Interview with Susanna Loeb (Part II): The Annenberg Institute’s National Student Support Accelerator

Interview with Susanna Loeb (Part II): The Annenberg Institute’s National Student Support Accelerator

By now, every educator in America has seen firsthand the results of learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While covid has negatively impacted most students, it has especially exacerbated pre-existing educational inequities for low-income and other at-risk students. The impacts of the pandemic on the educational system are both immediate and long-term, as alarming news headlines such as “Learning loss to become $17 Trillion in earning loss for students not in school” become all-too-common. 

Dr. Susanna Loeb, the Director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, has been leading discussions among academics who’ve offered very promising evidence-based solutions to combat learning loss. In our January 2022 Pearls of Wisdom webinar interview with Dr. Loeb (embedded below), she shared exciting details of her organization’s work with Pearl’s Chief Revenue Officer Nate Casey. We’ve summarized the discussion into a three-part blog series to highlight the webinar’s key points. In Part I, we discussed the benefits of high-impact tutoring and now, in Part II, we’ll be summarizing Dr. Loeb’s work with the National Student Support Accelerator at the Annenberg Institute.  

Learning Loss: A Pandemic-Fueled Crisis

“Early in the pandemic, it became clear that the disruptions to schools—and the economic and health shocks to families—were going to create severe challenges for many students,” Dr. Loeb noted in the webinar interview. “Some students thrived at home and in online settings, but others experienced extreme hardship and were fundamentally disengaged from school.” 

After meeting with educators and education thought-leaders to review the problem, Dr. Loeb and her colleagues found the ideal solution. “We quickly identified tutoring as a high-potential option for catching students up, re-engaging them in school, and broadly reducing some of the striking and expanding inequalities.” 

“Tutoring,” she stated, “quickly rose to the top of the list of potential solutions because of the large body of research pointing to its effectiveness in catching students up across grade levels and content areas. Research also shows specific success in supporting those students who are furthest behind.” 

Dr. Loeb was quick to point out, however, that simply throwing money at the problem has never been an effective approach. “Many of us remembered the No Child Left Behind era in which billions of dollars were spent on a different type of tutoring that turned out not to be terribly effective or equitable.” Her group’s goal was to avoid such wasteful outcomes while addressing other challenges simultaneously. 

Enter: the National Student Support Accelerator 

Dr. Loeb and her peers needed a solution that would remain effective while scaling. “We were aware that tutoring on a large scale had been attempted before, but with low quality and poor results,” she noted. To tackle the issue, the Annenberg Institute proposed to launch the National Student Support Accelerator to scale high-quality, high-impact tutoring. “Our mission at the Accelerator is to increase access to high-impact tutoring for K-12 students in need,” she stated, clarifying how the work will involve “conducting and coordinating research to know more about what makes tutoring effective and cost-effective” and “what enabling conditions allow it to scale.” 

Another vital attribute of the Accelerator is collaboration across the board to ensure everyone is actively working toward goal achievement. “We work to engage and activate stakeholders to support districts and states to implement high-impact tutoring more easily,” Dr. Loeb said before transitioning to the numerous features and benefits of the Accelerator program. 

The Accelerator’s Resources and Tools for High-Impact Tutoring

“The Accelerator has a range of tools to support the implementation of high-impact tutoring that are available free on our website,” affirmed Dr. Loeb. “Each of the tools is developed with the field to ensure they are practical and easy to use.” 

Below is a summary of each currently available tutoring resource:

Toolkit for Tutoring Programs 

“Toolkit for Tutoring provides guidance for creating a high-impact tutoring program or improving an existing program. It will take you step by step through the process, including identifying needs, and all the way to sample letters to send to parents and job descriptions.” 

The toolkit focuses on the seven elements of high-impact tutoring: Program Design, Tutors, Learning Integration, Data Use, Instruction, Equity, Safety, and Cohesion. 

District Playbook

“The District Playbook provides guidance for districts interested in implementing high-impact tutoring. It has everything from checklists of how to plan for tutoring or how to partner with a tutoring organization to what type of human resource capacity is required to be successful.”

