By Elizabeth Schiff
As a private tutor in New York City, I have worked with students from private, public and charter schools, and with a broad range of learning styles and differences, including ADD/ADHD; executive functioning; dyslexia and decoding; graphomotor/fine motor; processing; short-term memory; receptive and expressive language; visual-spatial and motor planning; and anxiety disorder.
One of the lessons I have learned is that there is no magic bullet, no one size fits all, no strategy or trick that will necessarily work with a particular student, even if it has worked beautifully with twenty other students. It’s all about figuring out what a student’s issues are and then finding what works for that individual student. Tutoring is endlessly creative and challenging because each student is unique and when you work one-on-one, you have the freedom to modify and adapt lessons, activities, and games to each student.
In my experience, even Orton Gillingham – the gold standard for teaching phonics, reading, spelling and writing to students who are having difficulties –often needs to be modified for each student in order to make it more palatable and more fun. Students can’t hate their tutoring sessions!! Generally struggling students need lots of review and repetition, so the challenge is how to do that while still keeping it interesting and exciting.
For younger students, I do lessons that teach skills, and I then reinforce those skills with kinesthetic activities, mnemonics, chants, as well as games I create and design for each individual student that will work on the specific skills that student needs. Games need to be tailored emotionally as well as academically for each student. Some students want the challenge of real competition, but students with low self-esteem often cannot deal well with losing because they already feel so bad about themselves. If that is the case, you need to make sure they win at first, or that you play games that are non-competitive and that they can master. Over time, you can win once in a while and make the games more difficult when their egos and their skills get stronger. A very simple game that anyone can play with a student who is trying to learn addition or multiplication facts is the card game War. Take out all the picture cards from a deck of cards, and instead of having the person with the higher card win, the person who first says the sum (addition) or product (multiplication) wins. You can even do it with subtraction if you subtract the lower card from the higher card to find the difference.
Below are just a few websites for educational games. There are literally thousands and thousands online, but remember, games are not a substitute for learning and understanding skills, they are merely supports, and they should be the appropriate level for the student.
Math games for all ages
Phonics, reading, writing, spelling and grammar games
Elizabeth Schiff is a private tutor with over 20 years experience working with students with learning differences. She teaches all academic subject areas as well organization and study skills to students in 1st through 12th grades from both private and public schools. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org