Quite a few parents in the gifted and talented programs in our area engage tutors, as do many parents who would like to turn a C in math into an A, raise test scores, and move in the direction of a GAT program.

In many cases, tutors are generally a disaster and will cause irreparable damage to a child's education now and for the rest of the child's academic career. I'm not using "irreparable" lightly. I mean you're permanently condemning a child your child to a subpar academic experience.

It is possible for a tutor to work magic with your child. I know a high school English teacher who is like the Yoda of tutors, but he is the exception. Let's look at the worst case scenario first, which is more common.

Say your child is struggling in math. They are stumped by their homework, whether it is grade level or an accelerated program a year or two ahead. By the way, this child doesn't have a math problem, this child has a learning problem. Anyway, you get a tutor to help your child get through homework and understand the material and concepts.

You hire a bright high school student who has excellent grades and is great with kids. You child is struggling with something like decimals. Your tutor knows she's hired for a reason, so she patiently explains decimals in different ways and your child does much better in school. Game over. Disaster just occurred. Forget about Stanford. Start looking at trade schools.

I can't imagine any tutor, with the exception of Yoda mentioned above, diagnosing and correcting the real problem. The child doesn't need more help figuring out decimals, the child needs help to figure out how to figure out things. Being able to figure out things is why your child's peers are doing just fine in math. If your tutor is explaining things to your child, this is reinforcing your child's biggest problem, which is not figuring things out for herself.

Let's try my approach. First of all, I don't care about your math grade or whether or not you can do decimals. If my goals were so miserably low, and you, my child, meets them, then where are we? We just achieved average. What a horrible place to be. So instead, here are the goals: I want you to be able to figure out super advanced math on your own, not quickly or perfectly, or even correctly, but have a reasonable understanding of something 2 years beyond you that you figured out on your own. If you can do this, then A's and high test scores will follow for the rest of your life.

Most years, we're not in a situation where either current year test scores or grades matter, so we can get away with this. In years where we need an A and a high score, like GAT selection years, the only thing I do differently is current level and something more ridiculously hard, but I don't think the current level work works. However, in a GAT selection year, homework assignments must be double checked and tests must be prepared for. In non-GAT years, especially the year leading up to the test, I don't look at homework. Sometimes, I sneer at it in disgust.

When we faced a year of C's in math, and you can check the archive where I bemoan this, I bought the curriculum that the child will face in two years and that's what we did. I would assign 3 pages of reading and two pages of problems. Maybe a 6th grader could do 30 problems in 30 minutes, but a forth grader with the same assignment is going to do 4 problems in 45 minutes and get them all wrong, repeatedly.

Am I insane? How is a child supposed to improve by doing work he doesn't understand and frankly can't do? He's beginning to exercise the skills of a top notch student. If this child is getting a C and needs a tutor, he doesn't have these skills by definition, so it's going to be rough going at first. One poorly done problem that takes 45 minutes of struggle is worth way more than 1,000 problems that would show up in a homework assignment from school. One hard problem = learning. 1,000 doable problems = no learning.

By the way, there is no good "work ahead" math material between 2nd grade and 4th grade. You can try it if you really have to, but arithmetic operations don't teach thinking. That's why I wrote the Test Prep Math books. Bad Grades + Desperation = Motivation. I don't spell this out clearly enough to parents who ask for advice about math their 2nd and 3rd grade kids. I wrote these books specifically so that I don't have to worry about an ITBS score below 99% until 5th grade. I have this recurring nightmare that people actually buy this book and my 3rd grader has to compete with a bunch of kids to get a 99%, so I'm reluctant to do any real marketing.

If I had to get a tutor, maybe I have to work a lot or maybe I just stink at math or maybe my child is sick of me, then I would lay down the law by making the tutor read this article, and give the tutor next year's math or worse. If the tutor can get through the miserable experience of teaching my C student next year's math, then this just might work. As a bonus, the tutor will learn a lot as well, and maybe major in education and reform our ineffective education system.

