Many students will encounter a rough patch at some point in their schooling. When students are struggling, it’s common for teachers and parents to become concerned, and it’s only natural to want to help. Hiring a tutor can seem like an obvious solution, but first we should ask an important question – Is homework beneficial?
A Former Tutoring Fan
Early in my teaching career, I recommended tutoring to a number of parents. When teaching the same material to an entire class, it was only natural that some had it easier than others. When students struggled, I felt responsible for finding a solution – even when I didn’t know the cause. It was much easier to shift responsibility to the family by suggesting a tutor. In many cases, it even seemed to work – homework completion went up. Of course, I couldn’t know how much “help” the student had in completing it.
Not only did I recommend tutoring, I also worked as a tutor. For many teachers, tutoring is an essential supplement to the salary they receive from their school. The hourly rate parents were willing to pay for tutoring far exceeded what I could earn in the classroom. Parents were happy with the quality of my work, but I wasn’t convinced of the long-term impact.
I wanted to understand why students were struggling and create plans that would eventually make tutoring unnecessary. More often than not, my tutees’ parents and teachers were focused on making sure the homework got done. The students often resented giving up free time to work on their least favorite subjects.
Tutoring Doesn’t Address the Real Problem
The main reason most tutoring fails is because the role of a tutor is not to figure out why a student is struggling. Tutors have experience in their subject area, but few are experts in the psychology of learning. Even when a tutor is an educational expert, the structure of tutoring is not ideal for creating long-term solutions.
There are several common reasons why students struggle in school. Helping kids with homework can give the appearance of success while avoiding the real issue.
When students struggle with focus and motivation, they need inspiration and coaching on work habits. For skill gaps, students need to work on remedial content. And for students with learning differences, there are a range of solutions. It is often necessary to coordinate with teachers to put the plan into place.
For many struggling students, learning differences, skill gaps, and motivation problems become intertwined. It can be helpful to work with an expert to better understand the source of difficulty and develop a long-term plan.
Take A Hard Look at Homework
There are few things about school that students like less than homework. When a student is struggling, the homework issue can color their entire school experience. Many take for granted that homework is beneficial, but the research challenges that assumption.
In fact, some research shows that homework has a negative impact on learning. Many educational experts, such as Alice Keeler and Alfie Kohn, have written extensively on the dangers of homework. Some bloggers even share the “homework opt-out” letters they write to their childrens’ teachers.
Opting out may be too extreme for some parents, but it is important to think carefully about homework. Homework can be creative, thoughtful, and inspiring. Too often, however, homework consists of mindless, repetitive worksheets. Students who know how to do the work breeze through, while those who don’t, continue to struggle.
Many teachers assume that students who do their homework are hard workers while those who don’t are lazy. In reality, the reverse is often true. Top students can breeze through, and incomplete assignments don’t always imply a lack of effort. Once again, work with an expert can help you broach the homework conversation. Keep in mind, a solution should support the student while respecting all adults involved.
In Education, One Size Never Fits All
In traditional classes, teachers march ahead at a uniform pace and a teacher-centered approach. If research has found anything over the past century, it’s that this is just not effective for most students.
Teachers who take a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction tend to assume that outliers should work with a tutor. In reality, differentiating instruction is much more effective and equitable. After all, not every family can afford a tutor. And why should some students get to learn in class, while others need to learn after school?
If you are in the habit of recommending tutoring for your students, explore ways to address learning differences in class. It can be tough to differentiate on your own, so working with a teacher coach can help.
If your child’s teacher has suggested tutoring, find out what steps the teacher has taken in school. In all cases, acknowledge that teaching and parenting are both quite challenging. If the questions you ask come off as defensive or judgmental, it will be hard to find a solution that serves the child.
Creativity, Collaboration, and Conceptual Learning
Working with an instructional coach is just one of many ways that teachers and parents can better support students. To learn more about best practices in education, you can find tips and ask questions in our Facebook group.
We also share stories and strategies in the Room to Discover Educator’s Newsletter. Each week, we share posts like this one with educators around the world. Our community is dedicated to bringing creativity, collaboration, and conceptual learning to every student, in every classroom.