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Tutor Can Spell Difference Between Fruition, Failure

October 01, 1987|SUSAN PERRY | Perry is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

Tutoring at the right time can prevent a child's minor learning setbacks from turning into major problems.

"Tutoring is very effective," says Eli Brent, principal of Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies in Reseda, a Los Angeles Unified School District Magnet School for grades four to 12.

Parents cannot tutor their children, Brent explained, because they get too emotionally involved.

Teachers Notice First

It's the teacher who usually notices a deficiency first, he said. The student is then referred to the school counselor, who may request a conference with the parent. The child's cumulative records are examined to determine the seriousness of the problem. If his grades are very good except in one subject, then a tutor in that subject may be helpful.

"In the vast majority of cases," says Brent, "if the student needs a little help to get over a problem in, say, algebra, then tutoring by a graduate student is enough."

According to Brent, it is not ethical for the student's school teacher to tutor him. So, at at the Center for Enriched Studies, parents are referred to either California State University, Northridge or Pierce College, both of which maintain lists of students qualified to tutor in particular subjects. In order to be allowed to tutor, these college students need a reference letter from a professor in the subject they wish to tutor. They must also maintain a 3.0 grade point average in that subject.

If a pattern of difficulty is noticed in the students' grades and test scores, and they are two or three years below grade level in several subjects, they may benefit from a program, rather than simple tutoring once a week.

Experts recommend that parents get feedback from their child and his teachers to determine the extent of the problem. Parents can ask their child if he didn't quite understand certain assignments or whether the deficit is more basic than that. Often it's simply a matter of needing someone to sit down and spend a little time helping the student understand fractions or verbs.

"However, education is a whole lot more than that," says David Baron, vice president of educational services for Tutors to the Rescue, a Los Angeles-based firm that serves the Valley. Baron is a licensed physician and was just appointed deputy clinical director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

"We look at the student-teacher interaction and the student-parent interaction," said Baron. "If the student needs additional work in how to study, how to study more effectively, learning techniques, we address those. Then you need an educator rather than just someone who knows the topic. Knowing the topic and being able to teach it or being able to relate to a child is a whole other thing."

Continuing Process

According to Baron, an educational therapist is called for when something besides strictly educational issues are involved, since underlying emotional problems can affect the ability to learn.

Some tutors recommend that tutoring be a continuing process. As soon as the grades begin to slip again, the tutor will be right there to get the child back up to normal.

"They're not getting personal attention to address their needs at school," says Scott Gladstone, M.D., director of Tutors to the Rescue. "They need a private coach to pull it all together for them."

When parents are investigating a variety of tutors and tutoring services, they are advised by those in the field to consider the following:

What is the attitude of the director and the teachers? Is it positive?

Are their philosophy and approach consistent with your own?

What is the training and the experience of the tutor?

How much time will be involved and how much will it cost?

References from the parents of current or former students.

What materials are used to test and to instruct?

What criteria are used to assess progress?

What kind of feedback will you get?

As for the effectiveness of tutoring services, says Baron, since controlled double-blind studies cannot be done, good scientific data are not available.

"Going by anecdotal reporting," he said, "you can see their grades go up, and, even when their grades don't make significant increases, the student feels better about himself and more in control of his studies. He is no longer afraid of feeling dumb at school."

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