Specifically, the free, downloadable Playbook shows users how to develop and launch programs via the following steps: Lay the Foundation, Plan for Effective Operations, Design for Impact, and Implement High-Impact Tutoring. 

Tutoring Database

A comprehensive database that “provides details on over 200 tutoring providers to assist districts in identifying potential tutoring partners.” 

The database was made primarily for districts, states, and nonprofits seeking tutoring partners. Organizations can easily request access to the database by completing this form.

Educator Guide 

Created for High-Impact Tutoring Advocacy, the Educator Guide “provides educators with the information and tools to understand the value of high-impact tutoring and how it might work at their district or school how to encourage their district or school to consider adopting high-impact tutoring.”

This useful guide was made in conjunction with the Tutoring Advisory Group and offers sample emails, program examples, FAQs, presentations, talking points, and a one-pager about the benefits of the Accelerator. 

Tutoring Quality Improvement System

The free Tutoring Quality Improvement System “allows tutoring programs to quickly assess their program against a set of research-based quality standards and provides detailed recommendations for how to improve their program’s quality.”

Tutoring Research

The Annenberg Institute publishes its research on tutoring to date, along with “priority questions to guide for future learning.” Additional research soon to be released includes data on Early Literacy programs and more. 

Given that low-income families were hit hardest by the pandemic (with impacts including profound student learning loss and increased school absenteeism), the National Student Support Accelerator “envisions a time when every student in need has access to an effective tutor who champions and ensures their learning and success.” We wish the best of success for this urgently-needed national program.  

Stay tuned for Part III of our recap of the webinar with Dr. Susanna Loeb which offers an insightful comparison of online and in-person tutoring effectiveness and reviews the best tutoring strategies.

You can also watch the entire webinar below, and be sure to sign up to be notified about Pearl’s upcoming webinars!

Interview with Susanna Loeb (Part I): How High-Impact Tutoring Helps At-Risk Students Impacted by COVID-19 

Interview with Susanna Loeb (Part I): How High-Impact Tutoring Helps At-Risk Students Impacted by COVID-19 

Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the combined consequences on health, the economy, and K-12 schools started to take their toll. Students around the country found themselves attending classes online from home, but while some thrived, many experienced hardships and struggled to stay engaged. The pandemic’s effects were especially hard on students from low-income families, with impacts such as more profound learning loss, wider knowledge gaps, and increased absenteeism. 

The country is now well into its third year coping with this continuing crisis, and many valuable lessons have been learned along the way. Several academic organizations have researched the above-mentioned impacts that remote learning has had on at-risk students and have explored ways to address the damage of learning loss and mitigate it moving forward. One such institute is the Annenberg Institute at Brown University in Rhode Island, whose director, Dr. Susanna Loeb, is featured in a Pearls of Wisdom webinar on our YouTube channel (full video embedded below). 

This article will summarize some of the key points on high-impact tutoring that Dr. Loeb made in the January 2022 webinar with our CRO Nate Casey. In the webinar, Dr. Loeb noted that “studies across the nation have shown that students this year are significantly behind similar students in their pre-pandemic learning.” Among the many studies which support her claim is one from curriculum provider Amplify. Amplify’s research revealed that of ~400,000 kindergartners whose data was reviewed, only 37% were on track in their early reading skills, equating to an 18% drop from pre-pandemic years. It further observed that students’ learning loss “due to COVID may have life-long consequences if they are not provided with additional instructional support.” 

McKinsey and Company published an equally alarming report entitled “COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning” last year. McKinsey’s analysis concluded that K-12 students were left an average of “five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the [2021] school year.” 

The McKinsey report further cited that the “pandemic widened preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps, hitting historically disadvantaged students hardest.” Black students experienced particularly harmful effects, with “six months of unfinished learning” in math alone (and seven months for those in low-income schools). 

As a result, McKinsey projected that affected high school students are more likely to drop out and seniors are less likely to attend college. As a result, long-term effects might likely include significantly lower lifetime earnings and putting future generations at risk by perpetuating a cycle of educational and economic obstacles. 

