Learning loss is one of the most alarming impacts of the pandemic as COVID-19 upended — and continues to disrupt — day-to-day life in communities around the world. Initially, the pandemic led schools to shutter their doors and attempt improvised distance learning. Using curricula designed for in-person classrooms, educators with little to no online teaching experience struggled to adapt to the new stay-at-home model.
Students logged in late or not at all. They grew distracted or tuned out of the lessons being presented. Some 1.1 million students were “lost” from the nation’s public schools, according to education nonprofit The 74. That student dropout crisis has since extended beyond K-12, with dismally low college enrollment figures showing nearly 1 million fewer students signing up for classes, per Inside Higher Ed.
The unprecedented knowledge gap left in Covid’s wake is now combining with the worst national teacher shortage in recent history to form a perfect storm. These critical teacher shortages are adding fuel to a fire that continues to char our children’s educational futures. But there is one ray of hope that has managed to break through: the government-sponsored American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (APR ESSER) Fund.
Among the resources being offered by APR ESSER are a myriad of tutoring-related initiatives aimed at helping school districts partner with tutors who can not only help mitigate the learning loss, but perhaps overcome it altogether.
What is APR ESSER?
The American Rescue Plan was signed into law in March 2021, dedicating $1.9 trillion to addressing various Covid-related problems. Out of that jaw-dropping sum, an impressive $122 billion was earmarked for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief. Some estimates are as high as $190 billion in total going to schools across the country.
As noted on the ARP ESSER Fact Sheet, states were directed to disburse at least 90% of funds to Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) to “[h]elp meet a wide range of needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic, including reopening schools safely, sustaining their safe operation, and addressing students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs resulting from the pandemic.”
From their respective allocations, LEAs must use at least 20% of the funds granted to “address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions and ensure that those interventions respond to students’ social, emotional, and academic needs and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups.”
These underrepresented subgroups are defined on the fact sheet as:
- Each major racial and ethnic group
- Children from low-income families
- Children with disabilities
- English learners
- Migrant students
- Students experiencing homelessness
- Children and youth in foster care
But how are schools using their ARP ESSER funds to “address learning loss?” What are the “evidence-based interventions” being implemented, and how do administrators ensure those interventions are sufficiently responding to the myriad and complex needs of so many different student groups?
As mentioned, tutoring has proven itself to be the best solution for these issues. That is why so many schools are using ARP ESSER funds to ramp up their tutoring programs on such large scales. They’re literally altering the landscape of the tutoring profession.
How is APR ESSER tied to tutoring?
In the past, when the nation’s educational system faced troubles, the federal government tried to solve things by throwing money at the problem. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a fair example. Even though there were “pros” to the initiative, the list of “cons” overwhelmed the positive results. As posted by the NGO Vittana, “the structure of NCLB was more about money than student learning.” In fact, there were even instances of districts declining federal funds to avoid “bureaucratic nightmares” or being “liable for the outcomes.”
Obviously the Department of Education wants schools to be comfortable accepting ARP ESSER funding, and it wants administrators to feel secure knowing what is expected when they do. That is one of the main reasons why access to ARP ESSER funds come with the strict criteria it does — so that schools don’t run afoul of the same mistakes again. Hence the need for utilizing “evidence-backed” strategies like tutoring.
In the race to address learning loss in the face of twin predicaments — a pandemic followed by a national teacher shortage — tutoring has emerged as the clear winner, with plenty of supporting research behind it.
How to implement effective, high impact tutoring with ARP ESSER funds?
One educational center leading the charge for tutoring research is the National Student Support Accelerator (NSSA), run by The Annenberg Institute based at Brown University. NSSA declared its mission to “accelerate the growth of high impact tutoring opportunities for K-12 students in need.” Indeed, the Accelerator’s core values of “student-centered acceleration,” “equity-based,” and “evidence-backed” align perfectly with the demands of the ESSER.
Tutoring, as defined by NSSA, “is a form of teaching, one-on-one or in a small group, towards a specific goal.” But, more specifically, NSSA advocates for high impact tutoring, which it claims “leads to substantial learning gains for students by supplementing (but not replacing) students’ classroom experiences. High impact tutoring responds to individual needs and complements students’ existing curriculum.”
