Rebecca Zook - Math Tutoring Online

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Topic: finding a tutor

HOW TO: find a trustworthy online tutor

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Now that technology allows kids to work online with tutors anywhere on earth, parents and kids face a whole new set of questions. How can you find a reputable online tutor if you might never meet face-to-face? Is online tutoring safe? Will it actually help?

When you evaluate potential tutors, you’ll want to assess the tutor’s personal qualities—their trustworthiness and their capacity to mentor your kid. You’ll also want to choose someone who uses technology that puts the human connection center stage. Here’s how.

Look for an individual. Even if you choose to go through a large tutoring company, look for online tutors who provide a photo of themselves and a bio. This information about their personality, experience, and approach can give you a sense of whether they’ll work well with your kid before you actually book a session. If possible, see if they have testimonials or case studies on their website. Check for recommendations on their LinkedIn profile or other review sites.

Talk to the tutor. Look for tutors you can talk to before you hire them. Give the tutor a call to discuss your situation, ask questions, and see if they’d be a good fit before making a decision. A trustworthy online tutor will be happy to have this discussion with you free of charge. In fact, they’ll probably want to have a “get to know you” conversation to evaluate whether you’re a good client for them before they decide to work with a new student.

Look for a setup where the same tutor works with your kid every time.
Working with a company that gives you 24/7 access to a randomized pool of online tutors means your kid will be able to get help around the clock, and you won’t need to book appointments in advance. These unlimited access plans are also usually less expensive than working with an individual.

However, though the tutors in this setup will probably be able to help with the issue du jour, there’s no way they’ll be able to see how today’s work fits into your kid’s bigger academic picture. It’s like going to a walk-in emergency clinic. The tutors may be qualified, but they just won’t have the perspective that comes from a long-term mentoring relationship.

A good tutor will keep track of your kid’s long-range academic goals and challenges, and keep them in mind as they manage each session. They’ll help your kid plan ahead to minimize academic emergencies, and address gaps in knowledge before they become major issues. So even if you go with a big tutoring company, seek out a situation where you can ask for the same tutor every time and book that specific tutor in advance.

Look for live voice communication.
It’s essential that your kid be able to ask their tutor questions out loud and hear their tutor’s voice. Instant messaging-style tutoring lacks the nanosecond-to-nanosecond communication that is the foundation of all great teaching.

Voice communication allows a tutor to hear if the student’s tone of voice is confident or bewildered and whether or not they’re “getting” the material. The immediacy of talking either on the phone or over VoIP allows a student and tutor to synchronize in a way that just can’t happen over IM. Plus, many students feel more comfortable talking out loud about what’s stumping them instead of having to type it out.

Look for handwriting. Seek out a tutor who uses technology where both the student and the tutor can write their work out by hand instead of typing. If a student is already confused enough to need a tutor, the interface should be as intuitive as possible. Having to worry about how to type your math problem, for example, doesn’t help you learn how to solve that problem. There are several innovative ways to integrate handwriting and online tutoring, and different tutoring companies use different methods.

In conclusion… At its best, great tutoring isn’t just about helping a kid learn a skill or pass a class—it teaches your kid to learn independently and rely on themselves to find answers. To maximize the positive impact of online tutoring, seek out an individual who you’ll work with consistently and who uses technology that puts the human connection front and center.

Related posts:
How to find a good math tutor
How to incorporate a tutor into your homeschooling or unschooling environment
How handwriting helps us learn (or why I use handwriting instead of typing)
My Tutoring Technology (4): Why I use handwriting instead of typing

Topic: finding a tutor

How to find a good tutor while you’re living abroad (guest post alert!)

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Trying to find a good English-speaking math tutor…in Mogadishu? An algebra tutor…in Algeria? A geometry tutor…in Guinea-Bissau?

Help is on the way! Today I’m guest posting about how to find a good tutor while you’re living abroad over at my colleague Becky Grappo’s blog, Educating Global Nomads.

As families around the world prepare to go back to school, I’m so happy that Becky Grappo has given this guest post a new home in cyberspace.

So check it out and leave a comment!

Also, if you are looking for someone to help solve your what-school-do-my-kids-attend-while-we-relocate-abroad problems, Becky Grappo is a great educational consultant who has worked with thousands of expat families.

Related posts:
Tips for how to help your kid with their math homework
What a Balinese dancing queen taught me about praise and encouragement
How to incorporate a tutor into your homeschooling/unschooling environment
Doing Fractions “In Chinese”?!

Topic: finding a tutor

Guest Post Alert: How to find a good tutor while living abroad

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

This guest post, how to find a good tutor while you’re living abroad, has moved to Becky Grappo’s blog, Educating Global Nomads. Thank you, Becky, for giving this post a new home in cyberspace now that Robin Pascoe has retired and taken down her website! Check it out and leave a comment!

