Sometimes it Takes More Than a Tutor

At the Stowell Learning Center, our mission is that each student become a

Comfortable, and Independent Learner.

In this article: How are you different from traditional tutoring?

That’s a question we get all the time. The truth is, we are very different from tutoring or test prep facilities.

Most schools and tutoring focus on what a student learns. We focus on how a student learns. We work on the skills needed to be an efficient and independent learner.

Often parents tell us, “We even went to the big name franchise learning center and it didn’t help.” That’s because, for many students, the underlying learning skills are not in place. This article explains the details…

5 big differences between tutoring and remediation

“Jason HATES school! He feels like the dumbest kid in the class. He gets very frustrated and angry doing homework. As a family, we can’t stand this anymore. We need to get Jason a tutor!”

Are you sure? Will getting a tutor really be enough to solve this problem?

Sometimes, tutoring is exactly what is needed. But more often, when a child has a learning problem, tutoring is like putting on a band aid. It covers up some of the symptoms, but doesn’t really solve the problem.

Here are 5 big differences between tutoring and remediation, or educational therapy, and how you know which is right for your situation.

  1. Tutoring typically focuses on academic skills or school subjects and remediation addresses the underlying processing or thinking skills that are needed in order for a someone to learn easily in school.

    Here’s a way you can think about this. Think of learning like a tree. When you look at a tree, the most obvious, noticeable part is the top…the branches and leaves. But without a good root system and trunk, those branches and leaves can’t grow and thrive. Learning is like that. The top of the tree is the academic skills – reading, writing, math, history, science…Growth and learning in these areas is dependent upon a strong root system and trunk. The roots are what we call the underlying processing skills. These are things like memory, attention, processing speed, auditory and visual processing (or how we think about and understand things that we hear or see). If there are problems at the root, or processing skills level, there will be problems at the top.

    The trunk is like what we call “executive function.” This is the part of the brain that takes all the information that comes in through the roots and organizes it for learning. Again, if the student has problems with organization, planning, and reasoning (or executive function skills) it will affect school performance.

    Traditional tutoring assumes that these underlying processing and executive function skills are in place and it works at the top of the tree, with the academics. In most cases learning problems are the result of

    weak or incompletely developed skills at the root level.

    Working on the academics without a solid foundation of processing skills is just “spinning your wheels.” It may cause students to wonder what is wrong with them that they always have to have tutoring and can never seem to learn to do the job on their own.

    To permanently solve a learning problem, the underlying skills must be developed.

    The great thing is that we know now, through current brain research, that the brain can be retrained – these skills can be developed – so students don’t have to go through life crippled by their learning challenges.

  2. Tutoring typically looks a lot like school.If a child is having trouble learning phonics for reading, tutors will provide more phonics practice. But more of the same is often more frustrating than helpful.

    Current research tells us that the key factor in success or failure in reading is what’s called phonemic awareness, or the brain’s ability to think about the sounds inside of words. Without this underlying thinking process, you can have the best phonics program and the best phonics teacher, but you’re still going to struggle to learn and use phonics for reading and spelling.

    In remediation, or educational therapy, we know that we have to teach the brain HOW to think about the sounds – to actually re-train the brain to process the sounds in a more efficient way. Then, the brain can learn to read.

  3. Tutoring is most effective as a solution to a short term problem. A long term learning problem must be dealt with by getting at the underlying issues.When our son was in 10th grade, he transferred from a very mediocre high school to a very high achieving high school. He got into an Advanced Placement Algebra 2 class that was way over his head. We got him a tutor, and after 6 or 8 weeks, he began to get things sorted out.

    This was a short term problem with a short term solution.

    That is very different from Katy, a student with a history of difficulty with math. Katy had learned to do math by rote memory and lots of painful effort. But she didn’t really understand how numbers work. She could easily mix up math processes or steps and not realize it. Or she might recognize her error but not know how to fix it. When Katy got into algebra, she was lost. And no amount of tutoring was going to clear up the issue. Because Katy did not have the underlying concepts or thinking skills that were absolutely critical to her success.

  4. Tutoring may feel like an easier, more comfortable solution.Tutoring provides a way to give students support and help them get theirhomework done. But it can also become a crutch because it doesn’t really solve the problem so that the student can do his homework on his own.

    Many parents have said to me, “My child has had tutoring on and off over the years. He seems to do OK when we’ve got a tutor, but as soon as we quit, things go downhill again.” And that brings us to the fifth big difference between tutoring and remediation – the outcome.

  5. If tutoring is used to treat a learning problem, it is likely to end up being a “never-ending” process.

The goal of remediation, and our goal at the
Stowell Learning Center, is to permanently stop
the pain, frustration, dependence, and embarrassment that
a learning problem can cause.

This is done through specialized programs and techniques that address the weak underlying processing skill areas that are causing the problem. Once students have a solid foundation or strong root system, they can become comfortable and independent learners.

There is an old saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”

Tutoring may support students to help them get through this night’s homework or this class. Remediation eliminates the learning problem and teaches students to learn so they can learn anywhere, anytime, for a lifetime.

Here are some common symptoms, any of which may indicate that there are underlying processing skills not supporting the learner well enough:

  • Bright child, teen, or adult is underachieving
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Gets distracted easily
  • Avoids work
  • Yawns all the time when listening
  • Tries really hard for minimal outcome
  • Struggles to sound out words
  • Can’t remember months, days, math facts, spelling words
  • Can’t follow more than one or two directions at a time
  • Is inconsistent with math processes; can’t find or correct math errors; doesn’t understand how numbers work
  • Struggles to read, write, or spell
  • Is uncoordinated, awkward, or has poor posture
  • Has to work excessively hard
  • Gets fatigued quickly / has very low stamina for listening or schoolwork
  • Misunderstands what is heard or read
  • Misses or mishears information when listening

These issues can be changed! With specialized training the brain can learn to think and process information in more effective ways. Children and adults do not have to continue to suffer the effects of learning problems, but it will typically take more than a traditional tutor.