Top 10 Tips for Elementary Tutoring During Coronavirus

Many parents panicked when they first heard about the school closure. The idea that we would need to shut down schools or “cancel school” due to coronavirus was not only seen as a physical health and economic threat, but also as a threat to our children’s education. While there has been an opportunity for experimentation since the beginning of the coronavirus, the remote education solutions offered by most schools and districts thus far have been mostly supplemental self-learning oriented. Although providing individual feedback on progress, teachers generally only occasionally interacted virtually with their students in real-time, and parents were expected to take on the role of facilitator.

Arguably, this is the best they could come up with on short notice. However, it is far from a perfect solution. The decisions had to be made and implemented so fast, it seemed like we could only recognize two extremes: either school as usual or remote self-learning, with nothing in-between. Unfortunately, most students are not at the same level that they would have been had it been a normal academic year. Even for parents who were in a position where they had time and resources to help, it is questionable whether remote learning curriculums really meet the academic, much less social and emotional, needs of students. Meanwhile, one of the questions where there has been no satisfying answer has been how to handle assessments.

A lot of parents heard from elementary schools and districts that told them they understand their limitations, so they shouldn’t worry too much about testing and grades at this time. Since their children’s education during coronavirus will not be optimum but must continue virtually with minimum impact, we will all eventually “figure it out.” What choice do we have? In other words, since we realize education needs cannot be completely met right now, we need to treat assessments and grades differently during the school closure. This is responsible. However, it also shows the extent to which there is a general agreement about a significant gap in learning, and very few would argue that a gap from the last semester exists.

Most schools and districts in preparation for the fall should begin having conversations now about addressing that gap responsibly, and parents might want to consider having these conversations as well. This is especially true if it turns out that 2020 is to continue virtually. As we have seen, it would likely not be accurate to assume that most schools can meet students’ learning needs under coronavirus circumstances to the extent they normally would, and it may not be fair to expect them to. (If you are one of the few who believes that there are no gaps in your child’s education since the coronavirus began, and that it is right on track and has not been impacted, you are in the minority.)

At this point, rather than looking at social distance learning as an all or nothing proposition as we move into fall, it might be prudent to look at hybrids. One thing to remember, especially when it comes to younger grade school students and especially during times when we feel isolated, is that any opportunity to increase human interaction while remote learning is a plus. Online self-learning can inform, but it takes a teacher to inspire.

If safety doesn’t permit in-person learning in groups, and time or regulations won’t permit one-to-one live learning from your school’s teacher, one-to-one tutoring with a qualified teacher can fill this need. You can still use the school curriculum, and private in-home tutoring with a degreed teacher is highly effective as a supplement to classroom learning. Most importantly, this can be done taking proper health precautions at a minimum risk.

For elementary students, your private tutor should be an actual qualified school teacher (not simply a high school or college tutor) who understands and can assess elementary students’ learning and progress. A private tutor is not always needed for a lot of hours, and is often used just to check in and make sure everything is on track and going according to plan. A private tutor can also act as an “assistant teacher” and communicate with the student’s school teacher, to facilitate practice with the student or address any difficulties if there are areas of concern.

If one-to-one learning in person becomes not safe or the risk is too great, private one-to-one tutoring live online can be an acceptable substitute. If a student’s regular teacher can only interact with students in a group for one hour a day or less, receiving the attention of a personal tutor can be just the connection that is needed. Although some subjects are easier to facilitate online than others, and personality fit is essential, individual attention may be the solution to help younger students weather the self-learning remote educational storm. A virtual human connection is better than no human connection.

If you are considering private tutoring in-person or online, here are a few things that might help you prepare to get the most out of the experience and obtain the best results for your grade school student. This is a general, and by no means exhaustive list, but it’s fairly detailed and a good place to start.

