As the school year rolls along and report cards start coming home, its jarring when you see your child's grade in a particular subject, or multiple ones, go down. Sometimes children have difficulties in certain subjects (math is a common one), and sometimes their slipping grades can stem from other issues like poor organizational skills.

When red flags make you take notice, your first line of communication, of course, should be your child's teacher in order to get a better idea of what's going on. His teacher should be able to shed light on the situation, and part of the solution for your child's improvement and success may involve a tutor.

SIGNS A CHILD NEEDS A TUTOR

A child's slipping grades is the obvious reason parents consider tutors for their children, but there are other signals as well. These are common signs that your child can benefit from a tutor:

1) Doesn’t want to go to school
2) Difficulty doing homework
3) Gaps in learning
4) Poor test grades
5) Hiding test scores from parents
6) Teacher reports missing assignments
7) Unable to keep up
8) Multiple wrong answers
9) Unfinished assignments
10) Frustration and possibly tears
11) Decreased self-confidence
12) Parents are frustrated and don’t know how to help

"Elementary students who consistently lag behind their peers on standardized testing in reading and/or math may need extra support from a tutor, says Maurie Ponder, tutoring coordinator with Learning Lab in Nashville. "Sometimes these students are hard workers and maintain good grades, but there are gaps in their skills. Students who have difficulty learning to read can often close the gap with early reading intervention," she adds.

Another thing to consider: Sometimes students, especially in middle and high school, do well on homework assignments but don't fair well on tests. Ponder says this may be a sign that the student does not retain concepts well or is unsure of how to effectively prepare for tests. In this case, tutoring can help.

Joshua Powers, center director at The Tutoring Center in Franklin, says another sign a tutor may be in order is when a child shows behavorial problems in school or if he loses interest in learning.

"A lot of times students will excel in one area and be average in others. There are many reasons why this may happen, but sometimes they are just not interested in the material," says Powers. "Having a tutor, even if they are not having trouble, might help them to see the subject differently and could help them excel there as well," he adds.

Heather Henke, owner of Mathnasium of Green Hills and Mathnasium of Hendersonville, says its extremely important for parents to stay tuned in from the outset long before grades slip and their kids are bringing home report cards with bad grades.

"Often, parents wait until they see a bad report card grade to take action. However, by then the student has likely already missed months of skill building," Henke says. "Checking in on a daily basis about homework, quizzes and tests will help parents determine if there's a problem earlier on. Also, if a parent helps his child and one or both of them get frustrated, that is a big sign that outside help may be needed," she adds.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A TUTOR

When seeking a tutor and tutoring center, your search for the right match depends on the personalty of your child and the goals for the tutoring scenario.

"With one-on-one tutoring, a good relationship between tutor and student is crucial," says Ashley Dugger-Lauer, tutoring coordinator with Learning Lab in Brentwood. "Some students need to be pushed and will benefit from a no-nonsense tutor while other students may have had academic setbacks that have hurt their confidence and may need a very gentle, nurturing tutor," she adds.

Some tutoring centers offer a drop-in setting while others, like Learning Lab, are almost exclusively one on one. Again, the choice you make depends on the setting in which your child will thrive best. While you're doing your research and visiting centers and tutors of interest, be sure to ask these questions:

  • What ages do you tutor?
  • Is it for remedial work only? Or do you do enrichment and maintenance, too?
  • What subjects do you offer?
  • Do you have summer programs?
  • Can my child go during school hours?
  • Do you offer diagnostic testing? Is it required?
  • Is it small group sessions or one on one?
  • Where does tutoring take place?
  • What qualifications do you/your teachers have?
  • If there’s a personal conflict with the tutor, can I get another one?
  • How often is the child required to go?
  • Can you work sessions around my family’s schedule?
  • How often will I receive progress reports? Will they be written or verbal?
  • What is the duration of the contract?
  • How much do you charge?
  • Are there any hidden fees?

"There are many factors when deciding on the right tutor. I would say first and foremost is the environment," says Powers. "Where will the tutoring sessions take place. Second, who are my child's tutors? Does my child like them? Can they make the material relatable?" he adds.

Powers says other things to take into consideration in your search is whether you're looking to build grades or needing to fix long-term academic skills. Inquire about the track record of the center's tutoring methods, and make sure you know up front whether you'll be locked in to any contracts.

WHAT TO EXPECT WITH A TUTORING SCHEDULE

Once you realize your child needs a tutor, the next big question to answer is how to fit this new necessity into your family's schedule. It really depends a child's specific need, but tutoring typically takes place once or twice a week.

"The most common frequency is once a week, but many students who are really struggling with a subject or need reading or math intervention may need to be tutored twice a week or more," says Ponder. "For upper elementary, middle and high school students, sessions usually last one hour. An hour may be a stretch for our youngest students (second grade and below), and often 45- or 30-minute sessions will make the most sense. We defer to parents on this point as they will now their kiddo's attention span best," she adds.

