Academic Excellence—Gaining the Competitive Edge in the classroom

May 2013 View more

N2013_05_01_030LARGENaperville has a long-standing tradition of academic excellence in its public and private schools. With award-winning schools, teachers, and educational offerings, excelling academically has never been much of a challenge for most students. However, more and more Naperville students, and their parents, are now turning to tutoring programs to help them succeed in the classroom. While some students are using tutors to pass a particular class or subject matter, other students are using tutors to gain the competitive edge on their classmates, sharpen their academic skills, raise their grade point average, or improve test-taking strategies for standardized tests, high school exams, and college entrance exams.

N2013_05_01_031LARGETutoring Options

From libraries and shopping malls, to churches and community centers, one look around and you’ll notice an increasing number of tutoring options available in Naperville. Most of the programs fall into four main categories:

Community and school-based tutoring: Programs are usually offered through community centers, libraries, youth clubs, and during after school programs. Many of these programs are free or have a minimal cost associated with them.


Peer tutoring can be highly-effective among classmates in junior high and high school.

Peer tutoring: Students helping other students, either during a study hall session, or during an after school study session.

Private tutoring sessions: Teachers, former teachers, college students, and other subject matter specialists, offer private sessions with personalized one-on-one attention. This format is flexible and the cost is usually negotiable.

Established tutoring and educational learning centers: Many organizations offer a structured learning program either in a small group setting or in a one-on-one tutoring format. These programs can be expensive and require a time commitment for both students and parents, but usually have a strong record of success.

Individual Success

Education experts agree that the time and energy devoted to tutoring is a worthwhile investment. Tutoring can help students catch up in a particular subject at school, or improve their score on standardized tests. “Tutoring is extremely effective for learning. It reinforces ideas and concepts. Repetitive information is very beneficial for individual retention,” said Lois Stanciak, assistant professor of education, at College of DuPage.

Stanciak specializes in brain-based teaching and learning, interdisciplinary curriculum and instruction, as well as developmental guidance, alternative assessments and cooperative learning. “Tutoring gives students the opportunity to have one-on-one mastery of skills. This is the wave of the future. Unfortunately, schools are designed with a one-size-fits-all approach. Students are reluctant to raise their hands and say ‘I don’t get it’,” said Stanciak.

Active Involvement

For many students involved in tutoring, the results can be significant. “We’ve seen a 10 point increase in some test scores,” said Ali Pabarja, center director The Tutoring Center in Naperville.

However, like most activities, in order for tutoring to be successful, students and parents must be willing to commit the time and energy. “In Naperville, all other activities are viewed as more important than academics. Students are too tired from all of their other activities to learn,” said Ali Pabarja. “If they are too tired they can’t comprehend the work. They need time to study.” The Center matches its tutoring programs with the curriculum of District 203 and 204 and offers one-on-one tutoring sessions for elementary school students to students preparing to take the ACT and SAT.

The goal of any tutoring program is to match the students learning ability with the most effective tutoring style.

The goal of any tutoring program is to match the students learning ability with the most effective tutoring style.

Educational Learning Centers

Experts say we all learn differently. Some of us learn visually, some theoretically, and others through repetition. The goal of any tutoring program is to match the students learning ability with the most effective tutoring style.

“It has nothing to do with the intellectual ability of the individual. We all learn differently. Most research shows that we need to hear or see something five to seven times for optimal retention,” said Stanciak.

The Tutoring Center, like other educational learning centers, offers a free diagnostic assessment to determine where students are struggling or need improvement. “Some students have problems focusing on general test-taking, reading comprehension, or they lack proper study habits, time management, or concentration skills,” said Pabarja. “We develop a specific program to meet those specific needs.”

Many learning centers also offer a variety of programs to improve test-taking strategies and help prepare students for ACT and SAT tests. These testing centers allow students to take the test multiple times. “Students getting exposed to these tests and taking them multiple times is effective,” said Stanciak.

Online Tutoring

Some students are turning to a new trend in tutoring—online tutoring. Many of these online programs offer convenience, affordability, and allow students to learn at their own pace. One of the most popular and effective programs is Kahn Academy ( Khan Academy is a nonprofit organization that provides free online educational tutoring programs for anyone, anywhere. According to the website, The Academy is a resource for teachers, parents, and students with nearly 6,000 video tutorials showcasing the learning power of “Concept and Research”. Students can watch a video presentation multiple times on virtually any subject matter from math and science, to finance and history, in grades K through 12. The lesson is then reinforced in the classroom through testing.

“This concept changes how we educate students. This is well overdue,” said Stanciak. “Students watch a video (Khan Academy) numerous times until they understand the concept. For some students, the more repetitive the information, the more helpful it is for learning,” said Stanciak. “It’s very effective and it’s free.”

When researching online tutoring programs, education experts say it’s important to also consult with your child’s teacher for specific curriculum guidelines and program recommendations.

Beyond the Basics

Brain training centers take the tutoring concept beyond the classroom and work with children and adults on overcoming lifelong learning struggles. “If a child is struggling in school and tutoring doesn’t work for them, parents come to us for help,” said Mia Tischer, director at the LearningRx Chicago-Naperville. “We focus on improving cognitive skills first. Sometimes kids are not good at taking tests so we work on memory skills,” said Tischer.

LearningRx starts by assessing the student using a cognitive assessment tool, then develops a personalized program to attack and correct the root learning problems in the brain including attention skills, memory, logic and reasoning, auditory processing, visual processing and processing speed. “These cognitive skills are life skills, not just for school,” said Tischer.  Tischer says they have seen an average 15-point increase in IQ scores as a result of their program.

The Bottom Line

Research shows that students usually come out of a tutoring experience with increased self-confidence, better work management skills, improved understanding of the subject matter, and higher grades. In order to be successful,  it’s important to select the appropriate tutoring program to meet the specific needs of the student. However, many structured tutoring programs can be expensive and require a regular schedule of visits—some requiring multiple visits per week. So parents also need to weigh the benefits of tutoring against the time commitment and financial requirements.

 Tips for Choosing a Tutor

  • Check the tutor’s credentials. Ask about training, experience and references.
  • Schedule tutoring for the time of day your child is fresh and ready to learn.
  • Set specific tutoring goals and request a tutoring plan.
  • Schedule  more frequent lessons over a shorter period of time, rather than spreading out the same number of lessons over a longer period of time.
  • Ask the tutor for periodic reports on your child’s progress.