Here are the Top 10 Tips for Elementary Tutoring in a post-coronavirus world:

1. Set Goals & Expectations

First, take time to prioritize your goals. Think about what you need your child to get out of tutoring, and what you hope he or she will achieve. Then think about what you expect from the tutor. It might be more effective to take notes and write down your thoughts. You may also find that you need to consult with more than one tutor, bring in a second tutor if another area of expertise is required, or have an experienced educational consultant at a tutoring agency take care of all of the arrangements for you. Before starting your search, prepare an FAQ outlining all the details of what needs to be done, so when you speak with the tutor you are on the same page. You can be flexible, and things are bound to change, but having the road map for reference is important.

2. Discuss Safety

Is one-to-one in-home tutoring safe during coronavirus? That depends on your own circumstances and risk tolerance. Although one-to-one tutoring in-person is much less risky and easier to manage when it comes to safety protocols than learning in groups or attending school, there is still a small amount of risk to both teacher and student. Comfort levels vary from person to person and family to family, so both the teacher who is tutoring and you need to have honest conversations about what you are both comfortable with. If one or both parties are significantly worried to the point of taking temperatures and wearing masks and you are still not comfortable, it might be advisable to keep the tutoring online until you can move to in-person tutoring at a later time.

3. Use Vetted Teachers

Many people think of college students or high school students first when hiring a tutor. However, for grade school and younger students, this can be a mistake. Working with younger elementary students is very different from high school or even middle school students, and having a tutor who also has real classroom teaching experience and expertise in early childhood education can be a huge asset. This is because an understanding of children’s behavior and the elementary curriculum they are tutoring is important for assessing and assisting with the child’s development. In short, qualified teachers want to help (it’s their career), and they also know how. So why hire just a tutor when you can have your own private teacher? Teachers working together can provide your child with his or her own effective education team.

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4. Check Scheduling

Prior to hiring a tutor, go over your weekly schedule and see what days and times are possible to have the tutoring on a regular basis. Scheduling will be more challenging for those who require more hours, but it is best to establish a range of possible times when you can, rather than simply insisting on a specific day and time. Why? Because if you are looking for the best early childhood expert teacher you can find for private tutoring only on Tuesdays and Fridays at 4:30pm, you just narrowed down the gene pool to the point where you may have to compromise on personality fit or quality. Whereas alternatively, if you were to look for the best early childhood expert teacher you can find two times/week between the hours of 3pm-6pm Monday-Friday, the quality of the tutor is the priority over the time, and you will have more great choices to choose from. This increases your chances of finding a tutor who is just the right fit. Great teachers who provide private tutoring are busy, but try to choose a tutor who has a little flexibility so you can schedule makeups and add additional time if you need it. Also, it is usually assumed that you (or your tutor) may be traveling at certain points during the summer. Taking time off, or scheduling via live video chat at those times are both options. You will want to discuss this in advance and make arrangements with the tutor.

5. Assess Personality Fit

Ever wish you could choose the personality of your child’s teacher? Well now you can! This aspect of private tutoring is one of the most important and understated advantages when it comes to one-to-one learning. When choosing a tutor to work directly with your child, think about the kind of person who he or she responds well to in a learning atmosphere. You might think of prior teachers to determine what (or who) worked well and what didn’t. Personality fit will matter for some children more than others, but try to get a sense of what qualities the perfect tutor for your child would have at this time, then match those qualities to a tutor who works well with your child.

6. Practice Communication

During a school closure with remote learning, communication between teachers, parents and students is more important than ever. A private tutor can help greatly with this, acting at times as the teacher’s assistant who makes sure the student does his or her work. However, in order for this to happen, regular communication between all parties is a must. This is especially true if the tutoring is also virtual. "In an online environment, everyone's anxiety is high and channels of communication need to be frequent, clear and succinct," says Sandra Chow, an expert in digital learning at the Keystone Academy. Often parents put their tutors in touch with the child’s teacher, but regardless, make sure you do regular check-ins with the tutor to see how things are going. If working remotely with the tutor, be sure to ask any questions and provide frequent feedback through online knowledge checks. Communication helps everyone to keep the student motivated and moving forward.

