Academic tutoring and homework help for teens has gotten a bad rap recently with talk about hyper-competitive parents aiming to turn B pluses into A’s to give their kids an edge in applying to college.
But for some students, tutoring can fill holes by teaching them how to structure and organize ideas and pace themselves for exams. The right tutor also can demonstrate a solid work ethic and help bust procrastination.
Parents are Spending More on Tutors
Spending on tutors is growing at more than 5 percent a year, according to the Education Industry Association. And the National Tutoring Association reports that the number of tutors it certifies has grown 18 percent in each of the last five years.
But if you’re going to spend the money, it’s important to target exactly what kind of tutoring is best for your child. The best type of tutoring allows students to take command of the material and the learning process, says Janell Schweickert, who conducts neuropsychological, psycho-educational and psychological assessments for The Wake Kendall Group in DC.
The Best Tutoring Teaches Skills
She recommends students work with tutors “who will teach them how to do things,” which sounds simplistic, but it’s not. In math, some students can learn how to better approach problem solving. In reading, they can learn how to take better notes as they read. And in writing, Schweickert says, some students can benefit by learning “how to structure ideas and organize them. Often, she says, students know the material well, “but they may not know how to format it in terms of an essay or a paper to communicate those ideas well.”
Writing Tutors Can Make Life Easier in College
While high school teachers certainly can buff up writing skills, the best way to really learn to write is to have lots of individual attention. Professional writers, such as journalists, learn the craft over years of having their copy edited, correcting their errors and polishing their copy. A top writing tutor can teach your teen to write cleanly, making life a lot easier in college.
Some students may need “content-based” tutoring because the classroom moves at too fast a pace in a certain subject. Those students “are helped by having someone review the actual content, the subject matter that has been presented in that class.” For others who are struggling, having a parent act as a tutor is fine if it’s “on an occasional basis and when there are no large family tensions at home,” Schweickert says. But for other families, where expectations around academics cause tension, having a parent as a tutor is a terrible idea. “In that case, I think it’s often helpful to have an outside tutor,” Schweichert says. Certain students have difficulty getting down to work, so that “something as simple as having a college student come in and be with the student during homework time can be very effective,” she says.
Psycho-educational Testing Can Identify Weaknesses
A report card is a good indicator to point out if there is a particular subject matter that is tripping up a child. But in other circumstances, “it’s a little more vague and it’s hard to know exactly where the struggle is.” In that case, Schweichert says, psycho-educational or neuropsychological testing can identify a child’s strengths and weaknesses. “With that type of information, you can target what type of tutoring might be helpful for your student,” she says.
Some kids are simply tutored too much, which can cause problems by robbing them of leisure time they need to be healthy and happy. “When it’s a case of students not having the time for leisure activities, or not having the time for extra curricular activities, sports activities, or even family vacations, then I begin to worry that a student is overwhelmed and overscheduled,” she says. “All of these activities are important to be able to develop strong, independent and resourceful adults.”
Don’t Hire Tutors So Students Don’t Have to Push Themselves
Tutoring also can create problems if students become dependent on it and stop paying attention in the classroom, thinking, “Oh, I’ll just go over that with my tutor.” Make sure you don’t hire a tutor so students don’t have to push themselves. That can backfire big time.