- Each year, it's likely that more than 20 percent of students could benefit from additional academic support.
- Under the best circumstances, the purpose of this support is to close the gap between a struggling student and his or her peers.
- For parents, the resistance to the idea of tutoring is usually to avoid a label and for the student, tutoring can feel like a punishment.
- Consider how elite athletes have coaches and trainers helping them hone and improve their performance; the academic realm should be no different.
Every year, about 20 percent of students attending public schools will be identified as having learning issues, and many of them will receive targeted teacher support, tutoring, or coaching. Given the prevalence of such issues in the general population, it’s estimated that the rate will be the same in charter and private schools.
A number of students who could possibly benefit from additional support never receive it, and some parents have difficulty deciding whether or not to take advantage of such support. They may worry whether there will be a stigma attached to the support and may fear that their children could be labeled. How will teachers see their children? If they are children of color, will their work with a tutor confirm negative stereotypes that parents worry about? Parents may also be concerned about what their children might feel about getting additional support. Will they think they are inferior to their peers or worry that they may always need extra support?
This article tackles why kids might be given support, how it can help, and how parents whose children are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of support can talk with their children about these benefits.
Public schools usually provide support when a student is diagnosed with a learning issue. When the learning issues are less serious, support may be provided in a small group, especially if there are other students with similar needs and at similar levels.
When the challenges are bigger and the gap between the challenged student and his or her peers is wider, support may be offered one on one. Individualized support allows the teacher or tutor to slow down the delivery of the content being taught. This same person can repeat the content, present it in different ways (visually, orally, with manipulatives, etc.), and use different methods to assess mastery than those used with the rest of the students. Oftentimes, the instructor providing this kind of one-on-one support is a special education teacher or a reading or math specialist.
Charter and Private Schools
In charter and private schools, two factors influence how much support is available: the school’s philosophy about when support should be offered and the resources it has available to provide such support.
In these institutions, which often teach at a higher level than the national norm, it is possible that some students will struggle or perform below the level of their peers without having a diagnosed learning issue. For example, the texts used in the classroom may be a year above the actual grade level and students in the third grade may all read at the fourth-grade level or above. This is a selling point to many prospective parents hoping to give their children a competitive academic edge.
The Need for Tutoring
Often students need holes filled or skills developed that they missed or didn’t fully develop in prior institutions. For these students, targeted teacher support enables them to access the curriculum alongside their peers. In charter and private schools, tutoring might be suggested to help some children catch up to the majority of their classmates—not because of an actual learning disability.
It is also important to understand that having learning issues does not necessarily make students incapable of performing at grade level. Sometimes all that is needed for these students to excel is to have content delivered in a particular way or to receive more targeted instruction.
Good support will work, but it does need to be well chosen and delivered frequently enough, for long enough, and with the appropriate intensity. It’s like taking an antibiotic. If the medication is effective and the appropriate dosing is followed, the infection will go away, and you will be back to normal. If you stop taking the antibiotic before the prescribed course of treatment is over, however, your symptoms could intensify.
Similarly, if academic support is not given for long enough, your child’s performance relative to his or her peers could worsen. Few children ever completely stagnate, but many will advance slower than their peers without appropriate intervention. At the end of the day, you want to close the gap between your child and his or her classmates.
Dealing with Stigma
If your child’s school is recommending academic support, it has already labeled your child, so you won’t be avoiding this by refusing to take the school’s advice. Instead, you might be adding a second label—like “difficult” or “in denial”—to yourself as a parent. Because the school clearly believes it is being reasonable, it will rarely see your resistance to its suggestions in a positive light.
What If Your Child Resists Getting Support?
Ask your children what kinds of activities they would be willing to invest time and energy in to improve their skills. Sports often lend themselves well to this line of questioning because even if your children aren’t into sports themselves, they know that all pro athletes have coaches who advise them on how to improve their game and that even the best athletes experience setbacks. They also know that for athletes to stay at the top of their game, they require daily practice.
If you’re lucky, your children may already have gone to a summer basketball or soccer camp, played league sports outside of school, or worked with coaches to perfect their tennis game. If this is true, you can ask them whether they think that receiving coaching at the elite level means an athlete is bad at his or her sport. Does the fact that Tom Brady has a private quarterback coach in addition to the team’s coach mean he is a bad quarterback? Do you think he would have a private coach if he didn’t think it was helpful? Can your children think of any elite athlete who doesn’t have a trainer or coach?
If they realize that the best athletes all have coaches and instructors, your children may begin to see the value of working with someone who could help them become as competent as their peers in the classroom—even if they have to sacrifice another activity for a few months. Your strategic questions make it difficult for your children to argue against the recommended support if it makes them more successful in school. How much easier would their lives be, for example, if they felt more comfortable with reading or math problems?
We adults need to realize that even when children are bright, they are not always able to reason through problems with the same logic we use. Our job is to help them see other aspects of an argument, especially when a better choice is aligned with their own goals for success.