To break the cycle, Dr. Loeb has met with educators and education leaders to discuss and identify solutions. Chief among the listed possible solutions is tutoring. “Tutoring rose to the top,” asserted Dr. Loeb in the webinar, “because of the large body of research pointing to its effectiveness in catching students up across grade levels and content areas.” She praised tutoring as a “high-potential option for catching students up, re-engaging them in school, and broadly reducing some of the striking and expanding inequalities.” 

However, tutoring is not without its own challenges, which is why Dr. Loeb and others aim to avoid the mistakes of past decades. “Many of us remember the No Child Left Behind era in which billions were spent on a type of tutoring that turned out not to be terribly effective or equitable,” she cautioned. She also acknowledged the challenge of scaling tutoring efforts to a magnitude large enough to make a difference. 

To address these hurdles, Dr. Loeb suggests a method known as high-impact tutoring. “Effective tutoring requires more than just high-dosage (the amount of tutoring a student participates in). The consistency of the tutor, the tutor’s training and ongoing coaching, and the use of data and high-quality materials for instruction are also important to ensure effectiveness.” 

In the webinar, Dr. Loeb reviewed the hallmarks of high-impact tutoring, which include:

  • Embedded tutoring – done during the school day, a minimum of 3 days per week
  • Use of small groups – up to 3 students
  • Use of student learning data – to inform tutoring sessions and focus lessons on student needs, thus accelerating learning
  • Consistency – using tutors who are trained and supported, resulting in positive and effective tutor-student relationships

Discussing these highlights, Dr. Loeb noted the key element of maintaining quality while scaling. “The desire to increase scale tends to come with a push to decrease quality, increasing the number of students per tutor or decreasing the number of times per week or not providing coaching for tutors.” For this reason, she emphasizes “high-impact instead of high-dosage” approaches. 

“High-impact programs provide a lot of tutoring with quality,” she stated in the webinar. “It is clearly better to give a smaller number of students really high-quality tutoring than all students low-quality tutoring to increase equity.” 

“The benefit of tutoring,” she continued, “comes from two mechanisms: the close relationship that students and tutors develop, and the focus on the individual student’s specific needs. The tutor has to have the data and take the time to know what the student knows and doesn’t know.” Homing in more on the importance of data, she pointed out that “high-impact tutoring uses formative assessments to understand what students know and don’t know.” Thus, data is vital “to identify and address issues and to continuously improve.”

In closing, Dr. Loeb reiterated how modern research offers ample proof in support of her proposals. “Rarely in research do we have so much evidence pointing to the promise of a specific intervention. High-impact tutoring is really the only intervention that has proven effectiveness across a range of grade levels, content areas, and locations. The driving force behind its effectiveness is the excellent relationships tutors and students develop. Our goal at the Annenberg Institute is to provide all students with the same access to high-impact tutoring.”

Stay tuned for Parts II and III of our recap of Dr. Susanna Loeb’s webinar with Pearl’s Nate Casey. These upcoming articles will review how the Annenberg Institute’s National Student Support Accelerator aims to help students recover from learning loss (in Part II), and will offer a comparison of online and in-person tutoring effectiveness and how to find the most effective tutoring strategies (in Part III). 

You can also watch the full webinar below and be sure to sign up to be notified of upcoming webinars!

6 Signs You Need Tutoring Business Software 

6 Signs You Need Tutoring Business Software 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to devastating learning loss among student populations around the country while creating a chance for entrepreneurial tutors to rush in and save the day! The year 2021 saw tutoring become a hot side hustle for some and a full-time business endeavor for others. Now, in 2022, many tutors are continuing to offer their tutoring services as part-time gigs, while those with broader goals are launching highly-profitable, scalable tutoring enterprises. 

No matter how big or small your tutoring business is, at some point, you’re going to need professional software to help you stay organized and manage your tutoring enterprise. Here are 6 signs you’re ready to take things to the next level with professional tutoring business software.

