Being a kid (or a parent, for that matter) is more difficult than it used to be.
School has never been easy, and there is more competition than ever before to get into a great college. Apart from grades, students also have to build a resume of unique skills, talents, interests, and experiences that will set them apart from the rest of the crowd.
And of course, parents know that excellence doesn’t come for free. So, why not do everything possible to ensure that your child gets the greatest bang for your learning buck?
Here are four simple suggestions to maximize the productivity of a tutoring session.
1. Get ready.
First, it is important that your child be able to begin a session as soon as her tutor arrives. Sure, that seems like a no-brainer, but I cannot tell you how many times one of my tutors has had to wait — or I’ve had to wait! — while students rummage through their backpacks, review their planners, or figure out what they have for homework (not to mention deciding which specific assignment they need help with!), all before any tutoring can actually happen. In order to make the most of an hour or two, be sure your child has questions prepared. These will give structure to the session and enable her to have a more focused and constructive experience.
If a particular lesson is less driven by an individual assignment and the tutor arrives with a lesson plan and instructional materials, have paper, a pencil, and a snack, if necessary, on hand.
More than simply having materials at the ready, your child should make sure she’s done any necessary reading that might help the hour go smoothly. Once the session begins, she should know that it’s time to get to work.
2. Set (realistic) goals.
Chances are your child’s session will only last an hour — two at the most. This isn’t a lot of time, so it's important to work with her in advance to figure out what's reasonable to expect to get through. Then tell her to share these goals with her tutor at the start (the actual start!) of the session.
If your child has to write an essay, she shouldn’t expect to complete it within the space of one lesson, but she can anticipate leaving with a very detailed topic outline that will make the writing process go much more smoothly. Talk generally about an assignment’s overall argument, main points and transitions between them, and how to reach a conclusion. The more she talks out an assignment with someone ahead of time, the better prepared she’ll be when she sits down to write.
If she’s working on math homework, on the other hand, it may be a good idea to tackle the first few problems in each set during a session. This way she’ll be able to grasp all the individual procedures rather than trying to rush through the whole worksheet. This not only encourages slow and thorough instruction, it holds your child accountable for her own learning; if she expects to be able to finish her homework on her own, she’ll need good notes to help her.
3. Talk to the teacher.
What a teacher sees a student struggling with and what a student feels she's struggling with may be two very different things. If you can get your child’s teachers on board to work with you and the tutor, all the better!
Kids may say they understand a concept when they really don’t. They may be embarrassed to ask for help, or they may not want to spend additional time doing the hard work of learning outside the classroom. We all know and understand that it is easier to avoid difficult and unpleasant tasks than to tackle them with enthusiasm — just think of all the responsibilities we gladly outsource as adults! Unfortunately for students, avoidance isn’t really an option.
Hearing the details of a child’s work in school from someone who’s with her every day will help to maximize the efficacy and efficiency of a tutoring program. When the lines of communication are open on all fronts, it becomes possible to track her progress in a given subject both with her teacher and with her tutor.
4. Follow through.
This is important. After a single hour of instruction, it is unlikely that your child will have truly learned something new in a deep way. While she may be able to perform a calculation or recite a definition she couldn’t before, she will probably need more practice with the concept or skill before she can apply and generalize her understanding.
After a Smarten Up tutoring session, for example, we often leave our students with a resource they can use for additional practice — a game, a worksheet, or a suggestion for online exercises. Practice really does make perfect, and it’s important that parents follow through and offer their children ample opportunities to solidify and reinforce any material that is covered during a session.
You may ask yourself, “But what if my child doesn’t want to put in the extra effort?” I’m sure she won’t! Kids who need tutoring are often in that position because they didn’t want to put in the requisite time and energy to really learn the material the first time around.
This is why I always encourage parents to give their children a little extra incentive in the form of a structured system for positive reinforcement. It can be an extra treat, more time playing after school, or an extra half-hour of television or video games on the weekends. Sure, it may sound crazy to reward a student for doing what she is expected to do, but it can be a really helpful tool to build new behavioral patterns.
Because practice truly does make perfect, the only way to build new habits, behaviors, and understanding is to practice, practice, practice. It won’t be fun, but even the simplest of rewards will make it tolerable — and once your child masters the skill, you won’t need to constantly reinforce it. Rather, it will become a part of her academic repertoire.
Educational tutoring can be a great investment in your child’s future. An effective tutor can help your child gain the academic understanding and learning strategies necessary for success in school and beyond. So be sure to make the most of everyone’s limited time, energy, and resources. A little extra effort - both before and after the tutoring session - can go a very long way.