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Tutoring vs Training
Your child is struggling in third grade math. You send him to a tutor. The tutor works diligently for several weeks with him on his grade level math concepts and assignments. He then passes the third year with B. So far so good. Summer comes and goes. His fourth-grade homework hit, and again, fundamental weaknesses prevent him from learning the new concepts. The processing and visualization skills it needs just aren’t there. You could pay for another round of tutoring to help you with those homework assignments as well, but the underlying reason why he didn’t understand them in the first place remains intact. It will reappear…
How do you “train” someone to learn?
The current science of learning forces learning to be viewed as two distinct parts: specific academic study and a student’s underlying ability to learn. To create the best opportunity for maximum academic progress, the underlying mental skills that lead to easy learning should be as strong and effective as possible, which may require specific training. Why? The brain changes physically in response to proper training. The efficiency of its neural pathways improves the same way muscle cells respond to progressive resistance training by developing additional strength. The “untrained” brain that functions slowly and inefficiently (resulting in sub-par persistent learning) can become a fit brain that is quick to respond to new learning challenges. You can literally train and strengthen your mental abilities and have more gray matter!
What is brain training?
Brain training (also known as mental or cognitive skills training) is very different from tutoring. Common academic study and special help such as tutoring both focus on specific academic tasks and simply ignore the state of a student’s underlying mental skills. In fact, success in general studies or private lessons depends entirely on the student’s underlying ability to learn. For those who struggle or fail, it is not necessarily their study habits or lack of academic knowledge that is the problem. An underlying cognitive weakness is often the cause of the difficulty.
Until the underlying skills that provide the basic ability to learn are strengthened, tutoring can only produce temporary progress at best. The struggles will reappear on the very next new challenge, and the next, and the next, until the challenges become too difficult even with the help of tutoring, or the student simply gets frustrated and gives up. If this is your child, he risks being identified as a failure by these repeated struggles. You risk paying for tutoring every year with no guarantee of future success.
Proper training of mental skills is different. It offers you and your student the chance to get to the root of the problem and literally rebuild their basic ability to read and learn. A struggling student, or looking to optimize academic performance, should consider training the mental skills that are the foundation of learning.
Two different needs, two solutions
As mentioned above, learning can be divided into two components: the specific academic challenge (such as reading) and the underlying skills needed to do it well (such as auditory processing and word attack). . A tutor can improve academic achievement in a given task if the student has enough underlying skills to meet the challenge. If that student is struggling due to weaknesses in their skills, a trainer, not a tutor, is needed. Once you learn to read, you should be able to do it with little thought. But if one of the basic and necessary reading skills (such as mixing sounds and the auditory processing skill) were lacking, you would struggle to read well, no matter what level of tutoring you received. Further homework in reading theory or even practical reading would not solve the underlying problem.
Look for better testing and training options
Intense practice drills focused on specific areas of weakness can quickly build key mental skills and literally change the way a student learns. But how do you know if training is what your child needs? When looking for effective help, the right test is also essential. Far too often, a student’s individual underlying skills are not identified or are averaged and reported as an IQ score.
Even when categorized in terms such as “an auditory learner” or “a visual learner,” this imprecise identification limits the help a student can receive. On the other hand, pre-vocational tests are designed to identify key skills that impact learning or reading difficulty. It is then possible for a qualified mental skills trainer to improve cognitive skills such as auditory and visual processing, logic and reasoning, and working memory through direct training. The results are better academic performance almost immediately and an increased ability to learn in the future.
Tutoring can be beneficial for students in some situations, but for those with underlying cognitive skill weaknesses, cognitive skills training is the answer. So when you’re looking to help your child eliminate lingering difficulties in school…think brain training first.
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