To give you an indication of how well this works, our C student is now getting A's in math, and if he ever decides that turning in homework is important, we should see A's the rest of the year. But that's just the start. He had the annual MAP test yesterday. This is a computerized standardized test. If the student answers a question correctly, the next question is from grade level plus 1, and if the student gets that question correct, the next question is from grade level plus 2, and it just keeps going. He's in six grade. I told him he better see a sin function on the test or he let me down.

Last night at dinner, he asked what the word "cos" means. I nearly choked on my food. So asked what the test was like. "I got some harder questions, one which I miss read and got wrong, but didn't realize I got it wrong until the next problem. Then there were polynomials with variables, a bunch of questions that had π in them, and then this question with the word cos". If I'm not mistaken, he worked his way through high school math all the way up to trigonometry.

The moral of the story is to raise the bar. Be skeptical of conventional solutions to your problems, and address the real problem. What is an Anti-Tutor? It's a tutor who doesn't help. That's the one we need.

Hello - I am here to pick your brain again! I have almost finished the NNAT workbook Level 3 with my Kindergartener and we are averaging about 50% correct (YAY!) So, now what? Do I buy the next level up and just keep pushing forward or continue with similar material until the test later this month? Also related -- Santa brought Vocabulary Workshop this year! (we are the biggest nerds) I am wondering how fast to progress through the material and how much of the supplementary material from the teacher book and online component you used? It recommends taking about 2 weeks per 10 words and there is plenty of material there, however I feel like even a week would be pushing it -- vocab is one of her strong suits.

ReplyDeleteThe levels on the practice tests don't really help. They don't get harder and with very few exceptions, don't make your child smarter. I would do 2nd grade reading comprehension. You read, the kid points. Also, get a friend to proctor a full practice test exam if you want. You want to talk insane? Don't mess with me.

DeleteSpend a minimum of 2 weeks on each vocab workshop and move on when the words come off the word board. There's no reason to hurry. Currently, my 11 year old is memorizing all of the vocabulary in a 9th grade science book, and beating me on the quizzes even though he spends less time reading the book. Two weeks per unit, minimum. By the way, are you going to do 2nd grade every day math after the test?

Thank you -- it's a bit of a relief to do two weeks on a unit of vocab workshop (I should mention we started with the level red) since she is flying through the other materials lol. I'll check out some reading comprehension -- I'm thinking Comprehension Plus (skipping level A and using their second grade materials?). Her school uses everyday math and gave a password to the online materials -- though I admit I haven't had the time to look at it yet, I'm not sure if I can access higher grades or not, but I am planning to add that to the mix. Currently she is 6 pages away from finishing her first Building thinking skills book (primary) which was way too simple, so I have the next one waiting in the wings. We also just started Piano Adventures which she absolutely loves! I admit, when I first started reading the blog I thought-- maybe I'll do a workbook or two and see how it goes -- now I'm wondering how to keep up with her! I can't thank you enough for all the hard work you have put in and your willingness to share it with other parents. It has truly made a difference in this household! (Side note: her 2.5 yr. old brother is very jealous of her workbooks so we bought him some brain quest cards to appease him lol)

DeleteAnother question: my daughter reads very well, however she doesn't seem to have the stamina for chapter books yet -- do you know of a middle ground? She devours Amelia Bedelia books, and regularly reads Dr. Seuss to her brother, but I'm hoping there is something a little more challenging than the standard kids books before full out chapter books.

I feel sorry for the little brother, having an older sister who will be perfect in everything. We need to start working on him in 6 months. As for the sister, I recommend all the Hans Christian Anderson award winners for illustration, including the German guy who's name I don't remember with the weird cool books. And more you reading to her than her reading. There's no point in rushing into chapter books other than teaching a child how to ignore new words and other bad habits. Stamina is built by read-to.

DeleteHahaha -- he learns so much for her -- he tantrums at a 5 year old level, will that help with his GAT scores lol. I already bought the Building Thinking Skills Primary book for him -- we did the first two pages yesterday, but then I realized he didn't have the eye hand coordination yet to do any of the "drawing" exercises -- so even though he's begging me to do more, he just gets to reading time. Thanks for the book recommendations, I admit, once she started reading on her own -- I did slack off on reading to her. I will start again.

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