Frequently Asked Questions
Engaging Minds is a Greater-Boston after-school learning center that offers a unique approach to traditional tutoring: At Engaging Minds, we focus on teaching the increasingly important executive function skills (organization, prioritization, initiation of tasks, time management, goal-setting, planning) and guide students to become independent and self-confident learners.
Parents often have questions about executive function and how private tutoring can help. Following are the questions we are asked most frequently with answers that will help clarify if Engaging Minds executive function tutoring is the correct next step for your child and family.
Does my child need a tutor?
When is the right time to get my child a tutor?
How do I go about finding the right tutor for my child?
How long will my child require tutoring?
If my child is struggling in school, where can I look for support locally?
Should I get my child educational testing?
What is differentiated instruction in the classroom and how does private tutoring complement it?
DOES MY CHILD NEED A TUTOR?
It may seem counterintuitive to be reading a post examining the value of tutoring on a website for a tutoring center. However, if we are to truly serve our students in the best way possible, it is absolutely necessary that we recognize the fact that not only is private tutoring not the right answer for every student, but also, that Engaging Minds may not be the correct solution for every student who does, in fact, need tutoring. By looking more closely at the areas in which your child may need additional help and examining why he might or might not be a good fit for Engaging Minds, we are actually better serving our mission to “provide students with learning skills and strategies to become motivated, independent, and confident learners.”
In an article in Parents Magazine, author Robin Jones identifies three types of students who may need additional help outside of the classroom:
- The Suddenly Struggling Student – Students who previously had been able to keep up with their peers academically are suddenly daunted by increased expectations and burgeoning schoolwork. This may happen in a new grade or school level (the move from elementary to middle school is a time where this is particularly prevalent) or just as the year goes on and students’ work starts to pile up. It is important to help your child address these issues as soon as they are identified, so that the new challenges don’t seem insurmountable and your child can regain her confidence and sense of accomplishment in the classroom.
- The Honor-Roll Student – According to Jones and Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University, high- achieving students may not actually need a private tutor. Hirsh-Pasek states, “Your plan could backfire. Your child may feel pressured by your expectations or the extra work and start to feel anxious.” While a short-term tutoring arrangement (private or group-based) may work for preparing for a high-stakes standardized test such as the ISEE or SAT, in the long run, academically strong students may benefit more from less structured enrichment experiences or classes rather than traditional one-on-one tutoring. Alternatively, high-achieving students may welcome assistance that is skills-based, rather than content-based, so that they can succeed in managing a busy schedule and maintaining their high standard of work, while continuing to explore and apply their academic strengths independently..
- The Reluctant Reader – When your child is struggling in a specific area of school, such as reading (or math), a private tutor who specializes in that specific subject may be the ticket to addressing his problems. But, before choosing a tutor, it is important to first examine whether similar problems are cropping up in other subject areas or an underlying learning issue is a root cause of your child’s distress. Speak to your child’s teacher to get a clear sense of your child’s learning profile and ask for input as to whether or not your child needs a subject-specific tutoring or broader skills.
At Engaging Minds, we focus on helping our students improve their Executive Function skills. While these skills are utilized in all areas of academic learning and in many areas of everyday life, not every child is going to benefit from our methodology and approach. We are not a test prep center, nor do we focus on subject-based tutoring, like math or reading tutors do. Rather, our tutors help students improve their organization and hone their problem-solving skills in a way that extends beyond a single test or area of classroom learning. And, while we do utilize students’ own homework as often as possible to provide relevant and real-world applications for the methods we coach, we are also not a homework help center.
Before you sign your child up for private tutoring, be it test prep, or math, reading, or working with Engaging Minds, speak to your child’s teachers. Find out what he needs most and what sort of learning approach will be in his best interest. For example, does your child need help with the computation of math? If so, a math tutor is likely the best way to go. If, on the other hand, your child needs help figuring out how to approach math problems, determine what a question is asking, or prepare for an exam, then your child likely needs help with executive function skills.
After you and your child have found a tutor, make your child’s teachers aware of his new support and urge them to be in contact with the tutor (and vice versa) to guarantee that all participants in your child’s education are working toward the same goals. Finally, as noted earlier, consider starting tutoring earlier in the summer, rather than waiting until right before school starts, to keep skills sharp and help your child feel prepared and confident once September rolls around.
WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME TO GET MY CHILD A TUTOR?
If you are asking yourself this question, chances are the answer is “Right now!” At the very least, it is well worth exploring your private tutoring options if you are concerned that your child may need additional assistance outside of the classroom. An apt analogy for this situation is a boat that is taking on water in a lake. If nothing is done, there is absolutely no question that, at some point, the boat will sink. How quickly the boat will sink depends on how big the hole in the boat is and if any measures are being taken to counteract the flooding (i.e. bailing out the water, attempting to plug the hole). Likewise, if your child is having difficulty in school and you do nothing to seek help for her, her struggles will continue. The real question to ask yourself is, “Why wait?”
HOW DO I GO ABOUT FINDING THE RIGHT TUTOR FOR MY CHILD?
First and foremost, you are an expert on your child and, with the help of your child’s teacher(s), you have a wealth of information that can help you find your child a great fit with the right tutor. Of course, you need to understand what your child’s exact needs are – does he need a subject-specific tutor (reading tutor, math tutor, test prep tutor) or does he need help improving his executive function skills? If your child’s teacher says he is having trouble with decoding, a tutoring program such as Orton-Gillingham or a tutor with specific training in literacy and reading comprehension might be an appropriate fit. e one to engage. Likewise, if your child is struggling with algebra or working with fractions, a math tutor would be suitable. But, if your child needs help with organization, understanding directions, or study skills, then a tutor trained in boosting executive function skills would be a better match than a subject tutor. To find a good personality fit, have your child meet with their assigned tutor for a few sessions before making a decision in that regard. If your child is reluctant to go to tutoring in the first place, it may take him a little while to warm up to even the most engaging tutor. The relationship between tutor and student, like all important relationships, takes time to build trust and companionability.
