Sometimes it Takes More Than a Tutor

Jill Stowell General Information, Learning Disability

5 Differences Between Tutoring and Cognitive Educational Therapy

(Part 1)

“Jackson 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 Jackson 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 aide.  It covers up some of the symptoms, but doesn’t really solve the problem.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be talking about 5 big differences between tutoring and cognitive educational therapy, and how you know which is right for your situation.


Tutoring typically focuses on academic skills or school subjects and cognitive educational therapy 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…

LearningTreeImage (1)

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, so working on the academics without a solid foundation of processing skills may provide short-term support, but will not usually eliminate the problem.

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.

Join us for a parent information meeting – To understand more about what is keeping your child from learning as easily and independently as he could be and what can be done about it. Go to for dates and location.

What is the Difference Between Stowell Learning Center, Sylvan, and Kumon?

Jill Stowell General Information, Learning Disability

“Reading is a nightmare for my child!  I need to get some tutoring, but there are so many learning centers out there, I don’t know where to turn.”  Sound familiar?

In our area, there are learning centers everywhere and more and more parents are asking us to explain the difference between Stowell Learning Center and Sylvan or Kuman.

The Starting Point

I think the biggest difference is the starting point.

Most learning centers, large or small, provide tutoring, which typically focuses on academic skills or school subjects.  This gives students more practice in areas such as reading and math in which they are either are struggling or want to excel.

Many families seek traditional tutoring when their child is struggling in school. Unfortunately, if tutoring is used to treat a learning or attention problem, it is likely to end up being a never-ending proposition.

In most cases, learning problems are the result of weak or incompletely developed learning skills. Just as a carpenter needs a set of tools to build with, we need a strong set of mental tools, or learning skills, to think and learn with. 

These tools include such things as memory, attention, auditory and visual processing (or being able to accurately think about and make sense of what we see and hear), organization, decision-making, reasoning, and processing speed.

Weaknesses in any of these areas can get in the way of easy, enjoyable learning, causing the learner to have to work too hard and too long, and maybe not “make the grade” anyway.

Traditional tutoring assumes that these underlying learning skills are in place. Working on the academics without a solid foundation of learning/processing skills is like 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.

At Stowell Learning Center, our goal is to create comfortable, confident, and independent learners.  The way to do that is to develop the weak underlying skills that are not supporting the learner well enough and then remediate the academic problem areas in reading, writing, spelling, or math.

Whenever possible, we will work on the underlying skills and the academics together, but we know that without a solid foundation of mental tools or learning skills, the academics will not stick or will be far too effortful.

Apples and Oranges

So the answer to the question is apples and oranges.  Most learning centers, including Sylvan and Kuman, provide extra drill and practice in academic skills.  They may help students with homework and may work with a variety of subject areas including high levels of math.

Stowell Learning Centers focus on identifying and developing the weak underlying skills (skills such as memory, attention, auditory and visual processing, processing speed, language, phonological awareness, and executive function), and then remediating the basic academic skills. 

Our focus is not on homework or subject areas such as Science or Calculus, but on providing students the tools they need to be good learners who can function do their homework on their own and work comfortably and independently at grade level or at their potential.

Join us for a parent information meeting- To understand more about what is keeping your child from learning as easily and independently as he could be and what can be done about it.  Go to for dates and location.

Accommodations and Modifications to Support Dyslexic Students in the Classroom and in Homework

Jill Stowell Dyslexia, General Information, Learning Disability

Last week, I promised to post some accommodations that parents and teachers can use to support dyslexic students (or other struggling readers) in the classroom and in homework. So that’s what we’re going to talk about…right after I get a chance to step on my soapbox!

My Soap Box
Accommodations and modifications can be a great support to students who struggle in school. And we should give students all the support we can! BUT…

It’s also important to understand that accommodations and modifications are NOT a permanent solution. They should be a temporary support while the real problem is being corrected.

