Learning Curve – When a Tutor Can Help

By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman, MA

At what point should you consider educational intervention for your child? Is she having insurmountable difficulties in school that you are unable to help? Is self confidence a problem? Are organizational and study skills difficult for her? Is motivation the issue? Does your child need to be challenged more? Hands-on assistance by a tutor may help. Your child’s “tutor” may be a parent, baby-sitter, older sibling or relative – or professional tutor.
Parents call in a tutor for a variety of reasons, but they are not always clear about what exactly they would like to accomplish as a result of this intervention. One way to gain clarity is to evaluate the student. Evaluations may include standardized tests and/or an information evaluation such as having the student read and answer questions, do a writing sample or complete some math problems. Parents should be sure to share all historical testing information with the tutor.

Setting Goals

After the evaluation is completed, it is important for you and your child to set goals, which you should share with the tutor and, possibly, with your child’s teachers. Ideally, these goals should be in writing and should be monitored on a regular basis to see if they are being met.
Here are several scenerios:

Mary is having trouble focusing. She does not get her assignments completed. She needs help with organization.

Procedure: The tutor helps Mary focus and set priorities. The tutor can teach her how to break her assisnments into smaller parts and how to get started.

Goal: If Mary can learn organizational skills for herself, she can eventually learn to successfully complete her assignments independently.

John’s grades went down this quarter. He is not understanding his math and needs help with homework.

Procedure: The tutor can try to find out why John’s grades fell by talking to his teacher and looking at old tests and quizzes. The tutor can teach John how to study for tests more effectively and remediate in areas that John shows a weakness. The parents and tutor need to decide how much time should be devoted to completing homework and how much time should be devoted to study skills and remediation.

Goal: Grades will improve and John will feel like he understands math better. If not,
parents and tutor will meet to reevaluate methods.

Emily is not being challenged enough in school. She needs enrichment in all areas.

Procedure: This scenario requires a greater time commitment from the tutor. She must design and evaluate lessons to challenge the student.

Goal: Emily will feel that she is learning new material and can tell what she has learned. She can alleviate boredom with school work by being encouraged to learn more, ask questions, and dig deeper at home.

When setting goals, make sure that they are realistic – for instance, do not expect your child’s grade to jump from a D to an A in one quarter – but also make sure the goals are challenging and worth the student’s effort. Be flexible. Feel free to suggest changes in goals as the tutoring progresses. Setbacks need to be addressed as soon as they occur. Celebrate significant advances. You may want to work with the tutor to set smaller, daily, easily attainable goals for each meeting to give your child a sense of achievement and to ensure that the tutor is able to make progress toward the big picture. Small, incremental changes and improvements aim toward success. Ideally, the tutor should complete periodic written evaluations documenting the student’s progress.

Communication

In addition to setting and checking goals, communication between all parties is essential. Parents should be aware of what their children are doing in school and should be in contact with the the teachers and tutor periodically. In some cases, tutoring takes place only once a week, which may not be often enough. Parents may be asked to help out between tutoring sessions, and students have to take responsibility for implementing strategies taught and for working harder. Parents should never expect a tutor to solve all their child’s problems. The tutor will never achieve anything without the cooperation of the student and family.

When monitoring goals, do not let the negative issues outweigh the positive advances, however small. Children’s confidence (and adults’ as well) thrives on success and positive reinforcement. If the goals are periodically evaluated, say every few weeks, and no positive change is noted, any of the parties involved (student, parent, tutor or teacher) may suggest changing the plan. It is very important for parents to pay close attention to their children’s academic progress continually. If the tutoring is not working, discuss changes with the tutor. If the tutoring still isn’t working, consider switching tutors or looking at other reasons for failure.

Other Considerations

For example, in some situations, if a student’s grades in all subjects are dropping,
a variety of factors may be responsible, and a tutor may not be the answer. Some of
these factors include emotional/chemical issues, family issues such as relationship problems with parents or recent stressful events (divorce, switching neighborhoods and/or schools, death of a loved one), and drug use. Peer pressure sometimes supercedes family and schoolwork in negative way, particularly in the middle-school
years. Some students are too angry and/or emotionally distressed to effectively handle schoolwork even with the help of a tutor. Therapy may need to come first. Once the child can more or less resolve disturbing emotional issues and feel better about herself, she may become motivated to improve her life.

To succeed in school, a student needs to be motivated to learn and to excel. School success needs to be her goal and expectation, only only her parents’ goal. If a tutor is hired, the student needs to cooperate by doing her part – being ready for the tutor’s arrival with the appropriate materials and questions and being prepared to do extra work assigned by the tutor if appropriate. Thus, for optimal results, you should discuss the goals and responsibility of receiving tutoring with your child before a tutor arrives at your door.

While a tutor may be helpful, there is no substitute for parents’ involvement in their child’s education. If you are too busy to be personally involved, it will be obvious to your child. While an outside tutor may relieve you of breathing down your child’s neck to complete each assignment and may provide the expertise to help your child develop specific skills, you can do your share by making it clear to your child that you value education and learning. Show interest in what your child is learning in school; take educational family field trips to museums and historical sites; show your child that you value reading and writing by modeling; be available for questions about homework; watch movies and documentaries on educational topics (PBS, History Channel, Discovery Channel) and discuss current events as a family. Use your imagination. If you can bring the love of learning into your home, this will spill over into school. Your ultimate goal may be similar to that of other families – to promote more dedication to school along with the love of learning.

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