Last Updated on April 29, 2021 by Thinkster
Struggles with math are all too familiar to a huge percentage of American parents.
And the data shows why: in 2017, just 40 percent of American fourth-graders achieved proficiency for their grade level in mathematics.
So it’s no wonder that so many parents are in search of a private math tutor to help their kids improve their math abilities and obtain a better grade.
But here’s the thing: at Thinkster, we know math tutoring. We’ve been in the business for years. And we know that what you actually need isn’t a math tutor-it’s a math coach.
Before we get to the reasons, let’s answer this: What’s the difference between a math tutor and a math coach?
Well, a math tutor is helpful if your student needs help with specific mathematics concepts-linear algebra or calculus for high schoolers, or long division and fractions for elementary schoolers, for example.
A private tutor can help your child understand the mechanics of how those mathematics concepts work, giving them the practical practice to do those math problems correctly, and, certainly, improve their math scores.
But just like a sports coach does more than teach young athletes the mechanics of the game, a math coach does more than simply teach your student the mechanics of a math concept.
Math coaches do all the things math tutors do, helping your child understand concepts that are difficult for them, ensuring they succeed on math homework and math tests, and help them move on to the next level when they’re ready.
However, math coaches also do things like teach your child how to learn. Things like learning strategies, homework strategies, time management-a math coach can help your child develop in these areas as well, in addition to improving their achievement levels in terms of scores on a variety of math topics.
Now that we know the difference between a math tutor and a math coach, here are the reasons engaging a math coach can be so helpful for your child.
For most parents, especially those who are preparing their children for an Ivy League school, improving their child’s math scores is one of the primary reasons they look for math tutoring.
After all, Ivy League colleges are only becoming more competitive, and math grades will always be a critical component of your child’s application. In fact, private tutoring has always been an important element of elite education, dating back hundreds of years. The reason? Because parents know that tutoring works. The one-on-one attention provided during the tutoring experience is key when it comes to helping your child quickly improve.
One of the most common reasons parents come to us, of course, is that their child is struggling with math.
But struggling with math affects more than just a student’s math scores. It can also hurt their overall academic confidence, which then can translate to difficulties completing homework, homework resistance, and a general decrease in enjoyment of school as well as self-esteem and confidence issues.
You know that look your child gets when they’re struggling with their math problems – whether it’s their high school algebra and calculus, or their elementary school math worksheets.
It’s not a good one, and we all know how hard it is to learn when we’re feeling bad about it ourselves.
This is why you want your tutoring service to be genuinely positive and encouraging to your student throughout each online tutoring lesson together, especially if your student is struggling with a certain topic. Encouragement from an objective, third-party source can be just the boost your student needs to work hard and master a math skill, giving them confidence outside of the classroom, too.
No parent wants to see their child struggling in school, especially when it can have such an impact on their general confidence. That’s why engaging a math coach for tutoring as soon as you notice any problems is preferable to a math instructor, so you can head off serious issues before they start.
For some students, that will mean getting a math coach in elementary school. For others, the time to get a coach could be high school. The stage your child is in doesn’t matter-what does matter is that they get the help they need when they need it.
It might surprise you, but the SAT and ACT aren’t focused on higher math. Good math scores on these tests are dependent on a solid understanding of more basic math concepts, like algebra and geometry-concepts students start learning about in middle school.
So if your child is struggling with math early on in their academic career, it’s important to get them the help they need sooner rather than later. The type of help that reaches beyond basic instruction to a deeper understanding of math concepts. That’s even the case if your child is only in elementary school. The sooner they can catch up to their peers, the better their chances of earning great math scores on the SAT and ACT.
One of the best things about hiring a math coach, rather than a math tutor in a generic tutoring program? The tools and strategies they teach your child will help them in all subject areas, not just in math.
For example, learning to slow down and take a step-by-step approach to solving problems can be helpful in everything from diagramming sentences to thinking through a five-paragraph essay.
Similarly, the study skills that your child will learn can be applied to everything from learning a new language to figuring out a new hobby.
In today’s world, the ability to think critically cannot be overestimated. Companies are constantly on the lookout for employees that can think independently.
Summer learning loss can set back even high academic achievers, and it requires teachers to spend valuable learning time reviewing concepts that their students have already learned, rather than moving forward onto new and more challenging ones.
A math coach can work with your child throughout the entire summer and other holidays, or even just provide an intensive review period shortly before school starts up again on whichever math subject your child may need. This way, your student goes into their math class ready to learn what’s next, rather than spend weeks catching up to where they were pre-summer vacation.
