Teaching Opinion

To Get Tutoring Right, Connect It to the Classroom

Tutors should be using the same high-quality materials that teachers use in the classroom
By David M. Steiner & Ethan Mitnick — December 03, 2021 5 min read
Opinion Steiner Mitnick 11152021 1286902835 1287091043
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Meet Emma, a 4th grader. Last year, her school building was closed, and she attended only about half her distance-learning classes. Based on her performance on an assessment administered at the beginning of the school year, she is required to participate in a math-tutoring program to help her catch up. But instead of helping Emma feel more successful, tutoring creates additional stress. In class, Emma is learning about adding fractions with like denominators, but in tutoring, she’s working on finding the area of rectangles. There is no connection to her classroom work, and as a result, tutoring isn’t helping Emma.

School systems across the country are making major investments in tutoring. A recent review of school year 2021-22 district plans by the Center for Reinventing Public Education found that 52 percent of districts are planning to use federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to help students make up instructional time, and for many districts, this involves providing tutoring.

The research base tells us that, when done right, tutoring can significantly boost students’ success. There is also powerful evidence that addressing unfinished learning should take a learning acceleration approach that focuses on strategically preparing students to tackle grade-level content rather than (impossibly) trying to remediate all missed content.

“Students are likely to learn more,” write the authors of an EdResearch for Recovery white paper on high-dosage tutoring, “when their tutoring sessions complement and are responsive to their classroom grade-level instruction.”

As educators who advocate such tutoring and work with states and districts to accomplish it, we know that a critical question is: How do we make tutoring connect closely to what is taught in the classroom? Without such a connection, Emma and many other students will be far less likely to benefit from tutoring.

School system leaders who are launching tutoring programs can take deliberate steps to fold core existing instructional resources right into their tutoring plans. Using high-quality instructional materials that are already the basis for classroom instruction in tutoring sessions helps streamline the work of leaders, teachers, tutors, and students while helping ensure that tutoring effectively accelerates student learning. Curriculum-based diagnostics such as Eureka Math Equip help identify critical content to reinforce in tutoring what will best prepare individual students for upcoming lessons. Additionally, using high-quality materials in tutoring benefits tutors and students alike because of the familiar look, feel, and instructional approaches of the materials.

Access to these materials helps guide all tutors’ acceleration efforts regardless of their prior experience. Novice tutors can preview upcoming lessons and content from the curriculum with students, while more experienced tutors can leverage diagnostic data to identify students’ unfinished learning and deliver individualized, just-in-time support.

School system leaders who are launching tutoring programs can take deliberate steps to fold core existing instructional resources right into their tutoring plans.

Some high-quality materials providers such as Zearn Math and Amplify have already begun to create supplemental, aligned resources that are easy for tutors to use, such as scripts and step-by-step guidance. These tools help ensure that what students are working on in tutoring aligns with what they are doing in class. Even when their instructional materials are not yet adapted for use in tutoring, school and district leaders should still make a plan to use these resources in tutoring.

Here are some specific steps that leaders can take to connect tutoring to classroom instruction.

First, pay attention to details. For instance:

  • Determine what you want tutors to focus on. Prioritize curriculum-embedded data sources. Identify diagnostic assessments from within your materials (such as the Eureka Math Equip mentioned above) that can be used to pinpoint the content to be taught and to monitor the efficacy of the tutoring. Establish a set of clearly defined milestones and goals including dates when you will review the data with the tutors for any mid-course corrections.
  • Diagnostics may point to the need to reinforce foundational-skills math content and provide practice with decoding and vocabulary. In each case the skills should be needed for access to current grade-level work.
  • Ensure tutors have access to the right materials. Whether digital or print materials, tutors need easy access to these resources. This may require a procurement process and assigning staff members to distribute print materials and/or logins to tutors.

Second, invest in your people. You can:

  • Include tutors in teacher professional learning. Whenever possible, have tutors attend curriculum-specific professional learning and training alongside teachers. This will build a shared investment in the materials and better prepare tutors with the knowledge and skills they need to accelerate instruction.
  • Hire a training partner/vendor. A trusted professional learning provider can conduct training and coaching for tutors on the instructional materials you are using, especially if your materials do not contain specific resources for tutors. This may be available through your curriculum vendor or from external professional learning organizations.
  • Identify and use in-house educators who can support your tutors. Teachers or leaders who have been trained on the curriculum can provide ongoing site-based support and coaching for tutors on the use of the curriculum or serve as tutoring-program supervisors.

Several agencies and organizations launching tutoring initiatives have taken steps to align their tutoring programs with core instruction. Here are two examples:

  • The Arkansas education department’s elementary and secondary division and Gary Community Ventures’ Learning League (based in Colorado) are leveraging Zearn for use in their tutoring programs to accelerate classroom instruction. Tutors receive robust training from SchoolKit on Zearn.
  • The Texas Education Agency has released a list of vetted tutoring content providers. The materials on this list align to the core instructional materials being provided as open educational resources to Texas districts as part of the TEA’s COVID Recovery Supports. The result is a coherent package of high-quality materials for districts wishing to align their instructional materials to those used in tutoring.

In addition to streamlining their own efforts, when educators connect tutoring closely with classroom instruction and high-quality materials already used in classrooms, they can change the tutoring experience for students like Emma. Rather than being an exercise in frustration, tutoring that’s classroom-connected boosts confidence and academic ability in and out of school.

That’s when students get the full power of tutoring, an urgently needed intervention.


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