Dyslexia and many other learning challenges are the result of weak underlying processing/learning skills that are not supporting the learner well enough. Brain research proves that these underlying skills can be developed – the brain can literally be retrained to process information more efficiently. So smart children and adults with dyslexia or other reading challenges can and should become good readers. It takes pinpointing the underlying weaknesses, retraining the brain, and then remediating the reading and spelling skills.

Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, here are the accommodations.

Accommodations, Modifications, and Coaching Techniques

1. Dyslexic students can often listen and comprehend well. If appropriate, in subjects like social studies and science, they should be expected to participate in discussions and do all homework assignments with the help of a parent or tutor.

If the assignment is to read a chapter, have the student start reading each section and then the parent can take over the reading when the student gets tired. Even if the student only reads a sentence, the expectation will be that he can read the text and will start reading after each subheading. Knowing that he can stop when he’s tired, reduces the pressure. As his reading improves, he will gradually tackle more reading on his own.

When the student comes to a word she doesn’t know, she should try to work through the sounds as best she can, not just guess, then the parent can tell her the word as needed.

If an assignment is taking far too long to complete, parents should be allowed to note the amount of time spent and sign off on it. If this happens regularly, the teacher may want to note for the parents which parts of the assignment would be the most important to focus on.

2. On worksheets, the student should be expected to write the answers to a portion of the questions (for example, 2 out of 5) and an aide or parent could write the answers to the other questions as he dictates. Again, it is important that the student be responsible for the assignment and have responsibility for part of the writing so that he knows that he is capable. He should know that the amount of writing he has to do is being reduced so that he can focus on neatness and spelling. His best is expected!

3. The student should be allowed to take content area tests orally (questions read to her and responses given orally). This way her reading and writing difficulties are not getting in the way of her showing what she knows about the subject.

4. If the student is working on vocabulary definitions, a picture or a few brief words that show he understands the meaning would be much more valuable than copying a textbook or dictionary definition.

5. When reading, the student will likely do best with fairly large print that is not too dense on the page. Dyslexic students may have just as much difficulty with a first grade level book as a higher level book, because the lower the level, the greater the number of trigger words (small, non-conceptual sight words that trigger disorientation). High interest, knowledge of the subject, and more meaningful context will help the dyslexic reader use his good comprehension skills to support his reading.

6. When the student misreads a word while doing oral reading at an appropriate grade level, have him spell the missed word orally and then attempt to read it again. This will help him focus on all of the letters and sounds in the word.

7. When the student gets stuck on spelling when writing, have her say each sound in the word as she writes. This generally helps the student be more accurate.

8. The student needs to learn how to use an assignment sheet. Since copying from the board will be very difficult for him due to his spelling challenges, expect him to copy as much as he can in the time allotted, but at least the first assignment. Gradually increase the amount expected as his skills increase. Also, provide a filled out assignment sheet for him as long as he has copied down at least one assignment. He has to know that things are expected of him, but at the same time needs to be supported while his dyslexia is remediated.

9. When frustrated or shutdown, the student can be cued to take a deep breath to help her refocus. It may be appropriate to have her get up and move (get a drink, sharpen a pencil, do something quick and physical) and then resume the task. This will help her get “unstuck.”

10. Provide the student with a copy of class notes from the teacher or another student the teacher assigns. The student should still take his own notes, but having a complete and accurate set of notes as well will facilitate his studying and understanding.

11. Offer the student alternative ways to present what she knows. For example, instead of a lengthy written report, allow the student to do an oral presentation or a creative presentation that better fits her thinking style and still allows her to show knowledge of the content.

These are accommodations that may make school and homework more successful and comfortable for dyslexic learners, but should not be mistaken for the remediation that they also need.

If your child is struggling in school and you are looking for real solutions, we would love to speak with you.

VISIT to find out the date and time of our next parent information meeting.

Come by Stowell Learning Center Chino or Irvine and mention the blog and we would love to give you a copy of At Wit’s End, A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle, Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities (also available at

Stowell Learning Center, Chino
15192 Central Ave, Chino, CA 91710
Stowell Learning Center, Irvine
1150 Main St. Suite C, Irvine, CA 92614