One-on-one coaching is simply the most effective way to help a child improve.
Because the coach or tutor is focused on one thing only: your child’s needs.
If the student is struggling with fractions, the coach will spend as long as it takes helping them master fractions.
And that time won’t only be spent learning how to successfully do those specific math problems. It will be spent on actually learning the underlying concepts, so that your child has a true understanding of how fractions work as well as how to approach and work through math problems of that type.
This kind of dedicated one-on-one time is especially important when mastering new concepts, so it is important that your tutor is prepared for each of your sessions.
Additionally, your coach or tutor should remember from session to session the progress your student is making and should have prepared appropriate lessons and worksheets for each session.
Small touches, like asking your child how that big standardized test went or what questions they had from their last math worksheets, will go a long way when it comes to building trust with your child.
Thinkster Math’s program provides a dedicated expert math tutor for each student. This teacher is assigned to your child for the entire academic year. This allows the tutor to keep track of your student’s progress and make the needed adjustments to the math assignments that they need to solve daily as well as pick up the best strategies to help your student accelerate their math learning.
A math coach can become a long-term, trusted partner in your child’s academic success, enriching both their school career and their general support network.
What’s more, the longer a coach works with a student, the better they get to know how that student learns: what motivates them, where their challenges lie, what improvements are the most critical for them, and how their learning journey is evolving over time.
This relationship can help set up your child for success, increasing their confidence and helping them reach their potential throughout their academic career.
Just like athletic coaches do more than teach their students the rules of the sport, math coaches teach more than the mechanics of how certain math concepts work.
They can help your child develop organizational skills that will support their academic success from elementary school through college. From planning out their assignments to time management, to study skills, to how to incorporate breaks and other motivational tools, a math coach can help your child achieve a well-rounded foundation that can help them throughout life.
For many students, motivation can be a challenge. Even if a student has a general understanding of a math concept, completing the work can be difficult for them-whether because it seems overwhelming, or they have trouble focusing. This is especially true for children with ADHD or other attention deficit disorders. Students with ADHD, in particular, may need extra math help, to be redirected, since they may not have listened to directions carefully.
It is very frustrating for students to have to redo assignments! It can contribute to the common problem of taking hours each day to do homework.
Having a coach available to help them along the way, redirecting their efforts if necessary, can give them the additional support they need to keep them making progress in their studies.
That’s not to mention the support math coaches can provide exhausted parents, who don’t need yet another day of arguing over homework!
Do you already have a student-athlete in your home? Chances are they’ll respond positively to a coaching model, as it’s something they’re already used to.
Hiring a coach, rather than a traditional online math tutor, can make it easier for your student-athlete to accept the math coaching sessions, especially if the coach approaches your student’s sessions with an athletic coaching model in mind.
So once you’ve decided to hire a math tutor or math coach, how do you identify a great one, versus an average one?
Well, the first thing to check is that your tutor or coach has a background as a math educator.
A math educator will have all the technical and informational chops needed to ensure that they’re teaching your child both the correct and current ways to solve math problems. Showing their work, completing the problems in a way that matches school standards-these are things that are critical to helping your child improve their grades in math.
Additionally, however, your math coach or tutor should have strong interpersonal skills and be capable of building a friendly, trusting relationship with your child. While it’s true that your child doesn’t have to be friends with their math tutor, it is important that they like them and respond well to the tutor’s style of teaching.
That’s why it’s so important to work with a program that matches a tutor to your child. If your child has a learning difficulty, ADHD, or another situation that can make learning challenging for them, you want a tutor who is capable of working with them in an empathetic, friendly, and effective way.
Otherwise, you risk wasting both your money and your child’s time-and if the tutoring relationship is extremely challenging, you may even come out of the experience with your student disliking math even more than they already did.
Let’s dig deeper into why experienced math teachers make great math tutors.
For one thing, math teachers who’ve spent years in the classroom should know how to connect with students who have many different learning styles.
Math classes are filled with students from all different backgrounds, with many different interests, and many different learning types. Some may be kinetic learners; others auditory. Some may be preparing for the Ivy League, while others are striving for an athletic scholarship.
Whatever your child’s interests and learning styles, an experienced math teacher should be able to figure out how to best work with them relatively quickly. After all, they’ve spent years doing this. They’ve spent time working with a group of students, finding ways to ensure they all master specific concepts-so chances are, no matter what needs or challenges your student may have, that tutor has experienced them before.
