Engaging Minds is an after-school Boston learning center that offers a unique approach to traditional tutoring: At Engaging Minds, we focus on teaching the increasingly important executive function skills (organization, prioritization, initiation of tasks, time management, goal-setting, planning) and guide students to become independent and self-confident learners.
Parents often have questions about executive function and how private tutoring can help. Following are the questions we are asked most frequently with answers that will help clarify if Engaging Minds executive function tutoring is the correct next step for your child and family.
It may seem counterintuitive to be reading a post examining the value of tutoring on a website for a tutoring center. However, if we are to truly serve our students in the best way possible, it is absolutely necessary that we recognize the fact that not only is private tutoring not the right answer for every student but also that Engaging Minds may not be the correct solution for every student who does, in fact, need tutoring. By looking more closely at which areas your child may need additional help and why he might or might not be a good fit for Engaging Minds, we are actually better serving our mission to “provide students with learning skills and strategies to become motivated, independent, and confident learners.”
In a February 2013 article in Parents Magazine, author Robin Jones identifies three types of students who may need additional help outside of the classroom:
The Suddenly Struggling Student – Students who previously had been able to keep up with their peers academically are suddenly daunted by increased expectations and burgeoning schoolwork. This may happen in a new grade or school level (the move from elementary to middle school is a time where this is particularly prevalent) or just as the year goes on and students’ work starts to pile up. The important thing to do is to help your child address these issues as soon as they are identified so that the problems don’t seem insurmountable and your child can regain her confidence and sense of accomplishment in the classroom.
The Honor-Roll Student – According to Jones and Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University, these high achieving students may not actually need a private tutor. Hirsh-Pasek states, “Your plan could backfire. Your child may feel pressured by your expectations or the extra work and start to feel anxious.” While a short-term tutoring arrangement (private or group-based) may work for preparing for a high-stakes standardized test such as the ISEE or SAT, in the long run academically strong students may benefit more from less structured enrichment experiences or classes rather than traditional one-on-one tutoring.
The Reluctant Reader – When your child is struggling in a specific area of school such as reading (or math, for that matter), a private tutor who specializes in and has training in that specific subject may be just the ticket to addressing his problems. But it is important to first examine if similar problems are cropping up in other subject areas and also to make sure that there isn’t an underlying learning issue that has yet to be identified and addressed. Speak to your child’s teacher to get a fuller picture of your child’s learning profile and ask for his/her input as to whether or not your child needs a subject-specific tutor or help in a broader fashion.
At Engaging Minds, we have a very specific focus on helping our students improve their Executive Function skills. While these skills are utilized in all areas of academic learning and in many areas of everyday life, not every child is going to benefit from our methodology and approach. We are not a test prep center nor do we focus on subject-based tutoring like math tutors or reading tutors do. Rather, our tutors help students improve their organization and hone their problem-solving skills in a way that extends beyond a single test or area of classroom learning. And while we do utilize students’ own homework as much as is feasible so as to provide relevant and real-world applications for the methods in which we are coaching our students, we are also not a homework help center.
Before you sign your child up for private tutoring, be it test prep, or with a math tutor or reading tutor, or even working with an Engaging Minds tutor, speak to your child’s teachers. Find out what it is he most needs help with and what sort of approach and focus they feel will be in his best interest and have the greatest likelihood of success. For example, does your child need help with the computation of math? If so, a math tutor is likely the best way to go. If, on the other hand, your child needs help figuring out how to approach the math problems, or determining what the question is asking him to do, or preparing for an exam, then your child likely needs someone to help with executive function skills. After you and your child have found a tutor, make sure your child’s teachers are aware that he is getting some tutoring support and urge them to be in contact the tutor (and vice versa) to guarantee that all participants in your child’s education are on the same page and working towards the same goal of helping your child become a more confident and accomplished learner. Finally, as noted earlier, consider starting tutoring earlier in the summer rather than waiting until right before school starts so as to keep skills sharp and help your child feel prepared and confident once September rolls around.
If you are asking yourself this question, chances are the answer is “Right now!” At the very least, it is well worth exploring your private tutoring options if you are concerned that your child may need additional assistance outside of the classroom. An apt analogy for this situation is a boat that is taking on water in a lake. If nothing is done, there is absolutely no question that at some point the boat will sink. How quickly the boat will sink depends on how big the hole in the boat is and if any measures are being taken to counteract the flooding (i.e. bailing out the water, attempting to plug the hole). Likewise, if your child is having difficulty in school, or you had seen her having trouble studying in May or June (or even as early as September or October), and you did/do nothing to seek help for her, her struggles will continue. The real question to ask yourself is, “Why wait?”
