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  • Writer's pictureChelsea DiMarzio

The Pitfalls and Risks of Taking a Break From Tutoring

When we think of summer, most people immediately flash to long days filled with nothing to do except be outside with friends. It feels nostalgic and well deserved after a year spent working hard at school... and so many students with learning differences spent a school year working much harder than most.


Out of all our kids, they deeply desire the chance to kick back and really lean into all the slow, easy days of summer. Parents want this, too. Who wouldn't want that for them?


There is however - and truly unfortunately - a very real risk to taking a summer break (or any break) from tutoring. Directly speaking, taking a break from tutoring for a student with a learning difference is very rarely a good idea.


This blog is going to go in-depth into the reasons and research behind this for you to explore, but before we do this, we want to start by addressing nuance and individual circumstances.


  • Can we make a blanket statement that taking a break from tutoring is bad? Of course not.

  • Do some kids truly need a break because of their individual circumstances? Of course.

  • And lastly, we very much think that when you're actually on a family vacation, you absolutely take time off for tutoring.


If you'd like to jump ahead to any of these sections, you can click below:


The Summer Slide and Regression

For the vast majority of students with learning differences, breaks from tutoring lead to very real regression and loss of skills. When we compound this with the "summer slide" - the known loss of learned academic skills over a summer break - we end up inadvertently making things harder for our students.


When it comes to the reading summer slide, research tells us that students can lose up to two months of reading proficiency over the summer. Moreover, the American Education Research Journal published a study in 2020 that studied 18 million students across 7,500 school districts. What they found was that over half of these students lost an average of 39% of their total academic learning gains over the summer.


Their results also show a lot of variability though -- some students can make gains when the summer is used to their advantage, but other students can lose nearly 90% of what they gained. Ninety percent!!


When a student with a learning difference is already months, or often years, behind grade level, they simply cannot afford to slip further behind.


Research tells us that students with learning differences experience more summer learning loss in general.

Allison Attenberry, the study author, notes the risk of these losses building, "Because summer losses tend to accumulate for the same students over time, consecutive losses add up to a sizeable impact on where students end up in the achievement distribution."



Additional Risks and Challenges of Breaks

While the summer slide is a very real threat, it's not the only risk or challenge associated with a break from tutoring. What we have historically seen while tutoring our students is that we spend a significant amount of time reteaching and relearning previously learned skills once a break has ended and this has an emotional impact on students.


For our students in tutoring intervention, when they re-start several levels back from where they had left off, it can feel incredibly disheartening. They worked so incredibly hard in previous tutoring sessions to make gains, and - to an elementary or middle school student - it feels like they've just re-proven a point: I'm not good at this. We never want our students to feel defeated, and having to start a program in a place they'd thought they'd already conquered is hard.


An additional risk of a summer break is that you lose your spot on a tutor's schedule. If you work with a private tutor who works completely independently, you're at a higher risk of losing your spot as new clients fill in their schedule. This can leave you scrambling to find someone new.


If you work with us at LD Expert, we work incredibly hard to always keep you with the same tutor, but it's not always possible after you've taken a break. Fortunately we're able to maintain consistency within lessons due to our structure, but the relationship building process does take time. This is an important factor to consider if we have a student that has to start several lessons back -- it can become easy to view the new tutor as the reason they're having to relearn material, especially if they don't understand regression.


Finally, and like anything, once we take a break, there's a chance that we will not start again. Most of us have been there while trying to establishing healthier habits or lifestyles. We all know how challenging it can be starting over after a break. This can be made even harder when our kids are asking, "but do I have to?" That question makes it extra hard. We really do get it.



Reframing Tutoring as Therapeutic and Prescriptive

It's really important to reframe tutoring as therapeutic and prescriptive, especially for our students who have demonstrated the need for systematic, explicit reading and spelling instruction. (And this is approximately 65% of students.)


In other words: If we've finally seen a student make measurable progress in reading and writing after participating in an OG-based reading program like the Wilson Reading System, it's safe to assume they're going to need the rest of the instruction to be provided in the same systematic, explicit, cumulative, sequential, multi-sensory way.


If we've helped a student reach grade level, but they've only learned two of the six syllable types, we cannot expect them to automatically learn the remaining four without the same type of instruction. This is not to say there's only one right program. What we mean is that if a school district is failing to deliver a curriculum that works, but you've seen success with tutoring, we cannot assume the school district will magically start doing things the way your student needs.