HOW LONG WILL MY CHILD REQUIRE TUTORING?
The length of time any child will require tutoring varies from child to child and depends on the specific purpose of the tutoring. If a child is receiving tutoring to build skills in a specific subject (i.e. computational skills via math tutoring or decoding skills via reading tutoring), it is likely that instruction will take place for a short period of time based on a specific, quantifiable set of goals. On the other hand, if I child is receiving tutoring to improve his executive function skills, tutoring is likely to take a long period of time and be less easily defined in terms of quantifiable goals. Private tutoring to improve executive function skills focuses on practice, repetition and the forming of strong study and organizational habits. The amount of time needed for any individual child to both unlearn ineffective habits and adopt new strategies varies from child to child based on factors such as age and the degree of assistance the child needs. It is important to remember that the building of executive function skills is a process rather than a product, and tutoring with this goal at its center takes more time than math or reading tutoring typically would.
SHOULD I GET MY CHILD EDUCATIONAL TESTING?
Let’s be blunt ― educational testing is often misunderstood. Parents and students worry that teachers or peers of a child having educational testing might label that child challenged or learning disabled, even before the results are in. However, if your child’s school has recommended educational testing, they have done so because they cannot and will not label the challenges your child faces without professional assistance; educational testing helps to identify the problem, if there is one, and develop plans to address it. Likewise, if you see habits or behaviors at home that appear to adversely affect your child’s educational experience, educational testing can help clarify the root cause of those behaviors, bring your child’s challenges to the attention of teachers, and jumpstart plans for an appropriate intervention. The information that educational testing can provide about learning style, issues with executive function or knowledge acquisition, or deficits in vision or hearing is the foundation on which a successful tutoring experience and an improved classroom experience can be built. Research shows, unequivocally, that identifying and appropriately addressing learning issues earlier rather than later increases the likelihood of both eradicating the problems and boosting self-confidence in the long term. In short, if having your child tested would help him/her do better in school and gain valuable self-esteem, why wouldn’t you have it done?
WHAT IS DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION IN THE CLASSROOM AND HOW DOES PRIVATE TUTORING COMPLEMENT IT?
In an ideal world, a classroom teacher would have unlimited time to spend with each and every student, particularly students who struggle or need enrichment. As it stands, with twenty or more students in an average classroom, it is impressive that teachers can provide so much individualized instruction and attention every day! Differentiated instruction, according to educational expert Carol Ann Tomlinson, “ensur[es] that what a student learns, how he or she learns it, and how the student demonstrates what he or she has learned is a match for that student’s readiness level, interests, and preferred mode of learning.” In the classroom, this means that while all students may be studying the same basic material ― say, fractions ― they will not all be approaching it in the same way. Some students may be doing pencil-and-paper work; some may be working with manipulatives, while others may be playing a computerized game involving parts of a whole. In private, one-on-one tutoring, instruction and assessment are organically differentiated! Since the purpose of private tutoring is to provide each child with individualized assistance, session work will naturally focus on the unique tasks, methods, and pacing that maximize her learning. And, when it is time to assess the child’s progress, since the tutor has had a front row seat throughout the student’s learning process, he is uniquely able to quantify and/or qualify the student’s growth.
IF MY CHILD IS STRUGGLING IN SCHOOL, WHERE CAN I LOOK FOR SUPPORT LOCALLY?
While there is no question that children’s challenges in school are as varied as the children themselves, it may be reassuring to remember that you are not the first nor only parent to confront these problems. There are many professional and personal resources to which you can turn for support, information, and advice.
- Advocates for Special Education (MA resources) – This excellent site, started by family members of children with special educational needs, lists dozens of state resources, attorneys, and advocates all over Massachusetts, who can provide you with information about getting your child specialized help. Whether your child needs educational testing, executive function skills coaching, or support building or understanding an IEP, you will almost certainly find someone on this exhaustive list who can be of assistance.
- SEPACs/SPEDPACs – Local Special Education Parents’ Advisory Councils exist in almost every town in Massachusetts; a few in our area include Brookline, Dedham, Natick, Newton, Needham, Wayland, Wellesley and Weston (you can access each town’s resources via the link above). These highly specialized organizations help parents of students with special educational needs get the support and services they and their children need within individual school districts. A separate organization that does a lot of work with MA SEPACs is the Federation for Children with Special Needs.
- Your pediatrician – Chances are that your child’s own physician has had experience with children who struggle with executive function or other educational and attention issues. He/She undoubtedly maintains a list of resources at his/her office, including local neuropsychologists and other professionals who can provide testing, information, referrals and even intervention and treatment. Engaging Minds has a robust list of providers with whom we work. Please contact us for more information.
- Your child’s teachers (past and present) and the SPED teachers and liaisons at your child’s school – The educational professionals at your child’s school are in a unique position to be most aware of not only your child’s specific issues and struggles but also what has worked well in the past within the parameters of the specific school itself.
- Other parents – While it is of paramount importance to get your child the specialized help she needs, it is also crucial for you, as the parent of a child with special educational needs, to have support. Seeking out other parents whose children have executive function issues and ADD/ADHD, or other special needs can provide you with highly personal and well-vetted resources, a sense of community, and maybe even some friends.