How do districts integrate high impact tutoring effectively? The National Student Support Accelerator lists five key features of effective tutoring which can serve as steps for districts to take when implementing programs. These steps are:
- Embed tutoring into school days (or immediately before or after)
- Schedule at least three 30-60 minute, high-impact sessions per week with 1-4 students per group
- Maintain tutor consistency and ensure tutors receive oversight and coaching
- Inform sessions via use of student progress data, when available (note, Pearl’s tutoring software is able to collect data points to help programs improve and show impact)
- Align materials with research and state standards
District Administration’s article “Do this, not that: Using ESSER funds for tutoring” suggests similar goals. In terms of implementing high-dosage tutoring programs, the five things they recommend for districts to prioritize are:
- Giving students more tutoring time
- Building strong tutor-student relations
- Monitoring individual student progress
- Aligning tutoring sessions with the classroom curriculum
- Quality engagement during sessions
School leaders should take note of both sets of guidelines as they go about putting their ESSER funds to good use. In its High Impact Tutoring Toolkit, NSSA offers advice to LEAs to ensure their programs are established “with fidelity and equitably across student populations.” LEAs are encouraged to create teams of key players who can set vision and strategy, monitor progress, and ensure district needs are being met.
These teams are also responsible for finding and partnering with appropriate tutors who can match those high impact tutoring needs. In many cases, schools should consider online tutoring providers. After all, tutors don’t always have the flexibility to come out in-person three times a week for only a half hour at a time. When searching for quality tutors, it’s important to keep their interests in mind and not just the schools’.
But the online format gives extra flexibility to students, too. Sometimes tutoring sessions must be done before or after school, making an online lesson more manageable, especially when parents’ schedules don’t allow them to alter the pick up and drop off times of their children. The key to effective tutoring is to make it accessible and convenient.
Naturally, online tutors still need to align their work to complement the school’s curriculum. When tutors use only their own materials, it can increase student frustration and potentially lead to confusion. Thus, teachers should share with tutors which instructional materials they’re using, along with details on where the class is currently at and which areas tutored students are behind in.
How is the tutoring industry changing because of APR ESSER?
In Pearl’s recent Pearls of Wisdom webinar interview with Patrick Steck of Deans for Impact, Steck discussed best practices for schools who are receiving APR ESSER funding to hire and train “rockstar tutors.” Given the large number of tutors needed in many districts, Steck suggests looking for qualified, trainable tutors in areas such as:
- In-service teacher pools
- Retired teachers
- Teacher aide undergraduates or graduate students
- Undergraduates majoring in subjects other than the ones needed
- Community volunteers
- Organizations that employ tutors
But finding tutors is only the first step. The trick is ensuring they are properly trained and monitored for performance. ARP ESSER funds can help in these areas. The extra funds allow for closer partnerships by providing schools the means and incentives to offer tutors professional development, better feedback for improvement, and better tools such as high-tech, online tutoring platforms (like Pearl).
As Mr. Steck noted in the webinar, tutor training and performance monitoring are vital elements to success. He advises providing on-the-job training (or OJT) similar to in-service teacher coaching, along with timely feedback related to their instruction. The persons providing this feedback to tutors should speak with students and parents to garner their personal insights. Feedback providers may also refer to surveys, which can help schools gain deeper understanding into how well tutoring programs are working in relation to predetermined goals.
Finally, tutoring feedback should be informed by data which can be drawn from using a system to track student growth over the course of sessions. Pearl works with educational institutions and tutoring companies who’ve received ARP ESSER funding to incorporate scalable tutoring software technology into their programs which can help capture such data. Pearl also offers educational institutions direct assistance to help them take advantage of ARP ESSER funds.
These are just a few of the many changes in the world of tutoring, which can continue to evolve and align with district goals when APR ESSER funds are implemented in an informed and timely manner.
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.
Tutoring has never been more important for students or as popular for entrepreneurs looking to start up their own businesses! But it takes plenty of planning to launch a successful tutoring business, and one of the most vital yet overlooked components is tutoring software. Whether your tutoring model is online, in-person, or blended, you’ll want to select software packed with the right tools aimed at improving your tutoring workflow and student outcomes.
Ideally, look for tutoring software with a built-in virtual classroom that enables you to teach effectively. The program should also help streamline your day-to-day operations, such as adding new students (or parents, or admins), scheduling tutoring sessions, sharing communications, collecting payments, and generating reports.
Every tutor or tutoring company may have their own slightly different business models and budgets to take into consideration when selecting the best tutoring software for their needs, but read on below for a summary of some of the “must-have” features of good tutoring software.
The Best Tutoring Software Features to Look Out For
Built-In Virtual Classroom
The best tutoring software should include high-resolution video and crystal clear audio, but a virtual classroom needs more than standard teleconference capabilities. You’ll want a purpose-built online classroom with a virtual whiteboard that includes easy-to-use drawing functions. Depending on the subjects you teach, you may need advanced features that allow for math functions, too.
The virtual classroom feature should allow for user-friendly multimedia tests or quizzes. Presentation capabilities are also handy and should be simple enough for your age group of students. A screen recording function is another great bonus feature that allows you or students to capture sessions for later playback or review.