A few days ago, Savannah Campbell of Campbell Creates Readers shared, "reading intervention isn't meant to be a life sentence" and it's not. But that doesn't mean that these students don't need therapeutic intervention. Students who have learning differences have brains that often require specialized instruction.


When we recognize that the intervention they need is like that of a prescription antibiotic, it becomes easier to realize that students need to finish their course of treatment. We feel better before we've fully finished our antibiotic, but that doesn't mean that what was making us sick has fully left our body. Reading and spelling are a science -- and they require explicit instruction from beginning to end. (But remember, there is an end.)


Tutoring students with learning differences is not always cut and dry. This is another reason it's important to frame it as therapeutic: it takes a specialized, trained individual to help close the gap. The education and training all our teachers have at LD Expert goes beyond basic teaching, and this is what allows us to take tutoring to the next level.



Benefits of Working over the Summer

According to a 2018 study, "students who received a minimum of 25 hours of mathematics instruction in a summer performed better on the subsequent state math test [and] those receiving 34 hours of language arts performed better on the subsequent state English language arts assessment." It's important to note that this instruction was provided by a school district. They saw the most success when students were attending for at least five to six weeks and receiving three to four hours of instruction per day.


Because these additional services were provided in a summer school style setting, services were most likely not delivered 1:1 or individualized to each student based upon their present levels of performance. Knowing that, imagine the impact private tutoring has when delivered by a skilled, certified tutor. It's a fair bet to assume real, measurable gains wouldn't take the 75 to 120 hours recommended by the research for successful summer school program.


Additionally, when a student attends tutoring during breaks, they're able to work a time that is best for them. During the school year, we're often working in the early morning hours before school begins or following a long, exhausting day of school. It's easy to see why this isn't ideal. When we're working to learn new material, a fresh brain is the best brain. Working through summer means we aren't maxed out with other learning that's taking up brain space.


Summer also tends to open up our schedule, which means you can meet for tutoring more often, which is great. When we're able to capitalize on working with non-tired brains at a higher frequency, we end up in an even better spot. When we do this, we start to actually see progress multiply. When you tutor online, it becomes even easier to squeeze in a few extra hours of tutoring during the summer because you've eliminated the commute.


How to Explain Continued Tutoring to Your Child

This is the hard part, right? We know our students with learning differences are often the hardest working kids in the room. And now we're saying, "you also need to work when no one else is working... over the summer." Speaking candidly, it just sucks. It's unfair. And it should be different. But until schools decide to uniformly adopt curriculums that are based on what research tells us, especially when it comes to reading, there is going to be this crummy need.


When it comes to this conversation, we believe honesty is the best route forward. It's important that your child knows a few things:

  • They have a really cool, really unique brain that learns in a different way

  • Because of this, school can sometimes feel extra challenging, but your tutor understands the best way to help you continue to grow

  • It really stinks to have work over the summer - we totally agree - we can tell you a bit about why it's important though:

    • Our brain tends to lose what we don't use -- this is true for everyone! But what that means for us, is that if we don't continue to work on reading/math/etc., we will forget some of things we've worked hard to learn.

    • Our brain is usually really tired when we work after school, so working in the summer means our brain isn't tired -- when our brain isn't exhausting from learning all day, it learns better in tutoring.

    • Our goal of working over the summer is to make things easier for you during the school year. The more you continue to learn and grow, the easier things will become in school and with homework.

  • This isn't meant to be forever. We still want you to be a kid and do the things you enjoy. What is something that we could add for fun to your summer to help offset us continuing to work in tutoring?


Final Thoughts

This isn't an easy blog to write. It's hard to navigate sharing information that we feel is in the best interest of students while recognizing that they simply (and reasonably) just don't want to have to do this. It's hard to share with parents our very real concerns based on research while also recognizing the immense sacrifices made to afford tutoring for their child.


We felt this blog was especially important because opting for tutoring breaks because of summer or sports has been a growing trend across the tutoring front. We know how incredibly important it is for our kids - especially our kids with learning differences - to experience success. We know that often times this comes on the field, track, pool, or art studio. We know these things take time, and we know these kids are tired.


Please know the perspective of this blog is meant to share information so that you can make an informed decision for your child, and we wanted to be able to present the facts for you in one place. Our main goal is always to move your child forward.


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