Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

8 Considerations for Designing High-Impact Tutoring

The most important rule is start small
By Kevin Newman — June 08, 2021 4 min read
A teacher looks at a book with young children.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With the return to in-person learning in sight, K-12 leaders are urgently setting priorities for the coming school year. Each spring, educators are eager to find that “just right” approach to their biggest challenges. As a former middle and high school principal, I know that’s especially true after a tough year—and no year has been tougher than this one.

For many leaders, accelerating student learning is top-of-mind, and one method that has garnered a lot of recent attention is high-impact tutoring. The National Student Support Accelerator, founded this year at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University to promote and support high-impact tutoring, defines it as one-to-one or small-group support that supplements classroom learning and complements existing curriculum by focusing on specific goals in response to individual students’ needs. This kind of tutoring is also known as “high-intensity tutoring” or “high-dosage tutoring.”

Research has shown that frequent in-school tutoring is one of the best ways to support students’ academic progress. In fact, tutoring has had greater impacts on student learning than various forms of teacher training, curriculum, extending the school day, teacher evaluation, and more.

This kind of tutoring is not meant to solely focus on remediating previous learning, although some reteaching may be involved. It might be helpful to think of high-impact tutoring as “accelerated learning” rather than “remediated learning.”

As with any education intervention schools undertake, it is important to first consider a variety of factors and then formulate a program that’s calibrated to address them. In my current role helping leaders of the KIPP network of charter schools shape their academic strategies, I advise that any school looking to design a high-impact tutoring program address these eight key components:

  1. Format: It can be either online or in person.
  2. Frequency and length of time: It is recommended that tutoring take place at least three times per week for at least 30 minutes at a time for the full school year.
  3. Ratio: Ideally, a student-to-tutor ratio should be 1-1 or 2-1 and no greater than 4-1. Any ratio greater than 2-1 runs the risk of “teaching to the middle” and thus being less effective. Larger groups also require the tutor to have greater pedagogical skills and/or classroom-management skills.
  4. Scheduling: It is recommended that tutoring occur during the school day as a formal part of the schedule, such as a dedicated class period.
  5. Staffing: If possible, students should have the same tutor(s) for the full year. Research indicates that less-experienced tutors can be effective with consistent training, strong supervision, and structured curricula. Schools might consider staffing with paraprofessionals and/or novice teachers.
  6. Students: Given that all students benefit from individual attention, tutoring is recommended for all students, not just for those who may be struggling. Tutoring exclusively for struggling students tends to create stigma and may be perceived as punishment.
  7. Support: For tutors, determine who will provide ongoing training and supervision, including observation and feedback. For content, determine differentiated scope and sequence for each student and determine whether teachers or tutors will be providing it. For outcomes, determine the process for individual goal setting, progress monitoring, and data collection and analysis.
  8. Tutoring content: Content should be curriculum-based, on grade level, with just-in-time scaffolds to help students over rough spots, and it should be focused on the most critical standards for the grade level. It is most important to tailor content to students’ progress, whether that be pre-teaching, reviewing for an exam, or aiding with homework.

These are all important considerations, but the list comes with a caution, too. In stressful times like these, a recipe feels like a godsend. Yet a recipe can also be dangerous because it does not take local context into consideration. So rather than run with predetermined recommendations, school leaders should first start with defining the student outcomes they are seeking to meet through high-impact tutoring. If schools are looking for one “rule” to follow without exception, it is this: Start small, work with the program until you find success, and then assess whether that success can be maintained at a larger scale.

See Also

A tutor welcomes a student to a workstation
JuliarStudio/iStock/Getty Images<br/>

For example, the KIPP schools in Nashville, Tenn., are currently building their program with these components in mind but in a way that meets their context and constraints. They will be targeting students in specific grades, with primary students focusing on reading and secondary students focusing on math. Their tutoring will be offered for an hour after school, three days a week, and they have partnered with a local tutoring service to provide instruction and oversight.

While KIPP Nashville is not incorporating every single recommendation, they are considering all components in their design, and—most importantly—they are starting small. “We decided to start small and observe results so we could make the appropriate revisions if we decided to scale up,” said Nancy Livingston, the KIPP Nashville chief of schools.

To be as successful as possible, take these eight components into account and thoughtfully design a program that is realistic, sustainable, and rooted in your specific context. Our students don’t need another education initiative to fizzle out partway through the year. They deserve a well-considered plan that places their learning at the center. High-impact tutoring, if done right, can be instrumental in achieving that goal.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 16, 2021 edition of Education Week as 8 Considerations for Designing High-Impact Tutoring

Events

Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Roundtable Webinar: Why We Created a Portrait of a Graduate
Hear from three K-12 leaders for insights into their school’s Portrait of a Graduate and learn how to create your own.
Content provided by Otus

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Letter to the Editor Student Protestors Are Not Fueled by Hatred or Prejudice
A reader pushes back on the coverage of student protestors in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
School & District Management Quiz What Do You Know About the Most Influential People in School Districts? Take Our Quiz
Answer 7 questions about the superintendent profession.
1 min read
Image of icons for gender, pay, demographics.
Canva
School & District Management Opinion I Invited My Students to Be the Principal for a Day. Here’s What I Learned
When I felt myself slipping into a springtime slump, this simple activity reminded me of my “why” as an educator.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
4 min read
052024 OPINION Khoshaba PRINCIPAL end the year with positivity
E+/Getty + Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management The Complicated Fight Over Four-Day School Weeks
Missouri lawmakers want to encourage large districts to maintain five-day weeks—even as four-day weeks grow more popular.
7 min read
Calendar 4 day week
iStock/Getty