Students struggling with math who receive help at Mathnasium can expect two or three sessions per week that is flexible with the family's schedule.

"Our students attend two to three days per week at whatever time is convenient for them with no scheduling required," says Henke. "They work with our math experts on curriculum designed to address their specific math needs in addition to receiving help to understand homework and study for tests. Our students stay with us for an average of six months at a time, during which time we've seen several go from remedial to advanced math students," she adds.

When students are in need of outside help, they typically will need continual support throughout the school year. Exceptions to this include test preparation which is a limited course leading up to a particular test. Also, study skills tutoring may be phased out as the student attains new study and organizational skills. Dugger-Lauer reminds parents that students who don't struggle in a class may benefit from sporadic sessions to prepare for exams or to get help with a specific project or paper.

HOW TUTORING STRATEGIES DIFFER FROM THE CLASSROOM

Like most parents gravitating into the tutoring arena for the first time, you probably have this common question: What will my child get from a tutor that he's not getting from his classroom teacher?

The answer is customized learning plans and the one-on-one aspect tutoring provides.

"Through format and informal assessment, tutors get to know a student's learning style and are able to determine which strategies will work best for that child," says Dugger-Lauer. "Good tutors have a variety of strategies in their repertoire and have more flexibility than a classroom teacher to try different things and see what works best for a student. Tutors can give students immediate, responsive feedback and can change course instantly if needed in a way that classroom teachers who have a set lesson plan for the day might not be able to," she adds.

One of the most common subjects students need tutoring in is math, and given that math classes at school usually take a one-size-fits-all approach, tutoring can help with its individualized strategy.

"Our average student-to-teacher ratio is 4:1, while a classroom ratio is often 30:1 or higher," says Henke. "Our ratios allow each student to receive individual attention throughout their session. Since our instructors work as a team to teach all of our students, we can provide a variety of perspectives on a concept to help the child reach true mastery of the material.

One of the benefits of tutoring is helping the child build confidence that paves the way for further exploration and learning. This is why Henke says, "There's no such thing as a 'math person!'" when she hears a frustrated student come in and say, "I'm just not a math person!"

"Mathematical thinking is a skill that's developed through practice, mistakes and perseverance. The key is practicing at a level where you can reasonably achieve success," Henke says. "Our approach at Mathnasium begins by finding that level and working with the student from there. Once a student experiences the practice, understanding and mastery of math, they start to gain confidence in themselves and their abilities.

PARENT SUPPORT AT HOME

Don't leave everything up to your child's tutor. You need to be a part of your child's educational team by lending support at home. Ponder says for elementary students, the best thing you can do to support your child's learning is reading regularly with him, and for all students, she says emotional support is the most important.

"Some parents find that having to be the homework disciplinarian can put strain on the parent-child relationship, so often the best support parents can provide is emotional support: being there for your child through the ups and down of school; encouraging their interests both in and out of school; and helping them maintain their confidence in the face of academic struggles," Ponder says.

Make educational support fun at home; it doesn't have to be boring. You can help your child learn in exciting ways like incorporating games. This is especially helpful with kids who need extra help in the math arena.

"A great support is playing math/strategy games as a family," says Henke. "Rolling dice and playing cards are great opportunities to practice adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Other games we recommend include Blokus, 4 Way Countdown, 99 or Bust, Mancala, etc. The more fun your whole family can have with math, the better your student will feel about math in general," she adds.

GET ORGANIZED FOR BACK-TO-SCHOOL SUCCESS

Sometimes a student's biggest obstacle in the classroom boils down to lack of organization. This often happens with middle schoolers when teachers begin pulling away support with the expectation of students becoming more independent.

"Some students are very bright and capable, but their disorganization and lack of executive functioning skills hold them back in school," says Dugger-Lauer. "Often, these students benefit from study skills tutoring, which combines organizational help, accountability and study strategies," she adds.

At home, you can help your child by giving him these eight organizational tips for students:

CHECKLISTS
Write down what’s needed for each day and check it off.

CLUTTER
Once a week, clean out the locker, desk, backpack, etc.

ROUTINE
Use a set time for school work, as much as possible with your other activities.

CALENDAR
Write down all quizzes and tests & check your calendar daily.

SUPPLIES
Have a spot for pencils, a sharpener, a hole punch, markers, pens, a ruler, etc.

SPOT
Table or desk? Pick the spot and stick to it.

PLAN
Develop the habit of knowing what you need for the next day the night before.

SUPPORT
Accept gentle reminders to write things down, review checklists, etc.

 

For a list of tutoring centers in Middle Tennessee, visit our DIRECTORIES.