Do after-school tutoring centers really improve a child’s reading?

Yes, after-school tutoring centers can improve the reading abilities of many children.

According to 2009 research by the University of Illinois, tutoring centers which do the following have the best chances of helping a student to improve reading skills:

• The center uses trained tutors (experienced teachers but also tutors whom the center trains).

Adult holding a book open for the child next to her and saying, "You and I are going to work together every day."

• The center tests the student to identify his reading strengths and weaknesses and then prepares a plan to address the weaknesses.

• The center continues to assess the student from time to time—with formal tests and with informal tutor appraisals—to show progress or a need for more work on certain concepts.

• The center’s tutors are in touch with the students’ classroom teachers so that they can work together to help students.

• The center’s reading program follows a sequenced strategy.

A 2001 US Department of Education report on tutoring centers agrees on these good practices suggested by the University of Illinois, but adds these others:

• The center offers intensive, on-going training for teachers.

• The center works with the child regularly (daily or at a minimum of once a week for up to an hour of instruction).

• The center offers individual strategies to meet the needs of the 17 to 20% of students not helped by the center’s usual approach to teaching reading.

Whether a tutoring center can improve the reading skills of a particular child depends on the needs of that child. If a child is doing average-to-well in school or is a good ESL student, the after-school program probably can strengthen his skills. If the child has serious reading problems, such as dyslexia, the tutoring center might be willing to develop an individualized instruction plan. But not all centers are able to do this.

My advice is to identify your child’s needs with the help of his classroom teacher and then interview various tutoring centers to find one which will meet his needs or, if none seem right, look for a private tutor who specializes in teaching reading.

For more information on these research reports, go to
http://www.cprd.illinois.edu/files/ResearchBrief_Tutoring_2009.pdf and http://www.cns.gov/areads/about/evtutoringworks.pdf.

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