General Education

What’s The Difference Between A Tutor and A Learning Specialist?

What’s The Difference Between A Tutor and A Learning Specialist?
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Sarah Rivera November 20, 2014

Academic help for your child can come in all shapes and specialties. Read on to understand who you should reach out to when your child is falling behind.

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Even good students will hit a rough patch at school, and even the most patient and helpful of parents will need to call in the professionals from time to time.

Different Types of Help

There are many forms of academic assistance that you can look for. Read through the list below to learn what kind of help would best suit your child:

# Homework Helper

Sometimes, parents can get by with a “homework helper," which is the most basic sort of tutor. This is usually an older student who essentially supervises your child as she does her work. She can answer some questions and keep things moving forward.

# Tutor

An actual tutor may be called for if your child is having trouble in a few academic areas. Tutors will help your child study, complete homework, and stay on track in a particular class. Tutors can supplement regular schoolwork with extra academic drills, as well as help students prepare for tests. They use focused strategies to close learning gaps and develop specific skills.

One mother told me that her middle school daughter, who loved numbers, started having trouble in her advanced math class. The daughter bombed a quiz and then started getting low Bs on tests.

“I had an 11-year-old daughter who was suddenly doubting her ability to do math. It was a travesty." Telling her daughter to go back to her room and study harder wasn’t working. The mother hired a local tutor who came highly recommended. The tutor was familiar with the curriculum at the school and asked for all old assignments and assessments in order to come up with a plan for study. She came weekly to go over assignments, tests, and textbook problems.

It turned out that a lot of kids in this math class were at a similar crossroads. It could have been a teaching issue, or that most of the kids had surpassed the point where their natural gifts had allowed them to easily understand concepts. They needed new, critical skills.

“[My daughter] had not ever had to study in math. There is a point where the methods you have been using require additional resources." Within four months, the tutor got the student back on track in math. “We had to spend the time and the money to get her to the other side." Other parents followed suit.

Tutors can provide generalized or specific help, and can address subjects such as math, reading, foreign languages, advanced placement (AP) and standardized tests.

The Learning Specialist

There is another person who provides academic assistance, called a learning specialist. A learning specialist will help students who may need a new approach to the subject matter because of overarching learning differences, such as ADHD or limited executive functioning skills.

Learning specialists have degrees and special education teaching experience, and will employ various methodologies. They will charge accordingly and may transform how your child approaches academic experiences.

One mother told me that her second grader was having reading difficulties. The school wasn’t concerned, but the reading issue had carried over to math word problems. It seemed her daughter was stuck in one place. A reading specialist came in, met with the student, and determined that the girl had trouble understanding some technical aspects of reading. She didn’t know how to blend sounds, (“cl" to her was “ca" and “la," not “cla"). They had two sessions, and the girl’s reading fluency flourished.

Specialists will teach kids many tools that help them connect to their schoolwork and learning. With the increased level of testing in our schools, kids often need more help outside of the classroom. Tutors and learning specialists fill a vital role in helping students of all abilities make the most of their learning.

Need help finding a tutor? Check out Noodle’s tutoring search to find experts in your area.

Further Reading:

The Search for an Effective Tutor

When Academic Trouble Means Something Else

How to Choose A Tutor or Learning Specialist


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