When Does Your Child Need a Tutor?

Getting tutoring services for a child is becoming more and more common. The competitive nature of college applications and increasing pressure to get high grades pushes parents into finding additional help.

Tutoring is sought for many reasons. Some of the most common reasons are to improve report card performance and to prepare for standardized, or college application tests.

Often times tutoring services are desired to make incremental improvements for a student who is already strong academically.

But when does your child need a tutor?

Children often exhibit signs long before poor academics become a problem. The trick for parents and teachers is to recognize the warning signs and get in front of the problem. Here are some common signs that your child may need a tutor:

“I finished my homework!” – If your child is coming home regularly claiming that his or her homework is already completed, it warrants some investigation. Homework loads have only increased in recent years. It is common for first graders to have daily and weekly homework assignments. Often times, these assignments are designed specifically to be completed at home, with the help of a parent. This is especially true for grades 1-6.

When your child tells you he has no homework or has already done it, it can sometimes indicate a lack of interest, or even a lack of understanding.

A bad report card – This is obvious, but there are some more subtle clues in a report card that should not be overlooked. For example, a student may receive a high letter mark in a subject, but teacher comments may give insight into underlying issues.

Classroom behavior issues – Kids tend to act up when they are frustrated or when they feel defeated. If a child is sitting there at a loss, while his classmates are diligently working, it may be easier to act up than ask for help. Children’s minds don’t work like adults’; asking for help may never cross a student’s mind. When behavior issues arise, it is time to examine academic performance as a contributing factor.

Carelessness – For some kids, finishing first is part of their DNA. But when work is consistently completed quickly and without regard to neatness or correctness, it may contribute to a growing issue. Half completed work, or missed problems are all indications that your child may need some extra help.

The best way to know when your child needs extra help is to stay engaged, identify “warning signs” and act before a problem becomes serious.

Flummoxed by Failure — Or Focused?

I’ve always been fascinated by what motivates students.  As a teacher, my most challenging students weren’t those who had a hard time learning the concepts; they were the kids that gave up too easily.  And often times, when students give up they lose focus and motivation.  Many of these students think they’re simply not smart and that no matter what they do, they won’t be an A or B student.  They often have an “I don’t care” or “Why bother?” attitude.

As parents, seeing this struggle in our children is hard to take.  If you have a child who has a low frustration tolerance or is easy to give up, check out this article on learning, the brain, and intelligence.  I ran across it yesterday while reading the Wall Street Journal and immediately knew I wanted to share it with you!

But don’t stop there, share the article “You Can Grow Your Intelligence” with your child.  Psychologists at Stanford and Columbia found that when they used this article to teach a growth mind-set to 7th graders struggling in math, the students showed greater motivation in math class.  Have a comment?  Post it below or send an email.

Ann Dolin – [email protected]

Consider the ACT as an Alternative to the SAT

The SAT exam has always been the college admissions test of choice along the East Coast. However this trend is changing as the ACT gains popularity. The ACT, for years dominant in the central states, is now also gaining popularity on the East Coast. Students are now presented with a choice of college admissions tests.

The most recent example of this change was seen in one Georgia high school in Marietta County where there was a 36 percent increase in students taking the ACT compared to only a 7.45 percent increase in students taking the SAT test (Marietta Daily Journal).

Another example was seen in Washington, D.C., still a primarily SAT dominant area, but whose school officials have noticed an increase in “more local seniors trying both tests, rather than seeking to improve their SAT scores by retaking it” (Washington Post ). And that’s the beauty of having an alternative test to the SAT, the fact that students have a choice and are not limited to relying on the success of one test to demonstrate their academic standing to a desired college or university.

You might be asking yourself why the sudden emergence of more ACT test takers on the East Coast? All colleges now accept both the SAT and ACT for college admission, including the most competitive schools such as those in The Ivy League.  This can drastically widen the pool of test takers who may have been previously hindered by their performance on the SAT and now have a chance to try an alternative test that might better reflect their academic abilities.

Another reason could be that the SAT is viewed by some as measuring a student’s innate ability to learn, whereas the ACT is seen as a test of what the student has actually learned.  While both tests are accepted by colleges, there are differences. The ACT questions are typically seen as more straightforward, while those on the SAT are trickier and more reasoning oriented.

Many colleges now understand that not every student fits the “cookie cutter” mold for only one test. Knowing about the differences between the SAT and ACT provides students with some flexibility. For example, the ACT includes a science section, which is not on the SAT, and an optional essay section (mandatory on the SAT). Students and parents now have the opportunity to choose the test which best fits their child.

For a quick, 90 second tutorial on which test may be best for your child, check out our SAT vs. ACT video.  And don’t forget — here at ECTutoring, we offer a free ACT practice test so that students can compare these scores to their PSAT scores.  Often, this information helps students to understand which test they should focus on when preparing for college entrance exams.


This guest blog post was written by Daniel Ascher, M.Ed., President of A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, www.aplustutoring.com, a Philadelphia area provider of one-to-one test preparation tutoring.

EC Success Stories: Charlie Rosas

From El Salvador to Stanford


Here at Educational Connections, we’ve been blessed to be a part of the lives of some truly incredible students over the past 14 years. We’ve taught children with disabilities how to read, helped young adults get into colleges they had never dreamed of, and inspired countless students to realize their full academic potential. Every once in a while, a student comes along who teaches us more than we teach him. This week’s success profile is on EC student Charlie Rosas, who went from not knowing a single word of English to turning down Harvard.


