The reality is that MOST parents want to help their student excel in middle school to build a robust foundation towards high school. With the college landscape becoming increasingly more competitive year after year, students serious about competing for top schools and scholarships will need to take challenging coursework and perform exceptionally well on standardized test scores. How, though, can you set your child up for success while they are in middle school? Here are a few common mistakes we see students make:

Focusing Too Much on Practice. Practicing a mistake reinforces it. We speak with many families who believe the best thing to do is to grab a Math or English book from Barnes & Nobles and assign nightly homework for their student. This “drill and kill” method is unhelpful because students must understand what they got correct and what they got wrong so they can remediate problem areas.

Moving Too Fast. We’ve seen too many middle school students try to rush through curriculum to cover as much ground as possible. The issue with this is that they are unable to build a robust foundation of the material. This might be okay throughout middle school, but when it comes to excelling in challenging coursework during high school, the gaps in knowledge will become apparent.

Instruction Before Repetition. Students absolutely need to work through material efficiently and repeated practice can build confidence and skill. But the material they are learning must be planned and deliberate and the practice must be guided and focused. A highly qualified tutor can create a plan of attack that is tailored to your child’s needs and work with them to make practice more productive. We recommend employing mastery learning techniques for best results, especially when thinking about building a foundation from middle school.

Over the decades, tutoring companies merely handed out stacks of vocabulary word flashcards and reviewed every math concept from fractions and decimals through the quadratic formula.

Luckily, we have learned over our 37 years of experience and 100,000+ tutoring sessions that this scattershot method of prepping is unhelpful and counterproductive. We understand that the two-sigma method is what drives results and builds confidence. Here’s a summary:

Build Mastery: Mastery learning suggests that before moving onto advanced study, a student must FIRST achieve a level of mastery as defined by scoring 90% on a knowledge test in their current study. Else they are given additional support in remediating problem areas before being assessed again. This cycle of instruction and assessment continues until a learner accomplishes mastery.

Focus on Your Student: Mastery learning methods suggest that the focus should be the time it takes different students to learn the same material and achieve the same level of mastery. This is very much in contrast with classic models that focus on differences in students’ ability but give all the same time to learn. This is the reason that group classes or programs are ineffective, because there is no focus on your student’s needs.

Studies have shown that the average student tutored 1:1 who used mastery learning techniques described above performed two standard deviations better than students who learn via conventional instructional methods. This is because a tutor can leverage your child’s assessments to explain why a question was missed, work with a student through the steps to improving results, and use the data provided by a score report to pick out problem areas to remediate.

Remember, building a foundation in math does not mean grabbing a book from Barnes & Nobles and assigning your student homework, nor does it mean signing them up for a class that all their friends are enrolling into. Here are a few things to consider instead:

One of the biggest mistakes other providers make is relying too heavily on amount homework without regard for what students need individually. Enrolling in classes without 1:1 instruction is often a waste of time and money, because there is no work targeting areas where your child needs help.

Prioritize instruction before repetition. Students absolutely need practice to build confidence and skill. But practice must be guided and focused. A highly qualified tutor will teach students what they need to know to make practices more productive and effective.

Remember practicing a mistake reinforces that mistake. Therefore, it’s critical to consider the first two tips. When you’re building a math foundation, any errors early on will have a domino effect later down the line and hurt rather than help.


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