Great math teachers also know that in order to truly understand a math concept, your child needs to pass through two levels of learning.
Level One: Understand how the procedure works – this is memorizing how it works and the steps required to reach the answer.
Level Two: Understand why the procedure works – this is a comprehensive understanding of the ‘why’ behind the concept.
If your child is working with a math tutor, the goal might be to make sure your child can — at a minimum — master level one.
After all, successfully using steps will likely help your child get an A on their next test.
And while that’s a good starting point, simply ‘learning’ isn’t enough.
It doesn’t lead to life-long understanding, which is critical for your child to have a solid foundation in math and develop cognitive fluency.
Let’s say your child doesn’t get to level two and you ask them how to solve a problem they “learned” six months ago.
There’s a good chance that they might not remember exactly how to work through the problem- solving strategy and steps. This is why having a teacher who knows that mastering the concept, not just learning the strategy, is key.
Another major benefit of working with an experienced math teacher as a math coach or math tutor, specifically for high schoolers, is that he or she will know what Ivy League schools and other elite colleges are looking for in their students.
High school teachers will already be familiar with SAT math and ACT math, as well as what overall scores students need to be competitive with those colleges.
They may also be able to help your child develop the kind of study skills and time management skills that will be necessary for them to succeed once they do enter college.
While your tutor should be able to address your student’s immediate math problems, they should also be able to work with your student as they progress through their math curriculum.
As an example, a tutor who is comfortable teaching high school math should be very comfortable teaching middle school math as well and will also know what foundational requirements are needed for your child in middle school as they move ahead in their curriculum.
This extended knowledge, based on a curriculum that advances your child’s understanding of math concepts, should be a core quality in your tutor, whether they are a math teacher or not.
In addition, your math tutor should have the capability to provide thoughtful insights about why your child may be having gaps in their math knowledge. Are they able to explain topics and concepts that are perhaps related and cause weakness in certain other topics?
The ability to assess and high quality of the assessment provides maximum benefit to your student and ensures that their time – and your money – is not being wasted.
The Thinkster tutoring app does just this. Our program begins with your student taking a skills assessment to gauge their current knowledge and skill level. A personalized diagnostic matrix is then created for your child highlighting areas of strengths and weaknesses.
Then, a Thinkster Academic Advisor meets with you to review the results and discuss a personalized plan that will directly meet your student’s individual needs, matching them with the right tutor.
One-on-one coaching sessions, along with a personalized assignment of math worksheets, crafted to meet the needs of your student, that starts at their level and accelerates their learning over time is what you should look for.
What if you can’t find an experienced math teacher to tutor your child in math?
Another option could be to work with an Ivy League or other elite college graduate or current student.
While these tutors will, of course, have fewer years of experience than a long-time teacher, they have the advantage of being closer to the goal that your student is trying to reach: getting into a high-ranking college or university.
Sure, solving 9 x 2^5 – (10x 3^2) in under five seconds may seem like a cool trick. But does having the math education to rapidly compute problems demonstrate the ability to think creatively and non-linearly?
Ivy League Schools’ admission panels review thousands and thousands of applications. So your child’s knowledge of calculus, algebra, or geometry might not be the only make or break factor.
They want an applicant that stands out from the others – not a student that thinks like a machine or human calculator. Math skills are important, but admissions officers are looking to see if the student has developed other very important skills.
After all, these schools are eager to find the very best and brightest students. They want students that possess an innate desire to improve the community and the world around them. A tutor who’s recently graduated from one of these schools, or who is currently enrolled, will be more familiar with how your child should be preparing to apply, and how math fits into that overall picture.
They’ll also be familiar with the math curriculum that your student should be preparing for. This is true both for the high school curriculum-if they’re just a few years out of high school, they’ll have recent memories of 11th grade math class!-and the college curriculum.
If you can, it’s helpful to find a college student who’s studying education or is training to be a teacher.
That interest in teaching will translate to greater enthusiasm for their math coaching or tutoring engagement, which in turn can become infectious for your student. Your child just may find that they like math more than they thought they did!
Finding a math coach who can work with your child in a hyper-personalized manner can set your child up for success no matter how much they’re currently struggling in math. No parent wants to see their child frustrated and discouraged academically. The right math coach can help your child develop that academic confidence, improve their scores, and give them the tools to support lifelong learning across all subjects and disciplines.
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