Hello! I’m excited to be writing my first blog post for Pittsburgh Prep! As a veteran classroom teacher and private tutor, I come to Pittsburgh Prep with a deep understanding of how classroom instruction and academic tutoring can work together to meet a student’s scholastic needs.
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a well-known fact that students benefit from intentional, individualized instruction. As much as classroom teachers do to provide that specialized attention to each of their students (and believe me – they do A LOT), some students need more focused attention than their teachers can provide in a classroom setting. For this reason, families reach out to academic tutors to supplement their child’s scholastic needs during the school year. One-on-one and small-group instruction outside of the classroom provide students with another point of contact for getting their questions answered, reviewing or re-learning key concepts, and receiving feedback. Furthermore, because an academic tutor is not responsible for determining students’ grades, a tutoring session can provide a safe space for students to engage in honest discussion about their opinions on the subject matter and any problems they might be experiencing in that class.
All of the above was true before COVID-19 turned our lives upside down in March of 2020. Students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and pretty much anyone who interacts with the outside world know that COVID-19 has had (and continues to have) enormous impacts on all forms of large-group schooling. School closures removed all students from the physical classroom environment for more than a third of the 2019-2020 school year, and the majority of students in the United States continued to learn remotely for some or all of the 2020-2021 school year. Consequently, students all over the country have significant learning loss on the content they were slated to learn.
As a classroom teacher, I can tell you that this learning loss goes beyond temporarily forgetting a concept. Whenever we learn something to the extent that it can be used in the future, at least a portion of the associated knowledge is converted to long-term memory for retrieval when we need it later on. When a new topic is being taught that relies on content students have already learned, a teacher will review the prior knowledge with their students to refresh their memories and connect that knowledge to the new topic. This process is sometimes referred to as “activating prior knowledge”, and it is a crucial step when preparing to teach content that depends on student understanding of content they’ve learned.
What happens when activating prior knowledge isn’t an option?
When I began to understand the extent to which my students did not know the prior mathematical knowledge that I would need to activate in order to teach them a new skill, I had to make difficult decisions about how best to support them. Should I go back and teach that missing knowledge? If I moved ahead and pushed the new material on my students, they would not have the necessary foundations to fully comprehend what I was supposed to teach them, which would perpetuate the cycle of learning loss. Like a lot of educators I know, I made it my goal to teach my students the new content that their future math classes would require. To do so, I had to go back and teach (as if for the first time) that prior knowledge they didn’t actually have. My students worked hard and matured significantly as math students between the beginning and end of the 2021-2022 school year, but they were still behind with respect to where state assessments and other standardized assessments said they should be.
How can academic tutoring help with learning loss?
Academic tutoring provides considerable benefits that help to repair COVID learning loss. Pittsburgh Prep’s academic instructors are aware of the ways in which the pandemic has added additional challenges to a stressed education system. Because we work with students one-on-one, we learn directly from our students what challenges they are experiencing. We match each of our students with an experienced instructor who is well-versed in the subject matter they will be tutoring. This instructional experience includes having solid understanding of the prior knowledge students will need in order to succeed in their current coursework.
Beyond filling in gaps in knowledge and connecting it to what students are currently learning in their classes, our academic tutors get to know our students as individuals. A strong personal connection with our students allows us to gauge how our students are coping with the emotional stressors of the pandemic, both in and outside of school. We then work with our students to better understand their stress and what actions they can take as students to lessen that stress. This sort of coaching often comes in the form of executive function coaching – working with our students on time management, organization, how to study for upcoming assessments, and other skills that are not specific to one area of content.
No man is an island, and no child exists in a vacuum.
At Pittsburgh Prep, our academic tutors maintain regular contact with our students’ parents and guardians. We consider ourselves to be partners in our students’ education and development, working to find solutions to parental and student concerns from the very first session. With parental permission, we work with key members of our students’ academic support network (high-school teachers and/or counselors) in order to provide a coordinated approach in addressing barriers to academic success.
We are proud to be a part of our students’ support system and take our role in their academic development seriously. Academic tutoring has always been a great way to supplement school instruction. In these times of learning loss, inconsistent learning experiences, and heightened stress, students benefit even more from the added support that academic tutoring can serve. Reach out to us if you are considering academic tutoring as an option for your child. After all, it takes a village!