Choosing a Tutor for a Children with a Learning Disability (page 3)
Your child with learning disabilities may benefit greatly from the one-on-one attention provided by a qualified tutor. Tutors, working closely with parents and teachers, can help children in various ways: reinforcing specific subject matter, helping with homework, suggesting improvements in organization and other study skills, and serving to bolster a child’s self-confidence.
A recommendation that your child might profit from working with a tutor often comes from a teacher or a school’s learning specialist or guidance counselor. As a parent, however, you have the deepest insight into your child’s needs and may see the need for tutoring before the school does.
Does My Child Need a Tutor?
Children with learning disabilities (LD) or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) almost always need extra assistance in school. A tutor can be a valuable source of help. Ask yourself:
- Is there a particular subject or type of assignment that almost always gives my child trouble?
- Does my child have difficulty studying effectively for tests?
- Does my child have trouble with “executive skills” such as organizing, planning, or seeing a project through to completion?
- Is my child unhappy or anxious about schoolwork?
- Is completing homework a recurring battle in my family?
- Has my child’s teacher (or guidance counselor or learning specialist) suggested tutoring?
If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, investigate the possibility of getting your child a tutor.
What Kind of Learning Support Does My Child Need?
Tutors may or may not have special experience working with children with learning disabilities. For that, you will probably need to employ a learning specialist or educational therapist. These professionals address specific learning disabilities with specialized teaching techniques. Some — but not all — specialists may work within the context of a particular school subject.
Whether or not you turn to a specialist, however, a tutor can be helpful with specific subject matter, particular assignments, and underlying skills such as time management and organization.
What Kind of Tutoring Would Be Best?
There are various kinds of tutoring to choose from. You’ll want to think about cost, convenience, and the learning approaches most likely to be effective with your child. Consider your options:
Private tutoring. This is the most common type of tutoring and, perhaps, the most desirable — especially for a child with learning disabilities. A tutor, chosen by you with the assistance of teachers and other experts who know how your child learns best, works with your child one or more times a week. Most tutors are college students or teachers working part-time to help students in particular subjects or with study skills and executive functions. The tutor considers your child’s needs and the school’s and teacher’s expectations. The tutor may come to your home or school, or may prefer that you bring your child to another location.
Tutoring centers. These are companies that employ tutors with various kinds of experience. Some centers use standardized materials and methods. They may offer diagnostic testing to help them develop a learning strategy for your child. Your child will be placed with a tutor for sessions one or more times a week, usually after school or in the evening. Some tutoring centers offer group tutoring, which can be less expensive than individual tutoring. However, you’ll need to decide whether your child will work better in a group or one-on-one.
Online tutoring. If you are unable to find a tutor near home, or if your schedule makes attending regular sessions difficult, check out companies that offer one-on-one tutoring online. Online tutoring allows your child to work with a teacher in real time over the internet. Communication between student and online tutor is usually done using headsets. The child’s hands are free to type or to write on an electronic pad. Some online programs offer video conferencing, so child and tutor interact face to face. Most programs offered by online tutors are in math and reading. Within those programs, your child can develop more specific skills, such as geometry or writing. But for tutoring to help your child with ninth-grade social studies, you’ll probably want to stick with private or school-based tutoring.
Tutoring software. Lots of tutoring software, such as worksheets and educational games, is free. Some programs and online tutorials may charge a subscriber or licensing fee. They do not, of course, offer supervision. You’ll need to monitor your child’s computer use and ask your child for a certain amount of commitment and discipline. For children who love computers, this can be an attractive option, particularly in combination with private tutoring.
Begin with the School
If your child attends a Title I school that has failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for a third year, he or she may be eligible for free tutoring according to the provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Ask school or district administrators if this provision applies to your child. Even if your school isn’t required to provide extra help, if your child has performed poorly on your state’s required reading or math tests, ask about free or low-cost tutoring. Parent involvement is central to NCLB, so feel free to check this out!
Find out how your child’s school handles requests for tutors. Some schools and districts have lists of tutors, including areas of specialization, background, and so forth. However, be sure to inquire about whether the tutors on the list have been interviewed or screened. Some schools and districts compile lists based solely on a tutor’s application. You will want references and personal contact before you hire any potential tutor, but particularly with someone who hasn’t previously been screened. Your school may also recommend a particular tutoring agency. Many schools also offer after-school homework help from teachers and aides.
Some schools — particularly private schools and schools focused on educating children with LD — have their own tutoring program. Such schools, at a teacher’s request, may suggest that your child be tutored. After your consent, they will place your child with the tutor best qualified to help. Schools with their own programs usually provide tutoring during a child’s free periods or before or after school. They often have in place a required or suggested communication path between tutor and teacher and between tutor and parent.
You may feel you need more regular communication with your child’s tutor than the school provides. You may also want to meet your child’s tutor and perhaps observe a session. These are legitimate requests. Discuss them with relevant staff members: the coordinator of tutoring, your child’s teacher, perhaps the principal or other administrator. Schools with their own tutoring programs usually can accommodate special requests from parents.
Choosing a Tutor Yourself
The best way to find a good tutor yourself is to get recommendations from other parents. Ask them how they found the tutor, how well the tutor interacted with their child, how successful the tutor was in helping the child, and so forth. It’s also good to seek referrals from teachers and other school professionals who know your child.