First and foremost, you are an expert on your child and with the help of your child’s teacher(s) you have a great deal of information that can help you find your child a great fit with the right tutor. Of course, you need to understand what your child’s exact needs are – does he need a subject-specific tutor (a reading tutor, math tutor, test prep tutor) or does he need help improving his executive function skills? If your child’s teacher says he is having trouble with decoding, a program such as Orton-Gillingham or a tutor with training specifically in reading would be an appropriate one to engage. Likewise, if your child is struggling with algebra or working with fractions, a math tutor would be a good fit. But if your child needs help with his organization, breaking down of directions and understanding what is being asked of him, or needs help improving his study skills, then a tutor trained in boosting executive function skills would be a better match than a subject tutor. As far as finding a good personality fit, give it a few sessions before you make a decision in that regard. If your child is reluctant to go to tutoring in the first place, it may take him a little while to warm up to even the most engaging tutor. The relationship between a tutor and his student, like all important relationships, takes time to build trust and companionability.
The length of time any child will require tutoring varies from child to child and with the specific purpose of the tutoring. If a child is receiving tutoring to build skills in a specific subject (i.e. computational skills via math tutoring or decoding skills via reading tutoring), it is likely that instruction will take place for a shorter period of time that is based on a specific, quantifiable set of goals. On the other hand, if I child is receiving tutoring to improve his executive function skills, tutoring is likely to take a longer period of time and be less easily defined in terms of quantifiable goals. Private tutoring to improve executive function skills focuses on practice, repetition and the forming of strong study and organizational habits. The amount of time it can take for any individual child to both unlearn less constructive habits and build new skills varies from child to child based on factors such as age and the degree of assistance the child needs in building executive function skills. It is important to remember that the building of executive function skills is a process rather than a product, and tutoring with this goal at its center takes more time than math or reading tutoring typically would.
Let’s be blunt ― there is often a misimpression that a child who has had some kind of educational testing done will be labeled challenged or learning disabled by the school/teachers/her peers before the results are even in. This is simply not true. If the school has recommended educational testing for your child, they already recognize that your child is having difficulty in school ― but they need professional assistance in finding out exactly what the problem is and how best to address it. Likewise, if you are seeing something at home that you feel is adversely affecting your child’s educational experience but that you feel your child’s teachers may have missed, you may need to bring it to the teachers’ attention to get your child the appropriate intervention. That said, even with strong educational backgrounds and years of teaching under their belts, classroom teachers are (for the most part) not as well versed in learning issues as are the educational professionals who perform educational testing and provide recommendations based on the results thereof. The information that educational testing can provide in regards to learning style, issues with executive function or knowledge acquisition, and even deficits in vision or hearing is the foundation on which a successful tutoring experience and an improved classroom experience can be built. Research shows unequivocally that identifying and then appropriately addressing learning issues earlier rather than later is the best approach ― both for eradicating the problems and for boosting self-confidence and self-esteem. The bottom line is, if having your child tested would help him/her do better in school in the long run, why wouldn’t you want to have it done?
In an ideal world, a classroom teacher would have unlimited time to spend with each and every student in his class, particularly when said students are struggling or need enrichment. As it is, it is impressive that teachers can provide so much individualized instruction and attention to the twenty-plus students in their classes each and every day! Differentiated instruction, according to educational expert Carol Ann Tomlinson, “ensur[es] that what a student learns, how he or she learns it, and how the student demonstrates what he or she has learned is a match for that student’s readiness level, interests, and preferred mode of learning.” In the classroom, this means that while all students may be studying the same basic material ― say, fractions ― they will not all be approaching it in the same way. Some students may be doing pencil-and-paper work; some may be working with manipulatives, while others may be playing a computerized game involving parts of a whole. In private, one-on-one tutoring, instruction and assessment is organically differentiated! Since the whole reason for a child having a tutor is that she needs individualized assistance, the focus naturally will be on what she needs to learn, how best she can learn that and at what pace she can work to maximize her learning. And when it comes time to assess the child’s progress, since the tutor has had a ringside seat to the student’s learning process he is uniquely able to quantify and/or qualify the growth and progress the student has made.
While there is no question that every child’s issues in school are as varied as the children themselves, it may be reassuring to remember that you are not the first nor only parent to confront these problems. There are a plethora of professional and personal resources to which you can turn for support, information and advice.