A Tutor Isn’t Enough

I recently stumbled upon this article I wrote back in early 2017, and feel it’s more relevant now than ever. With all of these hybrid and virtual learning options, parents are expected to play a more vital role in developing foundational skills. For many parents, this is completely overwhelming, so to help I am creating The Parent’s Guide to Teaching & Learning Ebook, available August 20, 2020. In the meantime, here are my thoughts about why a tutor isn’t enough.

Throughout the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of struggling readers, some of whom receive tutoring service outside of school as well. It is common when speaking to these parents about suggestions for how they can support their child at home, I hear “Oh, our daughter goes to a tutor twice a week for reading help.” Just like a Special Education teacher, a tutor is not a replacement for a parent’s role in supporting their child’s learning.  

When I was teaching in the Resource Room in middle school and in elementary school, I typically saw students with literacy difficulties for about an hour a day. During this time, the majority of time I spent with my students was focused on teaching skills and strategies. What we rarely had time for however, was practice. A Special Education teacher or tutor can teach and teach and teach, but if the student is not frequently practicing applying these skills, it’s quite probable the student will not internalize the skills and apply them in a variety of contexts. Some students struggle with generalizing skills when working on different types of text or with different people.  Many times I have seen children only apply their strategies when working with the person who taught them or the people who consistently holds them accountable for applying what’s been learned. Unfortunately, when reading with someone other than the tutor or Special Education teacher, it’s common for those students to not employ strategies he has mastered when working with the specialist. 

Struggling readers need to practice using learned skills and strategies daily (appx. 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days/wk). This is as simple as a parent listening to their child read. When the child mispronounces a word, or when meaning breaks down, the student needs to be held accountable for noticing she has made a mistake, and backing up and rereading. I tell students when they are reading, they need to make a movie in their mind (visualize). Each sentence adds to the movie playing in their mind. I explain “If you are reading, and the words don’t make sense (or you notice you’re not paying attention to what the words mean), your movie cannot continue. That is when you need to stop reading, back up to where you last understood what was happening in the story, and reread.” If a parent is listening to their child read and the child mispronounces a word or the words she is reading don’t make sense, I encourage you to ask any combination of the following prompts, “Does that make sense?”  “What do you think you should do?” “Try reading that sentence again, carefully.” “What strategy could you use?”  

As well-intended as a specialist may be, oftentimes she is so busy teaching, they are not able to devote the time needed for the student to have sufficient monitored practice where the student is held accountable for applying what they’ve learned. Reading with your children not only creates a space for quality time, while helping improve their application of acquired skills, it also sends the message to your children, that their learning is important to you and that education is a family value.