Closing the Learning Gap

Image source: Contributed

While 2020 has been a year to remember (or forget), the new year always brings the chance to get the year off to the right start for your child’s schooling, as Deb Caruso discovers.

I saw a meme during the COVID home-schooling period that said “a lot of parents are suddenly realising it’s not the teacher that’s the problem…”

As a mother of a socially-capable but academically-bored/easily distracted kid, I totally understood this concept. For the record, I have very rarely blamed the teacher for my son’s lack of enthusiasm for academic pursuits, which inevitably results in less than stellar grades.

As an only child and the youngest (and shortest) in his class, Max has struggled to achieve the (A+) grades every parent dreams of. But boy, is he socially-capable, confident and resilient? Yes. Is that going to get him far? Yes. But he also needs more.

Every year, with average or less-than-average results we would ask ourselves and his teacher whether he should be kept down or repeat that grade. And every year the teacher would reassure us that he is ‘a bright student who simply chooses to not apply himself all the time’.

I discovered this for myself during the forced COVID homeschooling phase. When he was engaged and interested he was brilliant; but when he wasn’t… well there was always home delivery from my favourite bottle shop!

He has the ability, mostly, but not the interest and report card after report card we witnessed firsthand that where his effort was ‘poor’ or ‘average’ so were the grades. The longer this went on, the bigger the gaps were becoming between what he was actually learning and what he should have been learning.

We needed early intervention to ensure the basic knowledge gaps didn’t become The Grand Canyon!

In particular, a consistent D grade in maths made us reach for help. We tried a few tutors before friends recommended Kip McGrath, which worked for their daughters who are now in their 20s and established in successful careers.

Within the first few sessions we had a much clearer picture of where Max’s actual understanding was (sadly about three years behind where he should have been) and in particular, the areas that he hadn’t quite grasped.

With a dedicated program, personal tutoring, support and encouragement, Max closed the gap pretty quickly. What’s more, he was engaged and excited about going to tutoring, particularly for the rewards and recognition.

According to Rita at Kip McGrath, even a small gap in the basics can lead to bigger issues, so the sooner it can be addressed, the better.

“Children are pretty clever in adopting strategies that cover up the fact that they can’t do something or are having trouble with an aspect of what is being taught,” she said. “Attitude and behaviour issues, such as being easily distracted, can actually be used to camouflage learning problems or gaps in the student’s knowledge.

“The student can be seen as a difficult child when in fact, it just means that they are having difficulties.”

It makes sense that where the effort is low, the grades are low.

“Average or poor effort can mean a lack of engagement from the student and this could be happening for several reasons, the most common being a lack of basic understanding or a lack of confidence in their own ability to finish the task,”
Rita said. “For example, the student may understand fractions but have trouble with multiplication so every time an exercise involves multiplication they disengage because it is too hard and they don’t want to admit they are having trouble.”

This is where the investment in tutoring can really pay off. Because tutors have one-on-one or small group time with the students rather than needing to focus on 28 other students at the same time, they gain a much greater insight into what the student can and can’t do and can work with the child on specific strategies to address the core issue.

“Our tutors are able to identify where the gaps are and take the student through additional tasks to drill down to what the actual issue is,” Rita said. “Knowledge is power so once you know where the gap is, you can focus on filling it.”

With report cards issued at the end of the year, it provides the opportunity to review where your child is at.

“A new year is the time to identify gaps as a result of a disruptive 2020 or other reasons; to review and refresh and help get the kids sorted for 2021,” Rita said.

“Report cards offer the opportunity to understand where your child is situated on the academic scale and they can also show where effort or engagement is lacking,” she said. “While we need to remember that report cards can also be quite formulaic and general in nature; they still provide insight into your child’s level of understanding.”

In addition to the report card, Rita said the school holidays offered the opportunity for parents to get a feel for where their children are challenged.

“Spend more time reading with your kids, play games such as Scrabble or Monopoly; do maths in the shopping centre or at the café and make it fun and engaging,” she said. “This will foster fun in learning and if you pay attention to when your child becomes disengaged or agitated, that will help identify where there is a gap in the child’s understanding.

“Then you can work with their teacher and tutor to capture and address the issue early.”

Thankfully during COVID lockdown, Kip McGrath continued to tutor Max with one-on-one online tutoring every week and other activities in between. This allowed me to see how successfully he can be engaged, not to mention the hour or so respite from having to play teacher.

I’m glad to report that he has caught up to his proper year level in maths (but we need to still stay on top of this) and his mid-year report card recorded a C in Maths; plus a B in English!

More importantly, his effort in both subjects was ‘Very Good’. There might have been a lot of tears during home schooling but I’m taking the good results as an indication of my home schooling prowess; and a little help from my friends at Kip McGrath (and the bottle shop)!

About the Author /

Deb has 25+ years' experience providing strategic communications and brand reputation advice to clients in the government, business and not-for-profit clients. She is passionate about Noosa and is an active member of her community, providing PR to Slow Food Noosa and other clients. Her passion lies in working with small businesses to help them succeed. She is planning to release the Tastes of Noosa cookbook with Matt Golinski in 2019.

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