Assessing the cause of academic struggles is a touchy subject, as the wrong approach can add to the frustration. An attempt to help, that doesn't address all issues, merely adds to the barriers and challenges faced by a struggling student.
Focusing only on particular school subjects may ignore underlying problems that interfere with achievement. Understanding the differences between tutoring and educational therapy, and seeing how each can support academic success, is a good start for parents wanting to end their child’s academic frustration.
Tutoring: Subject Matter Teaching
Tutoring usually addresses particular subjects. A student who otherwise does well in school may find difficulty in one subject. More practice and further attention from the teacher may see no improvement. Tutoring becomes beneficial as a supplement to classroom instruction.
Tutoring re-teaches the troubling subject matter on an intense, individual level. The approach may include supervising review of class materials, discussing subject matter in more detail, walking the student through concepts, working sample problems and anticipating test questions. Study plans and time tables for study are often addressed. The goal of tutoring is to frame the subject matter in a way that enhances understanding.
Educational Therapy: Whole Learning Process Approach
Educational therapy addresses challenges with the overall learning process. Children requiring educational therapy generally struggle in school. This can be a result of processing deficiencies that must be addressed to ensure progress.
Educational therapy starts by assessing strengths and weaknesses in learning, including analyzing visual and auditory processing. This is important to find the cause of a struggle. For example, students strong in visual processing may do well in Geometry but struggle in History, because the latter is more of a listening subject than a visual one. In this instance, the assessment concludes that therapy must focus on developing skills underlying auditory learning such as auditory memory, listening comprehension and others.
The goal is to identify barriers to learning and address them before moving on to specific subject matter. Once the individual areas of weaknesses are identified, the educational therapist creates an individualized program to target and develop the identified skills. These skills assist in the general learning process rather than specific subject matter.
One, the Other or Both
Knowing whether a student requires educational therapy, tutoring or both depends on the nature of the struggle, or struggles, and the approach to them so far. This includes considering the success of some approaches over others.
Tutoring is appropriate where “I don’t get Algebra” is simply that—the student doesn't understand Algebra. This student may do very well in other subjects and actually have good study habits. Meeting with teachers does not seem to help and test scores remain low. It is likely that finding a tutor may be the best solution as the student may just require a different approach to the material and have it essentially re-taught.
Educational therapy is most appropriate where academic struggles are more generalized: consistent poor grades, consistent frustration, etc. A parent may also see a trend where there is good progress in some of the more visual subjects, like Geometry or Art, but struggles in auditory subjects, like English or History, or vice versa. Generalized struggle or a struggle with a clear pattern may show a weakness in the foundational skills underneath learning.
However, even in one-subject struggles, educational therapy can help. Therapy may discover a small deficiency that can addressed before the student is referred to subject matter tutoring. Identifying and dealing with that underlying issue can only help with defeating challenges faced in particular subjects.
Therefore, an educational therapy assessment is always a good first step whether a student struggles in one subject or all subjects. Assessments determine learning patterns and potential shortcomings which help parents decide the best course of action toward academic achievement.