One of the most frequent questions I am asked is ‘How do I find a good tutor?’ Parents want to do the best for their children particularly if the children have a Specific learning Disorder (SLD) such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia or dysgraphia, or a combination of all of them.
Finding a good tutor for your child is not going to be easy: Some parents have unrealistic expectations, are looking for a ‘silver bullet’ or a ‘cure’. There is no cure, just a lot of hard work.
The hard work is going to be done by your child, you only have to provide your hard earned dollars. The money invested in a tutor can be a major investment, but your child is going to invest far more in terms of blood, sweat, tears and self-esteem.
When any large investment like a house or a car people usually need to do some research, so how much more important is your child? You need to do some research.
For instance, when buying a car, would you say to your friend? ‘Can you recommend a car for me to buy?’ Your friend might say ‘I think my Honda Jazz is great, you should get one.’ But you have a dog so need a wagon. All kids are different but kids with SLDs are very different. You need to do some research.
Research is also necessary because a Parliamentary inquiry said ‘There were also concerns raised that tutors operate in an unregulated environment’, page XIV (http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/file_uploads/ETC_Homework_Inq uiry_final_report_PWkrPPVH.pdf)
You must choose how much you are prepared to spend: A Rolls Royce or a Honda Jazz? Tutors typically cost somewhere between $80-$150 per hour. Just because they charge more does not mean that they are better tutors, just more expensive. Some tutors call themselves ‘consultants’ or ‘therapists’. However they are all basically just teachers who want to work with kids who have SLDs. You need to do some more research.
Where you live matters unless you can also invest your time into ferrying your child to and from the tutor’s place.
Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA) https://www.ldaustralia.org/ is a professional association of teachers, speech pathologists and other professionals, highly regarded in the community, which has a list of tutors/consultants sorted by their location, so this is a good start. LDA also requires teachers to have extra specialized qualifications in order to be on their LDA Online Tutor search. Additionally, LDA Consultant Members are expected to continue their professional development in the learning difficulty field and must submit yearly evidence showing ongoing learning that conforms to strict standards for continued renewal of their LDA Consultant registration (https://www.ldaustralia.org/consultants.html)
The minimum qualifications any tutor should have is a registration with the Victorian Institute of teachers’ (VIT). The VIT is the regulatory body which ensures that teachers have done an approved University teacher training course. In order to maintain their registration teachers are also required by the VIT to keep up to date by undertaking Professional Development (PD). It is important that tutors have teaching qualifications and are registered with their teacher registration board that ensures they meet professional standards for teaching
VIT registration of a person can easily be checked by using the VIT website here: (http://www.vit.vic.edu.au/search-theregister/_nocache) You can search by their name and/or registration number. This search also tells you when registration was first granted, which will give you an idea of how experienced the tutor is. If they are not registered –Don’t go there!
4 More qualifications
Most teachers who are interested in working with kids who have SLDs undertake further specialised training. Unfortunately this is where it gets a bit murky. There is no regulatory body in Australia whose job it is to monitor the quality of such Professional Development providers. Anybody can put up their shingle and charge whatever the market will bear.
Fortunately Alison Clarke (http://www.spelfabet.com.au), has done much of the research into appropriate programs as she was on the Professional Development committee for Learning Difficulties Australia. The list of training providers can be found on her blog here: (http://www.spelfabet.com.au/2016/03/upcoming-training-insynthetic-phonics/). If your tutor has done one of these you know its good.
If the qualification is not on the list: Look at their specialised qualifications and ask them what they mean and if you can view their certificates. If they get angry or have ‘lost’ them. Don’t go there. (I am very proud of my qualifications because it took me a lot of blood sweat and tears to get them – I would never ‘lose’ them.)
Seeing the bits of paper is important especially if the qualifications are from overseas. In the UK or the US there are many excellent specialized courses. Just make sure your tutor has done one of them and exactly what it is and what it involved.
5 Evidence-based Professional Development courses.
Another help through the murky waters of PDs is AUSPELD. AUSPELD is the Australian Federation of Speld Associations and is also highly regarded in the community. (http://auspeld.org.au/)
The peak body for anybody with SLDs to go to in this state is Speld Vic. Each state has its own Speld organisation, all coming under the umbrella of AUSPELD.
AUSPELD has a free, online version of ‘Understanding learning Difficulties for parents’. This has a list of evidence based interventions here: (http://uldforparents.com/contents/selecting-asuccessful-intervention-program/what-does-the-research-tell-usabout-different-interventions/). This also lists the degree of evidence and rough costs. (Again remember the Rolls Royce factor –high cost is no guarantee of a quality course).
This information does not recommend the ‘best’ course for a tutor to do or the ‘gold standard’ course because there is no ‘best’ course. If you tutor says there is a ‘best’ course and she has done it, ask for the article that proves it, written in a peer-reviewed journal. (There aren’t any!)
This research will give you a guide through the murky waters of PDs.
6 The choice
After having found a tutor you like the look of, you must put her to the vital test. Your child! The choice is not just yours but also your child’s. There must be a good relationship. If not- Don’t go there!
A good relationship is important as the tutor must exploit a child’s strengths and ensure he succeeds. Success is the key to motivation. Children need the motivation if they are going to carry on and undertake all the hard work they will need to do.
7 In school
In Victoria, provided a tutor has VIT registration, and with the approval of the school, a tutor is allowed to take a child out of school during the day, in order to tutor her. This has a couple of advantages. Tutors are usually busy before and after school and the child does not have to face more work at the end of the school day when they are exhausted. (Some schools also allow suitably qualified teachers, who work as tutors, to provide specialised learning support at schools)
8 Qualifications caveat
Qualifications are important because they get tutors over that first hurdle and enable a tutor to get the vital VIT registration. However, I know of many, older teachers who do not have lots of letters after their names. They are excellent, dedicated teachers. This is basically what you are looking for: A tutor who can relate to your children and who knows their stuff and how to teach.
9 More about courses
As you have seen, AUSPELD has a number of recommended courses. They all have one thing in common. They all teach Structured Synthetic Phonics (SSP).
This is important as all the evidence from reading researchers tells us that this is how all children learn to read.
Structured This means, for example you teach the sounds in in a structured way. From simpler sound/letter correspondence to those that are more complex.
Synthetic This means that the sounds are built up (synthesised) by blending them together.
Phonics Simply is the link between the sound, the printed word and its meaning.
The tutoring given should work. Your child should improve. If not, find another one. If you have any complaints tell the tutor. If they are from LDA, tell LDA.
However, remember that by nature specific learning difficulties are ‘persistent’ and do continue throughout an individual’s life time to some extent. The degree of progress is also dependent on how severe the learning difficulty is. The earlier learning difficulties are identified, and effective intervention implemented, the better the long term prognosis. Internal factors such as resilience and persistence also play a role.