1. Your inbox is clogged

Your tutoring business must stay on top of communications to maintain a professional reputation. If you’re struggling to keep track of important messages with clients via email, it’s probably past time to move on to a better way of doing things. 

Pearl’s tutoring business software lets you keep all your business messaging in one place, so you never lose track again! 

2. You’ve missed appointments with students 

Each time students miss scheduled tutoring sessions, that’s a loss of revenue for your business. Of course, you can set a policy to charge for missed appointments, but that might lead to frustrations with clients. 

The simplest way to address this issue is with a built-in reminder system that keeps students, parents—and you—on time and on schedule. Pearl lets you book, view, and manage appointments quickly and send calendar reminders for upcoming tutoring sessions.

3. You need an easier payment management

Are you tired of wasting time with manual accounting for your business tax purposes? Want to get rid of the hassle of checks or cash payments, but need a more efficient way to manage credit card payments for your tutoring sessions? 

At Pearl, our tutoring software offers easy-to-use storefront payment management features that help you do all these things and more!

4. You’re struggling to keep track of student progress

Tutoring is a financial investment for clients, and sometimes clients wonder how effective their sessions are. The fastest way to show them is through progress tracking, which helps your business demonstrate the value of your tutoring services. When clients see their return on investment, you’ll retain them longer. 

Pearl was built by tutors for tutors, so we’ve built progress tracking tools right into our tutoring platform.

5. You need more virtual classroom features

Many tutors conducting online lessons rely on video conferencing tools like Zoom or Google Meet to connect with students. Unfortunately, such tools weren’t built for educational purposes and often lack essential features you may need to share information or hold your students’ interest. 

Pearl’s tutoring business software includes more engaging video conferencing with whiteboards and screen sharing conveniently built into your dashboard.

6. You need the ability to review lessons 

Both clients and tutors love the ability to record sessions for later viewing. This capability allows students to go back and review material while enabling tutors to look for areas where students might be losing focus during lessons. 

Too many tutoring entrepreneurs try to scrape by without the proper tools at their disposal, leading to wasted time, points of frustration, and potential loss of customers. 

Pearl takes the headache out of managing your daily operations so you can focus on the things that are most important—such as teaching students effectively…and growing your tutoring business! 


To schedule a demo and see Pearl in action, get in touch with us today by filling out this contact form.

The 7 Most Important Things a Tutor Can Do for a Student

The 7 Most Important Things a Tutor Can Do for a Student

We could write a book about the various knowledge and skills tutors need to be effective teachers for their students. But if we had to boil everything down to just the most important and impactful things tutors should do for their students, our list would go like this…

1. Listen to your students


Sometimes tutors measure which areas a student needs help in by looking at work they’ve done instead of paying attention to what the student has to say. It is critical to ask students questions, then attentively listen to their responses to determine if they have underlying misunderstandings or misconceptions about the material.

Quite possibly, a student’s struggles with certain subject matter may stem from a single core concept problem. By letting the student explain the topic in their own words, tutors can diagnose the issue and perhaps offer a new perspective that leads to a breakthrough!

2. Assess and adjust your strategy


Going hand-in-hand with the above, tutors need to consistently assess where the student is with the material, in conjunction with where they “should” be, based on predefined goals and timelines.

If a student isn’t making sufficient progress, it’s time to alter tutoring tactics. Tutors must be flexible and willing to adjust teaching strategies according to individual learners’ needs.

3. Be creative and flexible with learning styles


Every student has a unique learning style and a unique personality.

To be effective, savvy tutors determine the best way to reach each student via their learning style (more visual, more verbal, more written down, etc.). Tutors can next make inroads by finding things that interest their students most, then structuring lessons and activities accordingly.

4. Build relationships


To properly tailor lessons and teaching styles, tutors have to get to know their pupils better!

Students crave authentic relationships with their tutors. In turn, that rapport builds trust and enables better communication flow. These things facilitate learning in ways most students never experience in a standard school classroom.

