, my students actually relaxed, and the classes flowed better. At this point, I started working remotely, with students in other countries via video.

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During the first video call, I realized that it was very difficult to have the same conversation over the subject matter of the class. Part of this awkwardness came from the change in format. The student was contained to only seeing the window on a screen. I sought to apply the same process as I had with my offline students. I had to find a way to find out a little more about the student. To help make the classes more personal, I started to devote 10 minutes at the end of each class for a more free-form, sharing oriented interaction. My students shared what they found interesting, and what preoccupied them at this point in their lives.

To my surprise, after the third class in which I did this, the student simply focused more on the class, solved the exercises quickly, and even came with all his homework completed. He made all this effort simply to get to the final 10 minutes, the part where the class became his. The student concluded that he needed to do well over time in order to win the final minutes.

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I had a eureka moment. What the student wanted was more than just information, a good class. The student wanted and needed real human engagement, beyond what can be found through online resources. While you can learn math from watching a few videos and finding resources online, it’s the personal connection that actually motivates them. When we, as tutors, placing the student as a priority beyond the subject, it is possible to achieve student results beyond our expectations.

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