Who Benefits From Tutoring, and Why

Copyright © 2015, 2016 by Mitchell R Grunes

A few extraordinary teachers are so well organized and clear, that they entrance and educate large groups of students.
With those exceptions, good private tutors can teach more effectively than those who must teach large groups,
where teachers spend more time maintaining discipline than teaching. We concentrate on what a student needs to learn, and can more easily hold a student's attention.

I work hard to figure out you or your child's best learning style, and adapt to it.
People have as many unique learning styles as there are people. Some learn best from books, some from aural presentations or videos, some from interactive websites, and some need to be guided through problems analytically. Many school teachers are very good at teaching, but must choose one teaching style for the whole class, which will work well for some students, but not for all.
A private academic tutor provides advantages similar to those of a private athletics coach.

In recent years, American tutors see more and more students, from schools and colleges, even some of the best and brightest.
We used to tutor only those students with genuine learning disabilities, had no one at home who could help, or who didn't want to learn. It's important to understand how this change has happened.

Education is now big business. Self-serving pundits, many without teaching experience, receive grants to develop "new and improved" teaching methodologies. They then sell new standardized tests, textbooks, videos, proprietary subscription website access, and teacher training classes, to meet their new standards. These drain time and money from schools, increasing class size, and force students to waste time learning from the new materials, which are inevitably more verbose. Recent programs like "No Child Left Behind"1, "Common Core", "Blended Learning", and "Flipped Classrooms" have all asked teachers to spend class time testing and helping the least motivated students to just barely pass those tests, as required to receive federal school funding, instead of teaching. The best and most motivated students must mostly teach themselves at home, and are no longer encouraged or challenged to learn by their teachers.

The most common problem students now face is an overwhelming volume of extremely repetitive text, lectures, videos, and web pages.
A concise, well organized textbook presents a typical academic class in 100 - 150 pages2. Students now instead read 1000 - 1500 pages of text, 3000 - 6000 difficult to navigate web pages, or endless hours of video, for each class. Videos are helpful for students who have trouble reading, but good readers can read several times faster than speech, and most web pages waste time on excessive interactivity. Studying is slow, and review, slower still - and sometimes web pages become unavailable after the class is over.

The result: Students don't get enough sleep and lose interest - and do not learn.
They are called learning disabled or are said to have attention deficit disorder, when the real problem lies in the educational system.

To meet the needs of the growing technology industry,
more and more American students are being pushed to enter colleges and universities, including elite schools,
and schools are being pushed to admit some students who are ill prepared for college level work.
Students seeking admittance to elite schools are told to take 5 - 7 advanced placement (college level) classes in high school, and do homework about 8 hours / night. Add to that the expected extracurricular sports activity and community service hours, and it is possible that the typical college-bound student doesn't get enough sleep to be healthy.

New teaching methodologies and more AP classes are often justified by a deliberately misrepresented comparison of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics test results from incoming American vs European college and university students. However, depending on the country, incoming European university students are typicaly much more select, and/or a year older and more schooled, and/or have taken fewer classes outside their majors, so the comparison is not fair. Justification is also based on PISA tests, given to 15 year olds from many countries.

But all standardized tests are biased. What is "correct" depends on which approximations that you were taught to use, the precise definitions of technical terms that you were taught, and even the outright errors in the educational materials that test-makers base the tests on. How well you do on these tests also depends on how often and how quickly you have solved similar problems in the past. All these tests predict future academic and career performance poorly, and often relate poorly to each student's life goals. So these changes to teaching methodologies and curricula should be reconsidered.

The increased pressure from AP courses and tests cuts further into sleep time, squeezes the fun out of learning and life, and is often counterproductive.
It is better to take fewer classes and do well. The high pressure continues for students who attend elite colleges and universities, at many of which professors are required or encouraged to grade on a curve. This discourages professors from teaching well and being helpful, because they must fail or grade badly a fixed percentage of students, no matter how well most of them learn. Professors at lessor colleges often try harder to help students succeed, at school and in life, but students are encouraged to attend elite schools.

After admission to a college or university, students take "placement tests". Those who fail must take "remedial" or "developmental" classes, which re-teach all of elementary school through high school Math and English skills, taught in the same inefficient ways, by college teachers with little interest in teaching these basic skills. Not surprisingly, about half of those students fail, and must drop out. For these and other college classes, students now must often attend 60 - 90 minute lab sessions, where they take turns asking for help, with about 30 other students, from a minimally trained teaching assistant. That's 2 - 3 minutes / student, a waste of time.

The increased need for tutors in America is no mystery to tutors, who see the failed results all the time. Time, money and resources are wasted on new teaching methodologies, materials, and tests, leading to increased class size, increased academic course load, and more time needed to study from grossly inefficient new materials, creating a lack of sleep and attention. All of these create learning problems.

I believe that, taught right, almost anyone can learn almost anything.
Good private tutors can solve many of these problems by giving students individual attention.
I have the patience and creativity to teach those who struggle to learn, as well as gifted students.
In person, one-on-one, I determine and use the student's best learning styles.
I focus on what the student needs to learn, rather than covering over and over the material they already know.


1As I write this, "No Child Left Behind" is being abandoned. So we "need" yet another generation of expensive educational materials.

2Students should learn to learn from many types of material, even inefficient ones, because they will have to throughout their lives, and not all subjects are best learned from textbooks. But for the most part, students should learn from efficient sources, such as concise textbooks.

In my opinion, the concept behind the Schaum's Outline series books could create almost perfect textbooks. I.E., cheap, short and sweet. They summarize a day's learning in a page or so, then include a sufficient number of solved problems, and additional exercises. Very easy to study, easier still to quickly review. Unfortunately, most Schaum's Outline books contain many mistakes per page, especially in the problems, a point often made in on-line reviews; a peer reviewed could find the mistakes. In addition, some Schuam's outline books miss important topics.

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