Many districts used their COVID-relief funds to put in place in-person, online, or hybrid tutoring initiatives to help curb achievement gaps made worse by the pandemic.
But some districts haven’t seen the benefits. Districts in Columbus, Ohio, and Santa Ana, Calif., have had to cancel contracts with an online tutoring company after not enough students used the service.
Research shows that high-impact tutoring works. But what makes a tutoring program effective, and how can it be scaled to change the academic outcomes of millions of students? In a SXSW EDU panel on March 8, experts listed five characteristics of an effective tutoring program.
1. It’s part of the school day
Tutoring that is integrated into the school day and provided as a supplement to core curriculum instruction to support the work that classroom teachers are doing will lead to “some of the greatest academic outcomes for kids,” said AJ Gutierrez, the co-founder and vice chair of Saga Education, a nonprofit that provides tutoring services to marginalized students.
How can schools do that? One way could be to replace intervention time that’s already embedded into the school schedule with tutoring sessions, said Shalinee Sharma, the CEO and co-founder of Zearn, a math learning platform.
2. It happens 3 to 5 times a week
Research has shown that tutoring works best if it’s high dosage, which means offered three or more days of the week for at least 30 minutes each time. Having a consistent schedule ensures that the student has the time they need to fully understand the content, and it also ensures that they continue to build a strong relationship with their tutor, the panelists said.
3. There’s high-quality curriculum and content
High-quality instructional materials are necessary to make tutoring successful, said Lisa Coons, the chief academic officer for the Tennessee Department of Education. If classroom teachers don’t have high-quality instructional materials, and if they don’t have clear expectations for students, it’s difficult to figure out whether a student is on track or off track. It’s also difficult for tutors to figure out how to support students. High-quality curriculum “provides a vehicle for connection” between classroom teachers and tutors, Coons said.
4. Tutor-student relationships are consistent
Tutoring is about relationships, panelists said. Tutors need to understand where a student is in their academic journey and they need to understand how to move them along. Tutoring can also become an opportunity for mentorship, Gutierrez said. It can connect kids with a caring adult, which could help them stay on track.
5. There’s professional development for tutors
Zearn, which is used for tutoring programs in some school districts, provides professional learning for tutors, Sharma said, because tutors can range from super experienced to absolute beginners. Tutoring could also become “an avenue to bring new teachers into teaching,” Sharma said. The differentiated learning opportunities for tutors are important, not only so they can deliver high-impact tutoring, but also so they can grow professionally, she said.