Tutoring, A to Z

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), a federal law, requires that school districts spend about 5 percent of the federal aid they receive, or approximately $30 million in New York City, on providing free tutoring to lower economic students who need help. This past fall, the deadline for signing up for free tutoring was extended because parents complained that they were not informed about the available free tutoring, the eligibility criteria, or the tutor-selection process. Parents whose kids are eligible for free Supplemental Educational Services (SES) have approximately 40 nonprofit and private tutoring companies to choose from. Learning centers such as Kaplan and SCORE! are on the SES provider’s list. Jill Mehler has a Masters degree from Teachers College, Columbia University and has worked for 10 years as a reading specialist at an independent school in Manhattan, and as a private tutor. She explains that private tutors can be very expensive, between $65-$150 an hour. And the rates can be even higher for high school students. She wants parents to be aware that if their children are eligible for free tutoring because of the No Child Left Behind Act, they shouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of it. "Parents need to know that if their kids are eligible to get something free, and the tutors have the same credentials that you would pay for privately, absolutely, they should sign up." The Department of Education has a list of free SES providers at: www.nycenet.edu.

Getting extra help But what if your child is not eligible for free help and you just want him to do better in school and think that tutoring might be beneficial? How do you find a tutor who will be a good match with your child? And what does tutoring entail? To begin with, if you’re even thinking about looking for a tutor, then something may not be working for your child in the classroom. Sometimes kids just don’t get certain skills, such as multiplication. If it’s just catch up, short-term tutoring may be needed to master certain skills. "One goal of a tutor is to remediate the skill, but also foster success in the classroom," says Mehler. Mehler believes that there’s a big difference between a classroom teacher, a professional tutor and a parent when it comes to helping a child learn. A classroom teacher can help the child perform better in the classroom, if he isn’t that weak in skill or is only minimally frustrated in school. Learning centers, in general, are good places for catching and enrichment. But if there are more specific weaknesses, such as a diagnosed reading disability, "then you definitely want to go with a reading specialist. They’re trained in specific strategies to individualize the instruction, whereas the classroom teacher may be more general. If your child has had an evaluation and is assessed with a learning disability, you would need to get them one-on-one help and individualized attention, says Mehler. And parents, even if they are teachers themselves, need to be reminded that their relationship is parent/child. Children who are tutored by their parents can feel that the parent is judging them, according to Mehler. "Parents think that they can help their own children, but the kid can be embarrassed in front of their parents."

How to find a tutor So if you’re ready to start looking for a tutor, Mehler has some suggestions. First, start at your child’s school. The school may recommend an evaluation in order to pinpoint where the difficulties lie. Then ask for tutor recommendations and see what the school itself can provide. Mehler says to keep in mind that tutoring in school is usually done in small groups, and that progress is generally faster with one-on-one attention. But certainly don’t try to hide the fact that you’re looking. You want the school and the tutor to coordinate the lessons and be involved with each other. "The worst thing for a child is to have totally unrelated lessons from a tutor and a school. They don’t know which way to go." Mehler also suggests contacting the Parents League of New York and the Reading Reform Foundation. Some hospitals have learning centers as well, and can recommend tutors. You’ll need to interview between two to three tutors before you pick one. "Your child’s opinion really does count. They have to get along with them one-on-one. A tutor who has a rapport with the child is ahead of the game, especially since it’s a significant chunk of the child’s time." Each tutoring session is generally held twice a week, for 45 minutes to an hour at a time. Once you’ve found a tutor, make sure that he’s communicating with the school. Tutors who are getting paid by the parents should initiate the contact with the child’s teachers. "That’s a good tutor. You need to find out if there’s progress. The curriculum the tutor uses should be in sync with what the classroom is doing." But a tutor shouldn’t spend all the time on doing homework, unless they’re a homework tutor. However, once a child is in the third or fourth grades, homework should be touched on; it shouldn’t be ignored. And with the current trend of a lot of homework, it is important to help the child manage his time with assignments. Tutors also need to keep in touch with the parent and to give them realistic goals. "Tutoring is a process, not a quick fix, and sometimes this process could take a couple of years. So it’s best to start younger." Tutors should also be gaining the confidence of the child, letting the student know that there are other children who are also being tutored and having trouble in school. Mehler points out that because the need for tutoring might not be discussed between peers, kids may feel isolated in their need for additional help. A tutor also needs to remind the child of the purpose of improving certain skills. The tutor should explain why doing a task can improve a certain skill, or make homework easier. Parents can help by reminding their child that the tutor is there to make his life easier. And they shouldn’t forget to have their children’s eyes examined. A good eye doctor can determine if the child is having problems reading because of difficulties tracking lines, not because of learning difficulties. And parents who want their kids to continue to do well in school should keep their own eyes open to the warning signs. If a child doesn’t want to go school, or read at home, or show them any of his schoolwork, then he or she might be having trouble in school and may benefit from professional tutoring.

————————————————————— Making plans for summer: Fitting Summer Learning into the Family Schedule There's no question that kids lose some of what they've learned in school over the summer months. So, how do parents keep their children's minds sharp during summer vacation and prepare them for the start of the next grade in the fall? Thanks to the flexibility of live instruction over the Internet, families can now fit at-home tutoring into schedules packed with swimming, softball, summer camp and family trips. According to a study conducted by Harris Cooper, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, the average child engaged in structured summer learning (i.e., summer school) outperformed 55 percent to 60 percent of comparable children who did not dedicate time to learning over the summer — demonstrating the importance of brushing up on skills, particularly in reading and math, over the summer break. "Summertime is a great time for students to prepare for the next grade level," says Pat Hoge, executive director of education and curriculum development for eSylvan, which offers personalized, Web-based tutoring in reading and math by state-certified teachers. "Until now, the challenge has been finding a qualified instructor who can fit into the family's busy schedule, which often includes summer camp, the neighborhood playground and pool, and other outdoor activities. With eSylvan, parents can schedule in-home tutoring when it's convenient for the family, so children can learn without missing any summer fun." eSylvan's technology enables a student and teacher to have "real conversations in real time," as if they are on the telephone, using a hands-free headset connected to an ordinary PC. The student and teacher talk with one another over the Internet as they write questions and answers on the same workspace displayed on both the student's and teacher's computer screens using a digital pencil and digital writing pad (similar to a mousepad). For further information, visit www.esylvan.com.

How to Choose a Summer Tutor for Your Child

1. Personalization. Be sure your child's skill gaps are identified to ensure that his or her specific learning needs are addressed.

2. Flexibility. Because your schedule may not be the same from week to week, make sure your scheduling needs can be accommodated in order to sustain the learning momentum.

3. State-Certified Teachers. Teachers with classroom experience are more likely to be familiar with the differing requirements and curricula of various school systems.

4. Progress Updates. An ongoing dialogue about your child's academic progress is important, so be sure that you receive regular performance updates.

5. Guarantee. Your child's academic improvement should be guaranteed. For example, eSylvan guarantees that a child will improve at least one full grade-level equivalent after 36 hours of instruction, or it will provide 12 additional hours of instruction for free.