It’s beneficial to have a strong relationship with parents, too. This allows for more honest and open talks regarding the students’ needs and projected outcomes. And, from a business perspective, it is vital to manage client expectations.

5. Be patient at all times


Students are often a bit shy about needing a tutor. They may enter into lessons with a fragile mental state, being hyper-aware of all verbal and nonverbal feedback.

Tutors, therefore, must exercise extreme patience and not cave into their own frustrations. When the student senses impatience from their tutor, at best, it can demotivate them or cause them to withdraw in embarrassment. At worst, it can cause a detrimental blow to the student’s self-esteem, making them feel like they are not “smart enough” to understand the subject matter.

6. Teach students how to problem-solve


It’s impossible to solve a problem if the problem isn’t clearly defined and understood in the first place.

Tutors should empower students with critical thinking skills to understand how to assess and clearly define problems. When necessary, they must also demonstrate how to break big problems down into smaller components.

Only after problems are outlined and understood should tutors help students attempt to figure out solutions.

7. Foster independence


In a way, tutors essentially should be striving to make themselves unnecessary for their students!

After all, a tutor’s ultimate job is to build student knowledge, skills, and confidence levels high enough that they become self-reliant. As the old adage goes, “Give a person a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime!”

Small Group Tutoring: What Size Is Best?

Small Group Tutoring: What Size Is Best?

When we hear the word “tutoring,” many of us think about 1:1 lessons between a tutor and student. But many tutoring sessions involve small groups, which can be just as effective, if not more so. When is small group tutoring better? Naturally, it all depends on the situation — particularly the needs of the students involved and the subject matter being taught. 

But apart from determining when a group lesson is the most viable, another crucial question we should ask is “what size should a group lesson be?” At what point does a small tutoring group become a small classroom, which defeats the purpose of the personalized tutoring concept? Let’s dig in and find out!

In general, small group tutoring sessions can stimulate engagement, with students feeling empowered and motivated by one another. It’s a totally different dynamic than a single student-to-tutor environment. But there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, and student needs must be taken into consideration before making any decisions. 

In the briefing “A Principal’s Guide to Intensive Reading Interventions for Struggling Readers in Reading First Schools,” the author cites small groups as “the most efficient way to increase the intensity of instruction for struggling readers.” The benefits pointed out include targeted attention to student needs plus more opportunities for students to “respond and receive feedback.” The paper concludes that 3 to 5 students are ideal for that given situation. 

But there are other circumstances and considerations to keep in mind. Below, we’ve outlined some of the more essential things to consider before putting together a small group tutoring practice. 

Keeping classes “fun-sized”

1:1 tutoring lessons can be fun, but throwing a handful of peers in the mix alters the landscape, usually for the better. Having “fun” in a tutoring class might sound like a luxury to some, but savvy tutors know that fun activities are part of an active learning strategy. As noted in a Harvard study, active learning gets students more involved, enhancing their understanding and retention of material. The nontraditional approaches of active learning can definitely be more fun than listening to a lecture. But what’s the best size for a small group tutoring session? 

Brainspring reports studies that suggest small groups retain the essential elements of 1:1 lessons when limited to between 3 and 6 students. In comparison, EdResearch for Recovery identifies 3 to 4 students as the preferred target, arguing that “moving beyond this number can quickly become small group instruction, which is less personalized and requires a higher degree of skill to do well.”

Teaching students with disabilities

The maximum number of recommended small group students drops to between 2 and 4 for students coping with learning disabilities. Such special education sessions may require additional planning, enhanced instructional support, and perhaps different materials that take extra time to use. 

For teaching students with disabilities, Reading Rockets offers tips based on research from the Office of Special Education Programs. The suggested alternatives include peer tutoring, cross-age tutoring, small learning groups, and combined formats. 

“Smaller groups appear to be better,” Reading Rockets observes. “Groups of 3 to 4 students are usually more efficient than larger groups of 5 to 7 students in terms of teacher and student time, lower cost, increased instructional time, increased peer interaction, and improved generalization of skills.”