Check around your area for libraries and community centers that offer tutoring. Use the Internet to find private tutoring agencies near you. Look for websites that offer tutor directories.
Finding a tutor for your child with learning disabilities may require some effort. Talk with a potential tutor about your child’s learning challenges. Offer your own observations about how your child learns best. See if the tutor has worked with children with similar challenges. Ask the tutor about his or her approaches when beginning to work with a child. How does the tutor get to know the child? How does the tutor get familiar with a child’s particular issues? What kind of contact does the tutor generally have with a child’s teachers? How does the tutor encourage children and help them feel good about themselves and their work? Does the tutor seem to have a sense of humor?
After you’ve found a promising tutor, you may find it useful to share all or part of your child’s psychoeducational test results. If your child hasn’t been tested, or if you’re uncomfortable sharing test results, you can still talk with the tutor about your child’s learning issues. As a parent, your knowledge of your child is deeper than anyone else’s. Make sure the tutor knows what’s important.
Include Your Child’s Teacher
Even if the idea to seek out tutoring support is yours, be sure to talk with the teacher about your child’s needs. Discuss the assignments and skills that should have priority during the sessions. Ask the teacher to collaborate with the tutor and to communicate regularly with you. See if there are any books or materials that the teacher can give you for the tutor to use.
Feel free to ask the teacher to supply the tutor with examples of your child’s work or tests. This is an excellent way for the tutor to get a handle on your child’s difficulties. It’s also extremely helpful for the tutor and teacher to communicate about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The tutor needs to understand the teacher’s expectations — as do you and your child. Keep the tutor posted on any feedback you get from teachers about your child’s work.
It’s extremely helpful if your child and the tutor, in conversations with you and your child’s teacher, set several achievable, short-term goals. For example: keeping a planner up to date, setting and meeting interim goals for a bigger project, annotating or taking notes about a book, or proofreading a paper before it is handed in.
Include Your Child
As with any other change you want to make in your child’s life, getting his or her buy-in is crucial. Your child may not be thrilled by the idea of working with a tutor, but the process will be much easier if you discuss it in advance. Explain your reasons (and a teacher’s reasons) for thinking your child would benefit from tutoring. Discuss the purpose of tutoring and the ways you would expect a tutor to help your child.
If you are hiring a tutor yourself, be sure to allow your child and the prospective tutor to meet and talk together during the interview. Involve your child in the selection process. See how your child and the tutor interact when they first meet. Does this seem like a person who will work well with your child?
It’s crucial for your child and the tutor to develop a productive, mutually respectful relationship. Such a relationship takes time, but the essential chemistry between child and tutor needs to be right.
Issues to Consider
When you are selecting a tutor yourself, you’ll want to consider various issues that are particularly important to you and your family. For example:
Logistics. Will the tutor come to your home or your school, or will you need to take your child to the tutor’s home, a library or other meeting place, or a tutoring center? It’s easiest when a tutor comes to your home or school. But if you can provide transportation, consider whether a change of scene may help your child focus.
How long will sessions be? How many days of the week? What is the tutor’s policy about cancelled sessions?
Communication. Will the tutor commit to being in regular contact with you and your child’s teacher, or will you and the teacher be expected to contact the tutor? Is the tutor available to talk with you on the phone or via email? If needed, could the tutor attend school meetings and IEP conferences? (For any services beyond the actual tutoring session, ask about extra fees.
Costs. You may need to comparison shop to find a suitable tutor or tutoring agency with an acceptable hourly rate. Ask about other costs, such as for materials. Find out if you must pay at the end of each session, or if the tutor or agency can bill you. See if the tutor or agency charges for sessions cancelled with short notice.
Flexibility. Is the tutor comfortable with the occasional changed day, time, or length of session, and with adding or subtracting sessions? There may be times — such as before exams or when large projects are assigned — when you’ll want your child to have more tutoring than usual. At other times, you may want to reduce the number of sessions.
Talk Regularly with Your Child
Keep the dialogue going after your child begins working with a tutor. Talk through any conflicts or difficulties; ask about what’s been fun or helpful about the sessions. Don’t overreact if your child complains about the extra time and work involved in tutoring. Monitor your child’s relationship with the tutor, but realize that building that relationship will take time. Your child’s willingness to continue with tutoring will probably increase as she or he sees improvements or feels less anxiety about school.
Encourage your child to speak up — to ask the tutor questions, request specific help, make suggestions about how tutoring sessions could be improved, and let you know how things are going.
Make clear that you expect your child to cooperate with the tutor, but keep tabs on your child’s progress. Make sure your child is comfortable with the tutor.
What to Expect from Tutoring
Tutoring should not be solely about getting better grades. A tutor should help your child improve skills and develop more effective ways to study and to get homework done. A tutor who does your child’s homework isn’t helping your child be a successful learner.
Resolve to be patient with both your child and the tutor. Your child’s progress depends on many things: the number of sessions, a tutor’s strategies, your child’s cooperation and mood, the assistance of teachers, and the help and support you provide as a parent. With luck, your child will develop a friendly, trusting relationship with a sensitive, flexible adult who can guide your child toward academic independence.
Download this handy worksheet and use it when interviewing a potential tutor.
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Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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