Dear Dr. Fournier: My son's school has recommended that he be tutored this summer. His teacher thinks he has trouble comprehending what he reads. He just completed the eighth grade with a C in reading. I want him to be prepared for high school. What do you recommend?
The Assessment: Many parents see the summer as a time to help their children catch up on needed skills while other parents view it as a time for enrichment. The latter is a choice. The former is not.For students who need to use the summer to prepare for the next school year, I offer two rules to help parents make an informed choice.
- Define your child's needs.
If your child needs to "catch up" this summer, then you must know exactly what he needs to catch up in. Saying that "my child needs help in reading" is like an adult who complains, "I need help getting organized." In what area?
Each year when our children enter a new grade, teachers have already defined a starting point. Children are expected to master certain skills before they enter the grade. These are the skills that the teacher does not expect to teach or review.
If your child does not have those skills in place, then the teacher has no choice but to speculate as to why. All too often, these speculations result in unnecessary testing and sometimes medication: Your child is lazy and unmotivated, is learning-disabled or has attention problems.
What skills will teachers assume that your son already has? The "right" summer program will give your child what he needs to meet the next academic challenge.
- Make the program relevant to your child.
A good summer program must work within the context of what your child will be doing in school.
For example, if your child needs help with reading comprehension, then just giving him a program in which he reads and answers questions is not enough to prepare him for high school.
As you evaluate your options for summer programs, also remember the old adage: You cannot continue to do more of the same and expect different results. Your son needs a program tailored to his individual needs, teaching him what he needs in the way he needs it. While that may not be possible in a classroom with 30 other children, it is an advantage in getting one-on-one summer help.
What To Do: Find out your child's course work for next year. If possible, get a copy of the textbooks and a list of other reading assignments. Have your son read a chapter of each text and take notes.
Ask your son to paraphrase the main ideas in the text. If your child is unable to decode meaning into his own words, he will fall prey to taking notes in class that may not be complete or he will memorize. As the quantity and complexity of the work increases, he will have a hard time keeping up. Even if he is able to memorize his notes, he will not be learning.
Also ask your son to take notes from the chapter and separate the main ideas, supporting information and essential details. If he is unable to discern the differences in these three types of information, then he may do poorly on tests, not because he has a disability but because he has not learned this important reading comprehension skill. A child who reads for main ideas may do well on a short answer test but may fail a multiple choice test that requires the selection of essential details.
These are just two examples of how to determine what a reading comprehension program means for a specific child. The same goes for math and writing.
Summer is a precious time for children. If you are going to work on academics, let next year's demands be your guide. If the "catch-up" program is not specific and relevant to your child's very individual needs, then I strongly advise you to take the summer off.