Staying cognizant of learning styles

Educators at all levels should take into consideration the diverse learning styles of each student. Tutors may not always have the time or resources to deep dive into their pupils’ inherently preferred styles, but should nonetheless be aware of how such differences impact learning. 

For instance, the VARK model considers four distinct learning styles — Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic. It may be hard to identify in advance of class scheduling which students are more prone to which styles, then find compatible students to add to the group. When in doubt, smaller is better. 

Age and maturity levels 

Another variable that impacts teaching efficacy is the age and maturity levels of the students in attendance. Younger students may be more apt to distract each other, but then again, teenagers often do so even more! 

The ability to focus (or lack thereof), however, is only one of the many factors at play when it comes to age and maturity. As educator Lisette Partelow wrote for U.S.News, “Teaching young students also requires some pretty good detective skills, as students don’t necessarily have the language or awareness to explain their misunderstandings, feelings or behavior.” 

In other words, it may be tough to tell when younger students are struggling if they cannot explain what’s going on inside. Tutors need to work with groups that are small enough to allow time for monitoring and gauging how well lessons are sinking in. 

Ability to track student progress

Tied to the above is the ability of tutors to actively track student progress over time. Some tutoring sessions are aimed at helping students who’ve fallen behind to catch up. Others are more focused on building advanced competencies to prepare for upcoming challenges. Either way, the tutor’s job involves establishing markers and measuring demonstrable success. 

When one student in the group begins to lag, a course adjustment may be required. Tutors can’t merely teach at the pace of their most high-needs students, but they also can’t let a single student falter. 

It’s imperative to closely track how each student is doing, and then intervene with 1:1 instruction or extra practice work as needed. By the same token, students who are ahead of the curve shouldn’t feel like they’re being held back. When the disparity between learners is too great, the group as a whole suffers. 

Experience of the tutor

EdResearch for Recovery made another excellent point by bringing up the qualifications of the tutors themselves, declaring that “teachers might be better able to tutor up to four students whereas paraprofessionals and volunteers may do better with one or two students at a time.” Seasoned tutors will be more adept at juggling higher numbers, whereas those without experience or training should focus on 1:1 sessions. 

Considering affordability factors

Small group tutoring is generally more affordable for the students (or their parents). This is a vital factor, as students around the country continue to struggle in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic’s darkest days. 1:1 tutoring sessions are out of many family’s budgets, so group lessons come to the rescue by enabling tutors to lower prices, helping remove that barrier to access. 

Simultaneously, tutors can potentially generate significant additional income for their tutoring business by attracting students who otherwise couldn’t come. However, the key is to ensure groups are small enough to be effective for tutoring, and that they don’t turn into micro classes

Choosing suitable subject matter

Some academic subject matters are better suited to small group learning than other subjects. However, even subjects like reading, which may seem to require a more 1:1 approach, can be effectively taught in groups. 

Teacher Magazine reported that Abracadabra, a small group reading program centered on “key skills of comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, phonemic awareness and phonics” incorporates individual and paired practice work as part of the group approach. The article goes on to note that sessions with 1 to 5 students allow for “more time to practice” while tutors “provide more individualized attention to help students overcome difficult problems.” 

While there is no consensus about which subjects are more suitable for small group tutoring, students and parents can find small group lessons for virtually any topic. From core subjects like math, science, grammar, and writing to enrichment courses such as music, foreign languages, or public speaking, there are endless flexible options available. 

Selecting the best tutoring platform or software

When deciding how large or small a group lesson should be, a final consideration is the software or online platform being used (if any). Basic teleconferencing software can suffice in a pinch, but to truly unleash the power of remote learning, educators and schools receiving government funding for tutoring are wise to invest in a professional tutoring platform like Pearl.

The ability to scale up is a vital consideration, but so is offering breakout sessions. Breakouts are invaluable, especially when a small group needs to temporarily be made even smaller. Tutoring software Pearl comes with several handy, built-in features while also offering custom design opportunities for institutions that have specific requirements not currently available. 

If you’d like a demo of tutoring platform Pearl, get in touch with us here.