Parents' Guide to Tutoring
Tutoring in a Digital Age
Sixth-grader Ryan Cox puts on his headset with earphones and tiny microphone, and settles down at the computer looking like a pint-sized, tech-savvy rock star (or telemarketer!) Soon he's online at eSylvan.com, entering a digital classroom where his teacher awaits him. Ryan uses a digital pen and pad to write his assignments on the computer screen. His tutor writes back. For the next hour they talk live via headsets, using state-of-the-art audio technology.
It's a lesson that eSylvan, a new online tutoring company under the umbrella of Sylvan Learning Ventures, promises will raise Ryan's academic proficiency.
"I like it because it sort of seems like a game," Ryan says. For parents willing to pay and companies or educators willing to provide services, however, both online and in-person tutoring is much more than learning disguised as child's play. It is big business these days, and for children, the stakes have never been higher.
"Tutoring" to the Test
"Forty-nine of the 50 states have some sort of standardized tests in place," observes Richard Bavaria, Ph.D., Sylvan's vice president of education. "We're seeing a huge trend nationally, where more and more school systems are putting in after-and before-school programs, summer programs, even holiday camps with some sort of tutoring component."
The testing trend, coupled with parents' increasing concern about preparing children to be competitive in a rapidly changing new economy, has fueled a huge demand for tutors and tutoring programs. At one end of the economic spectrum, low-income parents are taking out loans or forgoing basic necessities to hire tutors for their children languishing in overcrowded public school classrooms. More affluent parents fork out as much as $150 per hour for tutors to help their children gain a competitive edge.
Tutoring that Works
Research confirms that skilled, trained tutors can indeed help students improve test scores and grades. Yet tutoring programs are expensive, and parents often feel ill-equipped to make good choices about instructors and methods.
"It should not be some isolated drill," cautions Sylvia Seidel of the National Education Association, director of the Professional Development Schools Research Project. "It should be integrated into the curriculum so there's an alignment between what the school is offering and what the tutor is offering."
Kids also need to feel that tutoring is an "opportunity to exercise more success," Seidel believes, not punishment for poor performance. "There need to be rewards for the child, and ultimately the tutor has to work his or her way out of a job."
Tutoring Options: Pluses and Minuses
1) Online Tutoring
- Parents love the convenience.
- Kids find learning online fun and engaging.
- The Internet provides near-instant access to information.
- Not a lot of research yet on the effectiveness of online learning.
- Personal relationships between student and tutor are critical for success; many argue they are less likely to develop online.
- Usually a flexible schedule can be arranged.
- Home tutors are often highly skilled, experience teachers who tutor for extra income.
- Generally one-on-one instruction is best for students with serious difficulty.
- Little or no social interaction with other students.
- Can be a lack of consistency in curriculum materials, and methods.
- Costly hourly rates.
- Usually students get lots of individual attention in small groups.
- Curriculum materials and instructional methods are standardized, so it's easier for parents to "know what they're buying."
- Lots of peer interaction.
- You have to travel to a center, then keep and maintain regular appointments.
- Can be costly; national average rate for center-based tutoring is $36 per hour.
- A less individualized approach than a private one-on-one tutor provides.
- Often the perfect remedy for students who are not falling behind in their work, but intent on "keeping up."
- Good for middle-and high-school students who enjoy the social interaction with other students.
- Usually free!
- Not the ideal remedy for those with serious academic problems.
- The quality of student-to-student tutoring varies considerably, depending on the skill and/or training of the tutor.
- Usually free or low-cost.
- Convenient schedule before, during, or after school.
- Can be strong connection between tutor and classroom teacher.
- Tutoring programs often rely on volunteers; skills and training vary widely.
These suggestions are from Richard Bavaria, Ph.D., vice president for education at Sylvan Learning Centers, former assistant superintendent of curriculum for the Baltimore County School District.
- Ask about a tutor's credentials: Academic background? Teaching experience? Ask for documented evidence.
- Ask for references (names and phone numbers of parents whose children have gone to the tutor).
- Ask about curriculum materials. What kind of texts or workbooks will be used? Look them over. Are they up-to-date?
- Make sure the tutor is familiar with your child's school system. He or she needs to know what's expected for math proficiency at the fourth-grade level in the Oshkosh District.
- Ask the tutor to call your child's teacher periodically, and perhaps meet in person to report progress, discuss long-range assignments, and continue assessing how to best meet your child's needs in the classroom.
More on: Tutoring