The Rosas family immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. Charlie was born in Los Angeles, and was raised in an entirely Spanish speaking community. “When we moved away to Virginia, I was determined to learn English,” says Charlie. “My family had a lot of paperwork to do, and I wanted more than anything to help them… There’s a funny picture of me at age eight trying to help my aunt fill out a job application.” To help Charlie with his English, the Rosas family turned to Educational Connections. Charlie was tutored personally by EC president Ann Dolin, who volunteered for the position free of charge. “After my tutoring with EC, I was reading on a 5th grade level in the 2nd grade. Ann has always been a big influence for me. She’s been in touch ever since… I never thought I’d make it this far.”


Charlie’s new-found skills proved invaluable a few years later when his family’s home was foreclosed upon. With his father working two jobs as a cook and a maintenance worker – on four hours of sleep – and his mother working full time as a nanny, Charlie took it upon himself to investigate their legal options. Charlie took on the role of the family attorney and steered them through the grueling legal process. Although the Rosas ultimately lost their home, Charlie proved himself to be an endless well of hard work, encouragement, and determination. Little did he know, the next test would far surpass the last.


Shortly after, tragedy struck again as Charlie’s mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Charlie sprung into action, working with doctors and insurance companies to ensure his mother the best care possible. Charlie navigated the diagnostic and treatment process for his family when others would have lost hope. He did everything in his power to help his family – from relentlessly tracking down doctors for second opinions to filling out mountains of paperwork. His courage and confidence is truly humbling. With some help from a connection through EC, Charlie was able to get in touch with one of the best reconstructive surgeons in the DC area, who took on Charlie’s mother as a patient even though he was at capacity.


Somehow, in spite of all this, Charlie was able to maintain a rigorous high school schedule, taking as many AP classes as possible and maintaining a 4.4 GPA. Educational Connections was able to help Charlie and his sister, who has a significant learning disability, with scholarships and college placement – free of charge. “I can’t tell you how much that motivated her. It meant so much to us,” says Charlie. Despite getting into Harvard, Charlie turned it down for a full ride at Stanford, where he is currently studying political science.


Clearly, here at Educational Connections we only had a minor part to play in Charlie’s story, but he is effusive in his praise nonetheless. “I would recommend EC to anyone. They helped me address exactly what my issues were. Once they were resolved everything became faster and easier… Tutoring helped me believe in myself. It gave me skills that I definitely needed down the road. I can’t thank EC enough.” It is both humbling and inspiring to work with students like Charlie, and an honor to be a part of his life here at Educational Connections.

The 4 Kinds of “Careless Errors” and How to Fix Them

We get a lot of questions about careless errors from parents, tutors, and students alike. In my experience, these are the four most common careless errors I’ve come across along with some effective, field-tested solutions for you to try:


1) Dropping Negative Signs – This can also mean switching the sign mid problem or copying down the wrong sign at the start. Lots of kids have this problem, and this is the only permanent solution I’ve found:

  • Have the student say out loud “positive” or “negative” in front of each number. This will seem bothersome at first but it absolutely works if you’re persistent.
  • So instead of “12 divided by 4,” have them say “positive 12 divided by positive 4”
  • This links the sign to the number in the child’s mind, and trains the brain to not separate the two. The result is that sign and number are permanently linked in a student’s internal monologue, which is the ultimate goal here and the only chance at a long term solution.

2) Not copying problems correctly, or not reading directions – The key here is to not be negative or judgmental. Students learn when they are comfortable and when behavior is encouraged positively. Here’s what to do:

  • Draw a box in the top right corner of the page. Each time the student remembers to read the directions, or double check what she has copied, tell her to give herself +1 point (or a tally) in the box.
  • The first few times all you have to say is, “Did you remember to double check so you can get a point?” and the usual response is along the lines of, “Oh yeah, lemme check.” This is so much more effective than “Hey, you forgot again. Stop that,” for this very reason:
  • Something positive is being associated with the behavior. If you can create a comfortable scenario where a child will want to double check his work, it will be fixed faster than you think.

3) Too much (or incorrect) mental math – Some students can’t wait for the chance to use their calculators, but I’ve worked with many students who feel the need to do as much work as possible in their heads, even difficult multi-step problems. This can come from the misconception that being able to do problems in your head means you are smarter, or that it’s expected of them. Some just don’t want to use up paper!

  • If I notice a heavy reliance on mental math, I make a deal with the student up front. I’ll say “Looks good so far, but if you make a mistake in your head you have to write it out.”
  • The student immediately becomes more careful, because she knows she will have to write it out if she makes a mistake. More importantly, it makes her responsible for the work.
  • Now, instead of, “He’s making me write it out,” it becomes, “I’m writing it out because I made a mistake and that was my fault.” This simple re-framing makes a huge difference.

4) Squeezing too much work into a small space – This happens frequently on math tests, especially for younger students learning multiplication. They’ll try to crunch everything into the space provided, and the work gets jumbled and confused.

  • Give the student graph paper, draw lines on his paper, or tell the student to flip the page over for more space.
  • Tell them know that a piece of paper costs about two hundredths of a penny! They can use as much as they need.
  • Keeping numbers separate and letting the student know it’s OK to use lots of room is a quick fix for a lot of students, and it means a lot more points on homework and tests.

I’ve been using these strategies in the field for the past few years with great success. Give them a shot, we’d love to hear your results!

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring in Fairfax and Bethesda. Her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, she offers proven solutions to help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at ectutoring.com.