Same Challenges, New Sense of Urgency
The need to provide supplemental support in addition to high-quality, primary instruction has been a constant in teaching and learning since the likes of Horace Mann, Catharine Beecher, and Henry Barnard were advocating for a comprehensive system of common schools. There will always be students who need extra support and there will always be learning and achievement gaps to close. The challenges aren’t new, but both politics and the pandemic have magnified them. Schools are working hard to meet these challenges head-on.
Pre-pandemic intervention systems were already well underway in most schools. Schools implemented initiatives like social-emotional learning (SEL) programs, response to intervention (RtI) continuums, and positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), and most have tried to bring all of these under a single umbrella: a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) in education covering all support options. Sometimes, though, these existing programs tend to focus on behavior first and instruction second. This is understandable, given that our business is in gathering so many children together in one location! There is an opportunity lost, however, when targeted, in-depth, supplemental instruction becomes an afterthought rather than a primary focus of MTSS initiatives.
Ask a school official and they might tell you that schools are providing these programs to give kids “extra help” or “catch them up.” In theory, schools would like this to be tiered, targeted intervention that helps close the learning and achievement gaps between individual students and groups of students, particularly students with disabilities, students with economic disadvantages, and/or students from traditionally underserved ethnic groups. In practice, however, supplemental instruction often devolves into things like homework help - especially at the secondary levels. Staff can become so focused on trying to help via work completion that, through no real fault of their own, they can lose sight of more effective ways to intervene with students who struggle.
Where Does Tutoring Fit?
Enter tutoring. Tutoring fits snugly at all levels of MTSS in education. Tutoring is sometimes seen only as a tier 2 or tier 3 RtI support, or something that is only provided after school by private companies and/or retired educators. We sometimes forget that tutoring often fits best as a district-managed intervention available to all students throughout the school day, embedded alongside primary instruction.
Tutoring fits as a universal tier 1 practice, via peers, classroom teachers, and tutoring specialists. Let’s say a teacher, during the course of everyday informal observation and assessment, notices that a student or group of students are not grasping the day’s instruction at the same level as their peers. They incorporate the topic into the high dosage program they have already started for the student(s) on the district’s Littera platform, and students complete the tutoring with the teacher or a specialist during time that has been set aside for all students during the day, not removing them from their primary instruction or specials.
Tutoring also fits as a targeted tier 2 or tier 3 practice. If a school’s RtI team has moved a student to tier 2 or tier 3 for reading intervention, for example, targeted small-group or individual tutoring during the school day fits perfectly within the school’s existing MTSS framework.
How Does Tutoring Help?
A gifted high school student benefits from having supplemental direct instruction in the form of tutoring for a particularly vexing math concept that will help clarify the primary instruction she received in both her advanced placement calculus and physics classes. A second-grade student with special needs due to an identified learning disability in reading benefits from small-group tutoring in vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, and more. A middle school student benefits from the small-group tutoring strategy of reciprocal teaching to clarify and then master the FOIL strategy in algebra.
Tutoring helps all of these students, and many more, because tutoring done right is structured, targeted reteaching and support.
Why Choose Tutoring Over Other Interventions?
MTSS in education presents a seemingly limitless menu of interventions. Surprisingly, however, there are very few interventions being implemented, particularly tier 2 or tier 3 interventions, that involve instruction in content areas and which demonstrably lead to higher student achievement. For example, “gamifying” classrooms might be trendy and may have some positive impact on student achievement, but gamifying is under the research threshold where strategies are most effective. Strategies associated with and implemented alongside district-managed tutoring programs (targeted learning goals, integration with prior knowledge, deliberate practice, meaningful feedback, and many more) are much more impactful.
So, choose tutoring.
Choose it because it’s personal.
Choose it because it fits in with what you’re already doing.
Choose it because it works.