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Advice for parents on tutoring

There is no doubt that parents are keen for their children to be confident and successful in mathematics at school. They correctly see mathematics as important for their child’s future and are anxious to support their learning. So what can parents do to help their children, particularly if there are concerns about their child’s learning?

Position Paper on Tutoring in mathematics

A position paper adopted by the July 2013 meeting of the AAMT Council.

Tutoring – Further advice for parents

The following topics outline more details of aspects of seeking a tutor in mathematics. The advice should be read in conjunction with the advice paper.


Identify the problem – Talk with your child

Start by trying to work out what aspects of maths your child is having difficulties with. For some it may be specific aspects of maths they are struggling with; e.g., fractions, decimals. For others it may simply be they are lacking confidence in maths and so everything seems difficult.

Talk to your child; try to get them to explain what they think is the problem. They might be able to explain it better to an older sibling, relation or friend.

Typically young people may say things like:

  • I don’t want to appear silly so I don’t ask for help or ask questions.
  • The teacher doesn’t explain how to do it well enough.
  • The teacher goes too fast for me.
  • It is all just too hard for me – I don’t get it.
  • I just forget everything when we do a test.

These statements seem negative and may make you, as a parent, feel increasingly anxious and helpless.

However, they are actually a positive step in identifying the problem and allow you to work towards better supporting your child’s learning in mathematics.

You can reassure your child that these feelings are not uncommon, and that together you will be working on changing things.

You may also be able to discuss with your child the details of what they mean:

  • What particular parts are ‘too hard’?
  • What part of the lesson does the teacher go ‘too fast’?

You may even start developing strategies:

  • How could you let the teacher know you need some help without the other students being aware?
  • What might help you calm down in a test?


Investigate the problem – Talk to your child’s teacher

The classroom teacher is the most important resource for any child’s learning of mathematics.

Teachers work with children every day and have an acute knowledge of their mathematics capabilities.

Once you have identified that your child has an issue in mathematics, your first step must be to talk to your child’s teacher.

Teachers welcome dialogue with parents – it allows a partnership between the teacher, you, and your child to develop. This partnership is an essential element in supporting quality teaching and learning for your child.


Explore the problem – What to talk to the teacher about

Some of the key areas to explore with the teacher should be:

  • Does the teacher believe your child has issues with mathematics?
  • What is your child’s approach/attitude to maths in class: e.g., do they ask for help? Do they answer questions?
  • What are the specific areas of mathematics your child is struggling with?
  • Is it possible to see assessment pieces as evidence of this?
  • Would my child benefit from outside assistance (e.g., tutor, maths computer program. etc.)?

These open and honest discussions should allow a plan to be developed to tackle the issues identified.

You, the teacher and your child need to collaboratively develop the plan. The plan may involve extra support at school in the form of intervention sessions or extra practice sent home to help your child better grasp concepts.

At this point it is also a good idea to ask the teacher if they think outside assistance such as tutoring would be beneficial. This may also become part of the plan.

Once the plan is agreed upon it is important to keep in regular contact with your child’s teacher so as to closely monitor your child’s progress.

If you do not think the teacher is taking you and your child’s concerns seriously, as a parent you need to move to the next stage by making your concerns known at a higher level within the school. This is a last resort that you should only take up after trying to work with the teacher over an extended period.


Tackle the problem – Outside assistance?

If your child’s teacher agrees that outside assistance may benefit your child, it is important to be well informed about the options available. These include:

  • regular (usually weekly) one-to-one sessions with a private tutor
  • regular (usually weekly) small group tutoring sessions (4–5 students)
  • commercially produced, computer-based tutoring systems.

All tutors should use current assessment tools to diagnose the particular mathematics causing your child’s problems and work to overcome these problems.

It is important to note that tutors may need to take your child ‘back’ to ‘fill in’ the conceptual gaps that may become apparent through these assessment tasks. As such, tutors may not complete the same work as your child is currently completing in their classroom. For this reason it is advisable for tutors to be in regular contact with classroom teachers so each is aware of the work that is being done with your child.

One crucial role for the tutor is to build your child’s confidence in doing mathematics. A child who feels more confident will be more able to cope in class, more willing to ‘have a go’, and more likely to seek help from their teacher.

They can also help your child develop strategies and tactics to work independently on mathematics, how to approach problem-solving, working out when do they need to ask for help and when to try again with a particular problem.

The focus of one-to-one tutoring is likely to be mostly on your child’s specific learning needs; this is less likely to be the case in group tutoring.

Whilst small group face to face sessions may be able to assist your child, individual attention is obviously more beneficial.

Also be aware that some franchise tutoring companies promote repetition as the way of learning mathematics. Whilst this is an approach that may appear to help some children, it may also lead to your child being unable to gain a true understanding of the connections between mathematical concepts within the curriculum. This often makes mathematical learning as children progress through school more difficult.

It is more difficult for computer-based packages to be connected with what is happening in your child’s class and their exact learning needs.

While the student’s confidence may grow as they experience success in these programs, there is a risk that they may find it difficult to translate the knowledge from the computer-based environment to their classroom learning.

An emphasis on repetition to learn mathematics may also be a feature of these packages. Be aware that some computer-based packages provide and charge for material and information that may not be relevant to your child’s needs.

Finding a suitable tutor can sometimes be difficult. Ask the child’s teacher if they or the school can recommend anyone.

Private tutors often advertise in the local newspaper and on the Internet, but often the best way is through personal recommendations from friends, family or your school.

It is reasonable for you to ask any potential tutor for their qualifications and evidence of a successful track record. You should also sight a current police check certificate.

It may be a good idea to have a trial period: e.g., one term. This will enable you to gauge how the tutoring is going in the eyes of your child and the tutor.

Remember to monitor your child’s progress by keeping in regular contact with their classroom teacher. A few months of focussed work may be all that is needed to get your child’s mathematics back on track.

Cost is an important issue. Outside help can be expensive.

The hourly rate for a suitably qualified tutor means that the outlay can soon mount up.

With this in mind, remember to follow the above advice and constantly monitor your child’s progress to make sure the approach is working.