Swords & Stationery: is it a tuition service?

One of the most frequent things I get asked is this:

“How is your programme (Swords & Stationery) different from tuition services outside?”

On a similar note, I find myself reminding parents that S&S is not a tuition service when they ask about “tuition services”, that it is “educational therapy”. But exactly what is it that I do, and what makes the programme different—unique even—to other educational services out there? I figured this would be a good topic to address in this fortnight’s post.

Specialist tutoring / educational therapy -- putting the fun back in learning to help kids with special needs

1) S&S thoroughly considers every student’s learning needs

Here’s a true story I frequently tell my students as a joke (but just because it’s funny doesn’t mean I’m disingenuous). When I left my previous job as an editor and applied for an opening as an “educational therapist”, I was starry-eyed. I thought it would involve me sitting down with a group of kids, smiling my cheeriest smile, and yelling, “HI KIDS, SHALL WE PLAY A GAME TODAY?” Boy oh boy did I get a shock when I realised I was essentially going to become a teacher.

But see, it’s “teacher” with an added context, and that context is being in an environment of kids with ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia/Apraxia, Dysgraphia, ODD, etc, etc, etc. Also, when I say “kids”, I mean “young men and ladies who are taller than I am”.

The 50+ cases which I’ve taught had different needs across the board, despite some common threads. Some have more severe dyslexia, some have handwriting difficulties, etc—the needs vary. So, for example, if reading gets really tedious for one or two students, I’ll specifically make the text easier for just them by replacing irregular words with more common sight words. That’s just one of many things I can do to tailor a lesson to suit the child’s need; the actual amount of achievable customisation is near limitless.

The Swords & Stationery approach places as much emphasis on students’ academic grades as their learning needs; I also maintain that a class will only be conducted if it can meet the emotional and social needs of the child. The bottom line is, we take our students’ learning needs really seriously, and work on their academic grades while patching their learning deficits simultaneously.

2) S&S uses empirically proven practices and techniques


The Swords & Stationery approach combines practices from multiple sources—OG principles and phonics intervention for dyslexic students with a phonological deficit, cognitive behavioural therapy aspects for students on the autism spectrum or who have ADHD, games therapy for developing socio-emotional stability, a variety of reading comprehension and writing techniques and frameworks (e.g. the process and genre-based approach as postulated by Dr Derewianka) that can be adapted to any student between the age of 10 to 17, etc. I should also state that these aren’t discrete components. In most cases, multiple practices are incorporated into lessons, providing synergy and maximising the effect of learning.

Instead of teaching with rote repetition, the S&S approach targets students’ weakness(es) and rectifies them to enhance learning, all while within the locus of academic work. This is one of the main differences between the S&S educational therapy programme (and any educational therapy programme, really) versus traditional tuition. Sure, students are free to ask questions carried over from school, but the main point of the programme is to provide an alternative to learning when one method (i.e. the traditional one) fails. It all seems unorthodox, but anecdotal and empiric evidence show that it simply works better for these kids than traditional classroom practices.

3) S&S classes which are about academic work are not just about academic work


What sets Swords & Stationery apart from every single learning institution in the world is its use of games as therapy and academic learning simultaneously. While games allow me to target students’ socio-emotional needs, they’re also a platform to learn, for example exploring genres in first-person. Consider a game about spies set in the modern world a la John Wick without the over-the-top violence. I can use fictitious scenarios to teach social skills (”You meet your contact at a bar, but you get the feeling of being watched), but I can also use it to teach humanities (e.g. through in-game politics) and reading comprehension (e.g. through in-game puzzles). Because players are experiencing stories in RPGs first-hand, I can put them in situations that model real-world counterparts.

Effectively, not only is this far less tedious than just listening to the teacher drone away, it also adds drama and tension, keeping students at the edge of their seats. At the end of such a lesson, students usually come out feeling like they’ve been through a roller-coaster ride, all while feeling smarter, knowing they’ve learned something of value.

Finishing words

I don’t say this enough, but I have only the deepest respect for my fellow educators who strive to make a better world through the molding of kids and youths to become morally upright intellectuals. Swords & Stationery was started with the intention of complementing existing educational and enrichment services out there, rather than being a direct competitor. The programme was designed not just with young people with specific learning difficulties in mind, but, broadly speaking, really caters to an audience where traditional methods of teaching don’t work as effectively.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking more about personal accounts of students who have benefited greatly under this programme. Some are truly inspiring stories that aptly demonstrate why even students with learning difficulties can succeed given the right motivations, and can shed more light on the kind of help that S&S is able to render. In the meantime, I’ve provided links below if you’d like to look up for more info on educational therapy, specific learning difficulties, and games as therapy. Have a good week ahead, dear readers!

Further Information

Wheelhouse Workshop: A group in Seattle that uses games as therapy. They were one of the original inspirations for the S&S approach.

Tabletop Role-Playing Games In Singapore—Case Studies For Education And Empowerment: This MA thesis by Tan Shao Han, game master-extraordinaire and the mastermind behind Curious Chimeras, deeply inspired me to develop many of the initial ideas for the S&S approach. It’s a good read on how gaming can empower an individual to maximise his/her potential.

Why Dungeons & Dragons is Good for You (In Real Life): a TEDx talk by Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, on why Dungeons & Dragons is good for the mind.

AET’s definition of “educational therapy”


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