Some software for tutors offer limited customization options for tutors and tutoring agencies to add their own logos, change color schemes, or adjust certain visual aspects. While this is definitely a “nice to have” professional branding feature, it’s not necessarily a “must-have” for solo tutors.
As an alternative, tutors may want to add a few discreet branding touches in their visible screen space, such as a banner behind them or a coffee mug with your logo or business name.
Secure, Transparent Messaging
You’ll want the tutoring platform you use to incorporate a live chat option so your students can send messages in real-time during sessions. It’s also efficient to have in-app messaging capabilities that extend beyond the session, so users don’t have to rely on email or phone texts. Tutors often send out instructions, updates, or links to reading material or videos, so having the ability to do this in-app is much simpler and more organized than traditional email.
You may also want the messaging to be transparent so that parents of younger children can view the correspondence between tutor and student. And you’ll also want to look out for tutoring software that features strong security to protect everyone’s data and privacy from outside cyber threats.
Integrated and Robust Data System
Tutor management software solutions are not all built equally. It’s best to have one that can be fully integrated into your computer system, so no data slips through the cracks. It also needs a robust data system that can allow you to keep track of individual student progress and other analytics, and reconcile tutoring sessions as needed for students, families, or third-party program use.
It’s important to be able to view and report student performance and outcomes. This helps tutors make adjustments and address learning obstacles as needed, thus keeping students on track to achieve their goals. Progress tracking also offers visible proof of your tutoring efficacy, which can be shown to pupils and parents as a means to encourage them to continue with lessons.
In other words, a strong data system can capture Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that allow your tutoring business to measure value and demonstrate effectiveness to students (or parents).
Tutors, students, and parents all need the ability to book sessions in-app. This saves valuable time and keeps everything organized. It’s so much simpler than scheduling over email and phone calls, and experience shows that businesses earn more when they can reduce hassle for customers and thereby enhance loyalty.
It’s also efficient to have automated appointment reminders and the ability to invite students to their tutoring sessions. These extra little features go a long way in ensuring maximum attendance, especially in today’s hectic world.
All users must be able to readily upload, download, share, and save files and other content through the tutoring platform. From lesson plans to homework or reports, these files might sometimes be large or may contain personal information. File sharing should be painless but it’s vital that all information is protected with a program that has strong security and enough recordkeeping and storage capability.
Tutoring Business Management Tools
Remember, as a tutoring entrepreneur, you’re running a business and must treat it as such. That’s why robust business management tools are critical, no matter what subject you’re teaching or how you’re teaching it.
Indeed, whether you’re a one-person shop with a lot of students or running a large team of tutors hosting multiple sessions, you’ll want a program packed with flexible business management tools. If your tutoring company is sizable enough, you may also need admins to manage operations using these built-in tools.
A critical business feature is user management and role-based portal access, which allows permissions to be set for the “roles” of instructors, students, parents, and admins if needed. In other words, each user can be assigned a role that determines what areas and functions of the platform they can access, read, or alter when they are logged in. This is the same principle used when creating standard network accounts at any organization.
Payment collection is, of course, another significant consideration. You want a program that makes it easy and safe to collect payments from your customers using credit cards or, if desired, PayPal or other popular methods. At Pearl, we put a handy payment option right in the Storefront feature, allowing your customers to purchase sessions with the click of a button.
As with any business expenditure, before purchasing professional tutoring software, do your homework to ensure you’re getting a return on your investment. That said, keep growth in mind if you plan to scale your business to add more instructors and students.
It’s better to invest in tutoring software with enough flexibility and options than to waste time learning how to use software your company is only going to outgrow in a few months. Meanwhile, larger tutoring businesses might want to look into acquiring an enterprise license to potentially save money and keep things simple.
One of the amazing things about online tutoring in 2021 is that participants can be scattered all over the globe. However, not all tutoring programs are available for use in every country. Be sure to double-check if there are any country restrictions if you or your expected students are attending from outside the U.S.
Customization for Institutions
The COVID-19 pandemic had deep impacts on schools and students around the world. To help address the knowledge gap that ensued from these disruptions, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 offers stimulus funding to certain institutions that might be able to use them for tutoring purposes. Experienced tutoring software companies like Pearl offer partnerships that include design, training, and support for such government-funded programs.
In summary, there are many options available for online tutoring software, but it requires careful thought and planning to choose the most suitable one for your needs. Take enough time to shop around and compare, then pick the best one for you and your students.
If you’re interested in learning more about the best-in-class tutoring software we’ve built at Pearl, get in touch with us to schedule a demo or start your free trial today.