Time for a Tutor

You are sitting at the pool with your children, thinking about what a relaxing summer you’ve had and how you all needed a break from school.  Suddenly you panic.  School is less than a month away – are your children ready?  Have they been reading enough this summer?  Have they written anything besides grammatically incorrect emails?  Did they forget their math? Should you hire a tutor for a jump start?  Should you wait and see how the year goes?
A tutoring company, like many businesses, is cyclical, with the majority of students needing support during the school year.  Some people are proactive and begin in August to be prepared for new academic subjects in September.  Some start in October, as soon as they see a potential problem.  As I am writing this article in June, a few people are calling us in a state of panic for one or two instant tutoring sessions to prepare for a final.  (This is not ideal).
Not surprisingly, there usually aren’t instant fixes.  Learning is a process, and for learning to be successful, there needs to be communication and equilibrium between the student’s state of mind, the teachers, parents, and tutors.  Everyone needs to work together to achieve a common goal.  For the best results, allow at least a few months of tutoring at least once a week.

I will break tutoring into three areas:

  • Academic coaching – overall organization, study skills, and homework
  • Subject tutoring
  • Test preparation

Here is how each can be helpful to your child:
Academic Coaching:  This is especially helpful for ADHD children or those with learning differences or organizational challenges. However, any child can benefit from using a coach. Coaching works best when you start at the beginning of the school year to organize notebooks and become familiar with the curriculum and teachers’ expectations.  A tutor can help the student gain a perspective of what the year will entail and help keep up with expectations every step of the way. A tutor can also help keep up with daily and long term assignments. Some students have coaches for years at a time. Others can learn and incorporate study strategies that they can later apply themselves. Organization and study skills are best taught in conjunction with schoolwork and homework rather than in the summer.

Subject Tutoring:  This can start at any time of the year as needed, but preferably not at the end of the year.  Summer is a good time to strengthen skills.

Math: Math builds from year to year.  If you never quite mastered fractions or the multiplication tables, you will definitely have difficulty with algebra.  If math seems difficult or grades are lower than expected, there may be gaps.  A tutor can help fill in these gaps and re-teach areas of difficulty.  In math, there are many ways to do most problems, and learning more than one way is usually helpful.

Writing: Writing also builds from year to year.  If you are writing below grade level, there could be many reasons.  You may need to work on using varied sentence structure, using more descriptive adjectives and verbs, or adding more detail.  You may need to practice arguing a point of view, backing up arguments with examples, or developing a voice. Some students need help with grammar and sentence structure. Writing doesn’t come easily for everyone, and it is difficult to get enough writing instruction in school to become a good writer.  A tutor can use creative writing and areas of interest to make assignments more interesting.  Since this can be time consuming, summer is an excellent time to work on writing skills.

Reading:  There are two components of reading: decoding and comprehension.  Having difficulty with either of these impedes learning in all subjects.  If you suspect a reading difficulty, do not hesitate contacting the teacher. However, do not expect your preschooler to catch onto reading. Beginning reading is developmental and may take some time. If your child is not reading halfway through first grade, then you can take action.   A tutor can help with all aspects of reading.  If decoding is the main issue, testing and school based remediation may also be necessary.  For reading comprehension, a tutor can teach techniques such as visualizing and active reading strategies to students of all ages.

History/Social Studies/Government and Science Courses:  Tutoring for these subjects works best while the student is taking the course.  The tutor can work on efficient reading strategies, comprehension, memorization strategies, and study skills.

Test Preparation: For our company, the test prep most in demand is SAT and ACT prep.  Students’ scores do improve from practice and instruction.  It is in each student’s best interest to strive for the highest possible score to allow for more choices of colleges.  While practice test taking and strategy instruction can begin about three months before the test, you can begin preparing for the SAT and ACT one or more years ahead.  You can work on writing and math skills and read diverse material, both fiction and nonfiction, on a regular basis.  Build vocabulary by reading challenging material and special SAT novels, and look up words you don’t know.  The more prep time, the better, and a tutor can help at any time in the process.

How do you find the right tutor?  You can ask your friends for referrals, search the web, or get a list of tutors from the school.  Then ask the right questions.  What kind of education and teaching or tutoring experience does the tutor have?  If you use an agency, how do they screen the tutors?  Do they interview them on the phone or in person? Do they conduct reference checks or background checks?  Will the tutor come to your home or will you take your child to a center?  Will the tutoring be one-to-one or small group?  Can the agency provide a different tutor if your tutor becomes unavailable?  Is the scheduling flexible?  Can you have a trial session with the tutor to see if it is a good match?  Be sure to periodically check with your child to make sure the tutoring is productive.

Why get a tutor instead of helping your child yourself?
If you are successful helping your own child, go with it.  However, many students do not cooperate as well with their own parents as with an outsider, especially in middle school and high school.  Sometimes it is best to step back and spend time with your child doing more fun, relationship building activities.  Overwhelming research supports the benefits of one-on-one tutoring in improving students’ grades, study skills, and confidence levels (Bloom, 1984; Slavin et al., 1991; Slavin, Karweit, & Madden, 1989; Wasik & Slavin, 1990; McArthur, Stasz, & Zmuidzinas, 1990; Hock, Schumaker, & Deshler, 1995; Lepper et al., 1997; Merrill et al., 1995; Simmons, Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes & Hodge, 1995; Vadasy, Jenkins, Antil, Wayne, & O’Connor, 1997).  Long term or short, a private tutor can help your child improve skills and build confidence.

Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman is the president of Tutoring For Success, an in-home tutoring company that serves the Washington, DC metro area. For additional articles on education, see http://www.tutoringforsuccess.com.

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