Work with teacher, child in choosing reading tutor, professionals recommend; Resources are available on finding the best match


By the end of first grade, a child should be able at least to decode one-syllable words, recognize some vocabulary words on sight and comprehend what is being read.

But if the child instead guesses at words, adds extra sounds to words and avoids reading, it may be time to look for a tutor.

"The sooner parents get help for the child, the better," says Jennifer Rupp, director of The Endeavor Center, a Towson-based division of the Kennedy Krieger Institute offering services to children with difficulties in various skill areas, including academics.

"If parents even suspect that a child is struggling in reading, they should immediately contact the classroom teacher and find out if the teacher sees trouble as well," said Rupp. "As time progresses, the child is only going to get farther and farther behind."

Finding a tutor can be as easy as asking your child's teacher, school principal or guidance counselor -- as well as parents of classmates -- for referrals and recommendations.

Area school systems may have lists of businesses, nonprofit organizations and teachers who provide tutoring services. Harford County's public school system will refer parents to certified teachers on its staff who also work as tutors.

Organizations that provide support for individuals with learning disabilities often assist parents with referrals, and help with academic difficulties is also available through area learning centers.

The Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities (CCLD), a public education effort of six nationwide learning disabilities organizations, offers tips to parents on finding a tutor.

Micheline Kennedy Carter, a CCLD project associate, said getting a child involved in the selection process may make him or her more willing to accept help.

Tell the child why a tutor is needed, what a tutor does and what a tutor can help him or her accomplish. Include the child in interviews with potential tutors and allow a say in who is selected.

"With a child and a tutor, the better the fit, the more effective the tutoring is going to be," Carter said. A boy may prefer a male tutor, a shy child may work best with an outgoing person, and a hyperactive child may need a tutor with great patience.

"Personality is a big part of the personal relationship that children establish with their tutor," said Jeff Powley, education coordinator for Maryland Associates for Dyslexic Adults and Youth, which offers free tutoring for dyslexic people who meet its financial criteria.

Also important are the credentials of a tutor, who should be a certified teacher or have expertise in the subject being taught, as well as experience with students of the age involved. And if a child has a learning disability, the tutor should have specialized training to meet any additional needs.

Check references before making a decision. A lot can be learned from the insights of another parent whose child has worked with a particular tutor.

And once a tutor has been selected, parents should discuss their goals and request a description of the tutor's plan to accomplish them. Share the plan with the classroom teacher and ask for recommendations that will link tutoring to school work.

The ideal partnership includes tutor, parent, teacher and child.

Richard Bock, owner and director of the Huntington Learning Center in Bel Air, and other professionals recommend that a child be tested or evaluated before tutoring begins to determine if deficiencies in fundamental skills are causing the problems.

"In most kids we see who are having difficulty in school, we find problems more fundamental than the subject the problem is arising in," Bock said. "Without testing information, a parent cannot make an informed decision."

Screening for vision and hearing problems, learning disabilities and emotional problems is also important, said J. Thomas Viall, executive director of the International Dyslexia Association.

In scheduling tutoring sessions, which can cost as much as $50 an hour, select a time when the child is most ready to learn. After-school hours are popular, but that may be when the child needs a break.

One hourlong session each week is standard, but a child with learning disabilities may need more. A neutral setting such as a library or school is often better than the child's home, with its many distractions. Choose a location close enough to be convenient.

Many experts recommend that parents not sit in on tutoring sessions because the child may be too self-conscious. But occasional drop-in visits are necessary to observe how tutor and child are working together. Look for lots of interaction as the tutor guides the child through direct teaching and practice.

Finally, be realistic and allow enough time for the tutor to help your child. Ask for periodic reports from the tutor and your child's teacher. Academic improvement should be apparent within a few months.

Pub Date: 9/26/99

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