7. Establish a Daily Routine

For grade school students, especially those at a younger age, there is often a “rhythm” to a daily routine. While you have to be somewhat flexible, after you find a schedule that works, it might not be prudent to vary the schedule too much during the week. If your child is more focused at certain times of day, it might be best to schedule subjects that require the most concentration at those times rather than forcing the child’s natural tendencies to conform. A qualified teacher can give you feedback about this when it comes to private tutoring after working with your child for a period of time. In addition, inserting some kind of human connection on a daily basis into each child’s schedule when possible should be a priority for elementary children. “Beyond the electronic connection, we need to connect emotionally -- especially in times of anxiety and uncertainty,” says Mays Imad PHD, coordinator of the Teaching & Learning Center in Tuscon Arizona. Professor of neuroscience Antonio Damasio at USC puts it another way, “We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.”

8. Assign Devices & Tools

This is important for remote learning whether you bring in a tutor or not, but the tutor will also need this information. Get guidance on and directions for all platforms and tech. Check with your student’s classroom teacher on where to find the daily assignments; a list of sites and tools the students will need, how to log in and what to do if the technology doesn’t work. Have or prepare a step-by-step guide on how to access and use each online learning tool and curriculum. (If possible, have the information in various formats: text, video, screenshots, screen-casting tutorials.) Parents must also make sure all students – especially the youngest learners – know how to log in to the platforms and know their passwords. The school or district should enable you to know how and when to reach your child’s teacher if you need to ask for help. Lastly, many families don't have one computer per person, and during a school shutdown, parents may also be working from home. If possible, make sure all online apps work on mobile devices in case a laptop is not available. If this sounds like a lot to keep track of, it is—but having another stakeholder who also cares about keeping track of these things will help, and that’s your child’s tutor.

9. Electives, Hobbies & Playtime

It may be the last thing on your mind during these challenging times, but don’t forget about finding balance for children. It can be hard to coordinate everything at first, but it will greatly pay off to include time for these things in the long run. This author has witnessed children who needed help as a result of “Dragon parents” who insisted on nothing but non-stop academics all day with no variation, as well as parents whose children were left to their own devices and rarely studied. Neither extreme is good. Expert private teachers are also readily available for electives and hobbies, and more of these options are now available online. Scheduling can be challenging, but there are more “out-of-the-box” solutions popping up as we begin to think long-term. For instance, Victoria Shanghai Academy in Hong Kong moved to digital learning at the beginning of February. However, since then, they found that students were struggling to make time each day for electives. They realized electives were important, so they decided to allocate one day per week for all elective activities. For parents, during coronavirus, weekends may also be an option. (The activity of an elective itself, or practice of it, often takes place on a daily or regular basis, but the actual lesson when the instructor teaches is on a specific day of the week.)

10.Provide Positive Feedback

This goes along with communication, but there is an important distinction. Positive feedback is required for the student, and it is also helpful for the tutor. A good teacher acting as a private tutor will not only increase the student’s ability to understand the material, but will also encourage and guide the student in ways that promote an achievement mindset. The emotional reward is a big part of that, and parents showing they are proud of the student’s work when he or she shows progress can be a much-needed emotional reward, especially during a time of isolation. It makes the tutor’s job easier, and optimizes the student’s ability when the student looks forward to learning and overcoming obstacles.

Some things still can’t be done by machines, and for elementary aged children, tutoring is one of them. At first glance, these tips may sound like a lot to deal with. Yet, spending even just a little time on each one up front will pay off huge in savings of time and results when you hire the right tutor. After the initial assessment phase when your child becomes comfortable with his or her tutor, the routine will be set and the benefits will quickly begin to show. It may not quite be “set it and forget it”, but it can be very close once you establish a routine. With the right tutor taking over, it’s definitely the next best thing.

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