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Apr 4, 2018

Is Math Tutoring the Right Move?

April 4, 2018

Math is a challenging subject, and in today's service-based economy, over 60% of all parents use out-of-school supports for learning math and other subjects.

In this article, we discuss three common options and the costs and benefits associated with each one.

Parents who reach out for homework help typically consider: (a) online tutoring or online tutorial videos, (b) private in-person tutoring, and / or (c) learning centers or after-school community programs. To find the best option, it’s important to know the positives and negatives before, during, and after making your decision. 

Online Tutoring

The Benefits of Online Tutoring

  • It can be done in your home on a variety of media, such as tablets, phones, laptops, or desktop computers.
  • You can choose the online tutor, or tutoring service, based on factors other than geography (a great option for rural families).
  • It is often the cheapest (or completely free) option.
  • You can sometimes record or download parts of the lesson.
  • Some online tutors have flexible schedules. With online programs like Khan Academy, your kids can use the program anytime.
  • Learning progresses at any pace your child wants.
  • May give updates about progress.

Problems with Online Tutoring

  • When kids don’t pay attention, it could be a substantial waste of time and money.
  • When left alone, even strong students have distractions at home like siblings, television, cell phones (or just about anything for that matter).
  • Children don’t build the same trust and rapport with online tutors that they do with face-to-face instructors.
  • With online learning programs, kids don’t even interact with an actual person who can guide them through difficult problems.
  • Most students using online programs and tutors struggle to find the motivation and struggle with participation.
  • Some computer accessories can be complicated to install.
  • Technological glitches may disrupt a tutoring session.
  • Watch out for online tutoring scams and poorly trained tutors.
  • Finding the right approach takes tons of time and effort. Expect to find several ineffective tutors before you find a good fit.
  • Online tutors usually help only with current needs, like homework help and preparing for tests. Online programs and tutors are often not effective at teaching missing skills and filling in gaps in math knowledge that truly hold students back.
  • Online tutors and learning software often do not use well-structured curriculum. The rule is that you get what you get.
  • The parent still has to supervise the tutoring session.
  • Most programs don’t assess first to find gaps in student knowledge. Instead, they assume that they have the prerequisite skills and language to follow along.
  • Many families don’t follow through with online tutoring programs due to the effort involved.
  • Online tutors and tutoring programs either do not give immediate feedback or do not explain why a student got an answer correct or incorrect.

Private Math Tutoring

The Benefits of a Private Tutor

  • Excellent choice for students who consistently attain A-grades in math
  • Convenient when some tutors travel to your home.
  • It is one-on-one and face-to-face.
  • If the tutor has good people skills, then students learn to trust them and, over time, feel comfortable asking more questions.
  • Tutoring goes at whatever pace the child needs, even if that pace is slower than most of their classmates.
  • Private tutors can give detailed verbal updates about student progress.
  • If the tutor provides opportunities for students to practice, then students can get immediate, supervised feedback so they learn what went wrong and how to fix the problem.

Problems with Private Tutoring

  • The average parent hires between 4-6 different tutors for the same subject over the course of a child’s school career. Hiring different tutors can break the continuity of instruction and disrupt learning.
  • Hiring a tutor with strong teaching skills and strong math skills takes a lot of time, effort, and money. It’s not unusual to go through several poor tutors before finding a tutor with the best skills and qualifications.
  • Tutors follow the child, and do not use a well-structured curriculum to guide student learning. Instead, tutors teach what they know, which is not always the same as what a student needs to learn.
  • Reliability might be a problem, in that different tutors might find different problems with what your child needs to learn, which is based solely on the tutor’s background and not a structured math curriculum.
  • Many tutors are not qualified to teach but instead did very well in one or more subjects, and without an understanding of a math curriculum then they cannot make important connections between what a student has learned, is learning, and will learn in the future.
  • Most tutors do a lot of “talking at” students and do not pause to check for understanding or provide supervised practice. The most common approach to tutoring is “watch me, then do it like I do it.”
  • Most students who need tutoring don’t understand the math enough to explain clearly what they need to learn, or what their teachers or assignments are demanding of them. In this situation, the tutors struggle when their students cannot effectively communicate what they need. This can often lead tutors and students down the wrong path.
  • Private tutors are often the most expensive option, but without lasting benefits (due to a focus only on current needs, like homework, over learning math).
  • Tutoring is usually about reducing stress rather than enhancing knowledge.
  • If the tutoring is at home, students can still get distracted – especially if the tutoring is in a place in the home that is not typically dedicated to learning (i.e., living room, dining room, etc).
  • Many children become dependent on their tutor and struggle to develop independence and confidence when new learning topics come their way.
  • Most tutors do not assess student learning gaps. Instead, they focus only on what the current needs are (i.e., factoring polynomials for next week’s test).
  • It is challenging to find a private tutor with a highly flexible schedule.
  • You must be ready to make a financial commitment.

Enrolling in a Learning Center

Benefits of Learning Centers

  • Some learning centers have well-built curriculum and individualized learning plans that are intended to help students become more confident and prepared for math in the future.
  • Although the learning goes at the child’s pace, there are opportunities to accelerate learning if a learning center conducts a comprehensive, diagnostic assessment to find out exactly what a child needs to learn.
  • Unlike online tutoring or private tutoring, when learning centers use diagnostic assessments, instruction is more relevant, and there is less of a likelihood that you are wasting time or money because they do not have to guess where the problems might lie.
  • Some learning centers offer one-to-one instruction and focus on building confidence and self-reliance in students.
  • Some learning centers vary their teaching styles to account for the different learning styles in their students.
  • Students have time to work independently and get quick feedback, learning resiliency without frustration.
  • Most learning centers hire highly qualified staff and only put students in front of instructors who know how to teach multiple subjects (like algebra, geometry, trigonometry, or calculus).
  • Some learning centers offer both tutoring for what students need right now (i.e., homework help, test prep, etc) and targeted learning for the future.
  • Some learning centers give targeted and frequent updates about progress.
  • Learning centers often have flexible after-school and weekend hours that allow parents and students to drop-in anytime.
  • Many learning centers allow students to be dropped off, where parents do not have to supervise the instruction. They are encouraged to go workout, run an errand, or relax.
  • Personalized tutoring and private lessons are often available.
  • Some learning centers help students with multiple goals like preparing for tests or standardized tests (SAT / ACT), homework help, and long-term learning goals.

Problems with Learning Centers

  • Some centers give extra homework, leading to a more intense burden on students and parents. Many families find the extra homework tedious and unnecessary.
  • Some learning centers just give a written math assessment, and do not help parents in evaluating the readiness for learning math, leaving important educational decisions up to less-qualified parents to assess their child’s fitness for learning math in a learning center.
  • Some learning centers have limitations on ages, grade levels, and subjects.
  • Many learning centers “water down” their curriculum by teaching multiple subjects and therefore cannot provide a math specialty service for children who need targeted help.
  • Parents are usually limited in the choice of a learning center, given their location, or given that many centers do not specialize in one subject.
  • Centers that focus only on math cannot provide support in other subjects like science, reading or social studies.
  • Parents and students often seek help for pressing, immediate problems and need a “quick fix” instead of long-term improvements in math, and therefore they may find learning centers to be overly focused on preparing students for the future over helping them with their current work. Some learning centers balance current and future needs.

If you want to know more about the best option for your child, call our director, Lyndsey at 817.473.6284.  Mathnasium has been helping students of Mansfield for many years and look forward to hearing from you.