By Beverly C. Weaver
Spring is in the air and that means summer can’t be far behind. Ah… the connotations of summer – warm, sunny days… a good novel to read on the beach or by the pool… freedom from school schedules and homework . . . great summer tutoring!
What?! Yes, you heard me correctly. Summer is the perfect time for tutoring! It is the opportunity to walk a self-paced, individualized path to learning – something some students have never previously experienced. I define it as slowing things down and enlarging them for better understanding. IT CAN ALSO BE DEFINED AS THE GIFT OF TIME AND SPACE NOT AVAILABLE DURING THE BUSY SCHOOL YEAR.
Let me explain it like this: Have you ever stopped to ask someone for directions when you were traveling? The person who knows the info (the teacher) may give you (the student) accurate and complete information (the lesson) to guide you directly to your destination (the test). However, the “teacher” probably defines the amount of time to “learn” with him/her (the finite class time for the lesson). Further, very probably the “teacher” does not get in your car and assist you if you have questions later about the directions (reviewing/re-teaching). From the “lesson” presented you may have been “taught” all of the information you need (the complete directions in correct sequence). However, you may not have gained a complete understanding of the content of that “lesson” well enough to apply what you have learned to the “test” (getting where you need to go). That is just what the school experience is like for some students.
Or, let’s say you go to the computer for a map to guide you to someplace unfamiliar. If you are a really good map-reader you might be able to “get” all the information from the original screen. But, frankly, some of us with weaker map skills find that too difficult. The map may cover a larger area and contain more info than we can sort. So, what do we do? We enlarge the map and zoom in on only the information we need. That helps us focus on the pertinent information. Then we spend as much time as we need to “learn” the “lesson” from the “content” that is appropriately sized and focused specifically for our learning needs. That is just what tutoring does.
That, my friends, is the goal and the glory of summer tutoring! Without deadlines for schoolwork, a student can spend as much time as necessary on each topic. There is no such thing as falling behind. Need to study the same topic today as yesterday? No problem! Need to do it again tomorrow? No problem! No sinking feeling for the student that the test is next week and he/she is not prepared. Time to introduce, focus, explain, practice, and repeat as necessary!
This relaxed summer tutoring pace affords the tutor the luxury to “enlarge” the topic to meet the student’s study comfort level. Often that means the tutor does a task analysis, isolating each part for study at the student’s pace, and teaching each small part before moving on to the next.
However, not all types of tutoring are best done in summer. So let’s spend a moment looking at types of tutoring. Basically there are two main types of tutoring with a couple of sub-groups. One main type of tutoring is defined as supportive tutoring. Supportive tutoring is direct assistance with current schoolwork and may include extra study, extra test prep, and homework help to directly support daily and long-term school assignments in a specific subject. Students who benefit from supportive tutoring generally do not gain much from summer tutoring because that type of tutoring is so tied to the daily schoolwork.
There is, however, one aspect of supportive tutoring that works well when done in the summer. That is an education concept called “pre-teaching”. Pre-teaching means that a content area is introduced to a student before that student will study it in the classroom. Key concepts and vocabulary are introduced and discussed, but mastery by the student is neither required nor the goal. The goal is to prepare the student to be ready and able to understand a difficult subject when it is presented in class. Pre-teaching does not preclude taking the class. Rather it acts as a strong preview of the material. It is a learning technique that can be very effective for special learners or for extremely difficult topics. Not only is summer a good time for this type of tutoring, it may actually be the best time because there are no other school demands.
The second main type of tutoring is remedial tutoring. It is defined as assisting a student who is behind grade level in one or more subjects. Often remedial students need help with math or reading or both. As well, remedial readers are often remedial writers because those skills are so closely linked. Summer is an excellent time for remedial tutoring because students can focus on certain areas without being distracted by other school pressures.
In more recent years, a sub-category of remedial tutoring has emerged which includes students who lack executive functioning skills. Executive functioning skills are those administrative functions that enable a student to plan and effectively, complete study and test prep, break down large assignments into smaller manageable pieces, organize folders and notebooks for good retrieval of information when needed, take comprehensive notes, and be an active listener/learner in class. For many students, these types of skills come naturally and increase with maturity. For some, they lag or never develop without training (think of that co-worker who has a desk so piled with papers it resembles a volcano or that fellow committee member who can never remember what time the next meeting is and what he/she is supposed to bring to it.).
Interestingly, many parents feel summer is the perfect time to focus on those executive functioning skills because of the lack of daily assignments; however, my experience has shown just the opposite. Teaching those skills without the daily assignments (i.e., teaching those skills in the abstract) is significantly less effective than applying them to real schoolwork. Most grade-school students and teen-agers simply do not retain the skills taught in isolation but do retain them when applied to real school situations. So, for solid work on executive functioning skills I suggest waiting until school starts.
In conclusion, let’s be honest. Summer tutoring will never have the cache of a trip to Disney World or a vacation at the beach. But, the positive results of summer tutoring can be more long lasting. Summer is as much the perfect time for relaxed learning as it is for pure relaxation. Think summer… think tutoring!
Beverly C. Weaver is the mother of a son with learning disabilities. As well, she is Master Tutor and Director of the Kingsbury Center’s Northern Virginia Tutoring Office. The Kingsbury Center, located in Washington, D.C. since 1938, is the oldest non-profit organization in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area working to identify and remediate learning disabilities in children and adults. In September 2004, Kingsbury opened a Northern VA tutoring office to more conveniently meet the needs of those families living in Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax County. For more information call 703-915-6930 or send email to[email protected].