2011-01-17_2359Today, I am guest posting over at the Expat Expert blog about how to find a good tutor while living abroad! Please feel free to check it out and leave a comment!

Many thanks to Expat Expert Robin Pascoe for this opportunity to write for an international audience. Robin’s website is a great source of information about living abroad as a family — plus, she has written five books about global living (including several for the Culture Shock! series, which I love).

Related posts:
Tips for how to help your kid with their math homework
What a Balinese Dancing Queen Taught Me About Praise and Encouragement
Five fun ways to help your kids learn math this summer
Doing fractions “In Chinese”?!

Topic: finding a tutor

How to incorporate a tutor into your homeschooling or unschooling environment

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

While the decision to homeschool or unschool is highly personal, and reasons to do so are as diverse as each family, many homeschooling and unschooling parents are motivated because they want to be much more involved in their kid’s education. But what about when you want to add another person to your instruction team?

Whether you’re bringing someone on board to help your kid explore an academic or artistic interest at a deeper level, or calling in backup for a topic you don’t personally feel comfortable instructing, here are some tips on how to incorporate a tutor into your homeschooling or unschooling environment.

Define the tutor’s role in advance. The clearer you are at the outset about what you want the tutor’s role to be, the easier it will be for them to meet your needs. So before you contact potential tutors, ask yourself what you want a tutor to provide.

Some homeschoolers/unschoolers want the tutor to be the sole instructor for a core subject they do not feel comfortable teaching themselves. Others just want a tutor to give their kid some extra one-on-one attention and practice in a subject they’ll be receiving instruction for at home or elsewhere.

Homeschooling/unschooling parents might to want to hire a specialist to help their kid explore a specific interest, recover lost confidence in a once-favorite subject, or provide more challenge and enrichment.

Communicate this from the outset.
Many tutors are used to working with non-homeschoolers/unschoolers whose priorities are determined by the deadlines and structures imposed by outside authorities. Without these exterior pressures, it’s even more important to be clear what your goals are so your tutor can structure sessions accordingly.

Choose someone you feel comfortable with. The more you feel you can trust a tutor, the easier it will be to incorporate them into your homeschooling/unschooling curriculum. So choose someone who can attune to how your kid learns and support their goals.

Maybe you got a great recommendation from another homeschooling/unschooling parent. Maybe you just feel really comfortable talking to the tutor on the phone the first time you call.

Whether you hire someone in your neighborhood or decide to connect with a specialist not available in your area by doing tutoring online, go with your instincts and choose a tutor you feel you can trust. And if, after a few sessions, the tutor isn’t helping or your kid doesn’t feel comfortable, it’s okay to switch.

Facing new challenges can get emotionally intense, so the more comfortable your kid is telling the tutor what they do and don’t understand, the more he or she will get out of the whole tutoring experience—and the more fun it will be.

Also, the more honest you can be with the tutor and the more candid they can be with you, the better you’ll be able to work together as a team.

Keep the lines of communication open. If there are any learning breakdowns or epiphanies between sessions, pass that information along. If your kid is really struggling with a certain type of problem or discovers a cool learning strategy, knowing that will only help the tutor do a better job.

If you feel comfortable sharing personal information, let your tutor know if there are any family crises or emotional issues that are affecting your kid’s focus. (If you need to tell your tutor something your kid is sensitive about, make a point to talk to the tutor where you can’t be overheard.)

Ask your tutor what’s the best way to keep each other informed. When and how you check in will vary depending on the situation—what really matters is just making a regular effort to communicate.

A good tutor will keep you up-to-date about what they’ve covered during sessions, as well as any stumbling blocks, behavior issues, or discoveries. Be receptive to your tutor’s observations—they may even help in other subjects.

Reevaluate curriculum as necessary. As a homeschooler, you probably have ideas about what curriculum you’d like your tutor to use. Maybe you’d like them to review materials you’ve used in the past, or you want to put some hand-me-down textbooks to good use. Or maybe you’re just excited about a curriculum you’ve researched.

A good tutor will be receptive to your ideas, but will also share their professional assessment of what will help your kid learn best. Your tutor may ask you to purchase a different curriculum than you’d planned, or recommend that you buy other materials to use in conjunction with the materials you’ve chosen yourself. Try to be supportive if this happens.

Reinforce outside of tutoring time. Kids will get the most bang for their buck if they practice what they’re learning outside of tutoring time.

The more time your kid puts into learning and practicing outside of tutoring, the more they’ll get out of the sessions themselves. That way you can use tutoring time to introduce new concepts, overcome roadblocks that have cropped up since their last tutoring session, or go over the most challenging material.

