Son Wants to Quit Tutoring

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When tutoring does not seem to be helping a child, it's time to look at the program and the service being provided.
Q
My sixth-grade son has a reading disability and has been in a program at school since second grade. He recently mentioned to me that he felt he wasn't getting any better at reading. I enrolled him in a learning center at a college for one hour a week, hoping that this would help him. He was all for going. He went five times, it's a ten-week course. Now he says he doesn't want to go anymore. Should I make him go? Would I be doing more harm than good? He says the tutor gives him baby work, and I kind of agree. Please help. I'm so frustrated and worried; I just want to do the right thing for him.
A
There are two important issues here. One is your son's perception that he's not getting better at reading. What if he is? That is, if he's showing gains in reading ability with the current program, then his teachers need to help him see this. He should be able to look at charts or graphs or improved test scores (they ought to be keeping some record of his performance over the years) so that he can actually see his growth. If you ask the folks at the school how they think your son is doing and they say "fine," or "he's doing the best he can," ask them to be specific and show you the evidence to support their answers. Specialists working with students with reading disabilities tell us that it's imperative that children's performance be monitored in a very close manner. If gains are not being made, then teachers (and parents and students) need to ask whether the right program is being used, or whether enough service is being provided. If progress is noted, then teachers and specialists need to make sure that students are aware of this growth. If kids don't think the special help is worth it, they will understandably lose interest or develop negative attitudes.

The other issue your question raises is how much and what kind of help is necessary for your son. Is he getting one hour a week at the learning center because that's all he needs, that's all they offer, or that's all you can afford? What does the clinic say about how much to expect from support for one hour a week? If you and your son feel he's doing "baby work," then you should ask the people at the center to explain why they are teaching what they are teaching. You should also ask them if they are in touch with the teachers at school and if the work they are both doing is compatible. It would be a shame if your son were involved in two different reading programs that weren't reinforcing each other.

It sounds as if your son is a critical consumer, and this is great! His motivation should increase if he is made more of an active participant in his own learning. After showing him the results of testing that identify his reading strengths and weaknesses, teachers should ask him what skills he'd like to work on. If he chooses something that's not appropriate, then teaching staff need to help him understand the reasons for learning certain skills in a certain sequence. Your son's perception of the value of the help he's getting is very important. His skill development should be closely monitored and he should be given frequent feedback about his progress in reading. Ask him if he agrees with me. If not, have him write back and tell me why.

Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

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