*I’m very glad to be included in today’s Carnival of Homeschooling, Princess Bride Edition. It’s the wittiest blog carnival theme I’ve seen yet, so check it out!

*If, on the other hand, you’re visiting from the aforementioned Carnival of Homeschooling, Princess Bride Edition, welcome! I’m so glad to see you here! If you’ve chosen to incorporate a tutor into your homeschooling/unschooling environment, I’d love to hear all about it, so feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Case Study: A Homeschooler Prepares for the SAT
How to find a good math tutor
Gallon man to the rescue!
Doing fractions “in Chinese”?!

Topic: finding a tutor

How to find a good math tutor

Friday, October 30th, 2009

A few years ago, when I was only tutoring students in person and not yet tutoring people online, I moved from Boston to Atlanta to attend graduate school. I was really sad to leave my Boston students behind. Many of them asked me to help them find a new tutor, and I didn’t know anyone to recommend. So this is what I suggested that my students do.

Ask around. Ask your teacher to recommend a tutor. Some teachers know great tutors that have been working with their students for years. Ask your school. A lot of schools maintain a list of recommended tutors, though the person in charge of it varies from school to school. Sometimes it’s the math department head, a guidance counselor, a grade coordinator. Sometimes it’s a learning specialist or someone in the front office. If you’re comfortable, ask your friends, and/or ask your parents to ask their friends. Someone you know might already know someone great!

Ask the internet. A lot of independent tutors have websites that include their contact info as well as information about their tutoring experience and philosophy. Some people have found a perfect tutor just by googling. Also, lots of tutors also post on craigslist. Find your city/area first, and then look for tutors under “lessons and tutoring.” If you’re overwhelmed by the number of posts, use the search function. Try looking for tutors who look like they put some thought and effort into writing their ad, or look for ads that say something that resonates with you.

Look for individuals. When it comes down to it, tutoring is about a one-on-one mentoring relationship. So it’s worth it to take the time to find an individual you would trust to mentor you. Look for tutors who promote themselves as individuals. People who are in business for themselves have more invested in their work than tutors who are working for a tutoring agency. If you choose to go through an agency, ones that post bios and pictures of their tutors are probably a better bet than most.

Make contact. Once you get a list of potential tutors, call or email them and tell them what you’re looking for. See what kind of vibe you get from them. The phone is probably best for reading someone’s vibe, but if calling strangers about tutoring seems intimidating, you can email first and build up to a phone call. Your interaction over the phone will give you some clues about what an actual tutoring session would be like.

Tell your story and ask questions. Tell the tutor what seems to be the trouble and see how they respond. Do they seem sympathetic? You can also ask about the tutor’s experience working with your grade level and subject or a particular learning style or learning disability. If you like, you can ask about their tutoring method or philosophy, their experience and credentials, or why they became a tutor.

Pay attention to how you feel. What the tutor says might not be as important as how the interaction feels. Does the potential tutor listen to you carefully? Do they ask you questions about what the trouble seems to be? Do they seem to have a sense of humor? Would you feel comfortable working one-on-one with this person? Trust yourself.

Schedule your first session.
You can’t really know how you’ll mesh with someone until you meet with them, so set up an initial meeting before making a final decision or signing up for a long-term commitment. Take your recent homework, current homework, or a recent test. Ask them to help you with the parts that are confusing. The first session will probably be the most awkward since you’re just starting to get to know each other and work together, but that’s ok! By the end of your initial meeting, you should have a clear sense of whether or not you want to continue.

Do they pay attention to whether or not you understand? Do they adjust their approach when you don’t? A good tutor will explain things different ways until they find the way that clicks for you.

Ask yourself, “Do I feel comfortable with this person?”
Frequently, by the time someone has their first meeting with a tutor, they’re pretty confused about what’s going on. It really helps to work with someone you feel relaxed with. The more comfortable you feel being totally honest with your tutor about what you don’t understand, the more effective the tutoring will be.

Ask yourself, “Is this person helping me?” It may take several sessions before you start to see improvement in your grades as a result of tutoring, but you should feel like you understand things at least a little bit better after the first session. If you feel comfortable with someone but they aren’t actually helping you, it’s ok to move on to someone who can.

The bottom line: Trust your own instincts and feelings. Every tutor has their own style, and you want to find someone who works with your style. There’s no need to spend time with people who talk down to you, or make you feel bad or stupid. Learning new stuff is hard enough! You just want to work with someone who knows what they’re talking about, can help you understand it, and makes you feel good about the whole process.

P.S. Here’s another good article about how to find a good math tutor.

Related Posts:
Tips for how to help your kids with their math homework
My Favorite Math Teacher is a Woman
I cried myself to sleep over my math homework
“Simple, but not easy” (2)
Five fun ways to help your kids learn math this summer