Tutoring Case Studies
At Ignite Achievement Academy, we serve students whose academic needs are diverse. These case studies illustrate how we follow our academic process to deliver customized instruction to each student.
1. Fourth-Grade School Student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Written Expression Disorder
Jason was a fourth-grade student at a local public school. He was referred to us by a psychologist who tested him and diagnosed a written expression disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Jason’s school problems stemmed from his difficulty in these areas:
- writing neatly and fluently
- expressing his thoughts on paper
- organizing his homework and school materials
- managing time
- sustaining attention
- completing assignments
Jason found school stressful. He wanted to do well, but did not know how. He often came home from school each day upset. Getting him to do his homework usually resulted in a battle. When Jason and his mother met with us, they were both frustrated and worn-out.
Our skill assessment and review of Jason’s school records resulted in this individualized instructional program:
- intensive remedial work to build Jason’s writing ability
- training in how to use effective homework strategies so he could complete his homework accurately, in a timely manner and with minimal assistance from his mother
- using his own school texts and assignments during the tutoring lessons so he could practice then transfer effective study habits to school work
- working closely with the school to set up accommodations so Jason could function successfully in that environment despite his disabilities
Regular communication with Jason’s teacher allowed the tutor to determine Jason’s progress in using effective time management, organizational and study skills and those areas in which Jason needed continued training.
To help Jason and his mother re-establish the warm and nurturing relationship they had before the homework conflicts began, the tutor showed his mother how to effectively supervise Jason’s homework and study hour and help Jason when he needed assistance. The tutor also instructed Jason and his mother to report to her any problems they had concerning school. The tutor’s regular interventions and guidance helped the family manage school problems effectively and allowed them to focus on other activities besides schoolwork.
With ongoing support and coaching from his tutor, Jason began strengthening his writing skills and refining his homework and study habits. This led to higher grades, greater self-esteem and an overall improvement in how he felt about himself and his relationship with his family.
2. Second-Grade Student with Reading Delays
Jennifer was a second-grade student at a local private school. Her teacher referred her parents to us to determine why she continued to have problems with reading despite the additional reading instruction she received with an assistant at school. We tested Jennifer and discovered she had underlying phonological weaknesses that interfered with her reading acquisition.
She had difficulties in these areas:
- sound awareness or ability to perceive speech sounds (a common cause of reading problems)
- sight word recognition
- reading fluency
- word retrieval, or ability to say what one wants to say at any given moment
- phrasing her thoughts clearly and logically
We arranged a conference with Jennifer’s teacher and parents to review our recommendations. These recommendations included: a) accommodations to minimize the impairing effects that Jennifer’s language and reading delays were having on her school performance; b) intensive and one-to-one tutoring with us three times weekly; and c) parental reinforcement of skills at home.
Jennifer’s school accommodations involved:
- frequent teacher prompting and modeling to help Jennifer articulate her thoughts
- adjusting Jennifer’s homework assignments so the skills covered in these assignments were aligned with those we were teaching Jennifer
- selecting the appropriate books for Jennifer to read during her daily independent reading time (books in which she could decode at least eighteen out of every twenty words and with some degree of fluency)
- a word wall posting high-use words that Jennifer and her classmates could refer to for word spellings when completing writing assignments
Jennifer’s remedial work involved intensive practice in:
- sounding out words (phonics), first in columns then in sentences and stories comprised only of words mastered up to that point in instruction
- reading high-use, or sight words, again, first in columns, then in sentences and stories
- those speech sounds that Jennifer had trouble perceiving (e.g., distinguishing between the short /ĭ/ and /ĕ/ sounds, especially when they came before n’s and m’s [pin/pen]; and distinguishing between the /k/ and /g/ sounds when they ended words [log/lock])
- spelling words first in isolation then within sentences, again using phonemic awareness strategies to help Jennifer perceive each sound within the words before spelling them
reading with fluency and rhythm
- expressive language exercises designed to build Jennifer’s ability to phrase her thoughts and build her vocabulary knowledge
We measured Jennifer’s ongoing progress with these steps:
- measuring, then recording, the total number of practice trials that Jennifer completed in reading, spelling, reading fluency and expressive language during each lesson
- establishing a monthly “diet” of 12,000 practice trials in reading (i.e., total number of words Jennifer decoded or read within passages during the lessons); 1,200 practice trials in spelling (i.e., total number of words Jennifer spelled in isolation or within sentences during the lessons); and 1,000 practice exercises in expressive language
- noting those reading, spelling and expressive language skills that Jennifer mastered because of these practice trials
- determining if Jennifer’s response to this practice yielded satisfactory progress
- making small adjustments, as needed, to increase the effectiveness of her instructional program, school accommodations and home reinforcement
Jennifer’s parents supported the remedial efforts by incorporating these daily activities into their time together as a family in the evenings and on the weekends:
- posting Jennifer’s weekly vocabulary words on the refrigerator, using these words in their conversations and prompting Jennifer to use them, too
- listening to Jennifer read aloud for ten minutes from the books her teacher selected and saying any word that Jennifer could not decode so Jennifer could continue to practice reading fluently
- spending another ten minutes of this independent reading time reading simultaneously and aloud with Jennifer to model rhythmic and fluent reading
- reading interesting stories to Jennifer that contained slightly elevated language and enriching vocabulary and discussing the story and certain vocabulary words with her
calling out any word spellings that Jennifer did not know as she completed her writing assignments; this accommodation helped Jennifer focus on expressing her thoughts well on paper rather than being distracted by trying to spell certain words
- completing a few minutes of spelling exercises with Jennifer each day, using the same words and teaching strategies her tutor and teacher were using with her
Our head of instruction joined Jennifer and her tutor in a lesson every few weeks during which she and the tutor analyzed the progress charts and updated the program as needed. At the end of the school year, our head of instruction re-tested Jennifer to examine her long-term gains and determine which skills needed further strengthening.
Jennifer made substantial improvements in her language, reading and spelling skills and overall school performance. She started to read for recreation without being prompted and read for longer periods. One of Jennifer’s strengths was writing stories. With her increased spelling and expressive language skills, she felt more comfortable writing stories then reading them to her classmates.
3. Ninth-Grade School Student with Weak Organizational and Study Skills
Brian was a ninth-grade student at a local public school. He was a skilled athlete who played on the high school football team in the fall and the basketball team in the winter. Up until sixth grade, Brian averaged A’s and B’s in school. Beginning in the seventh grade, his grades started to include a few C’s. In the eighth grade, he got his first D. In the ninth grade, Brian felt he was losing even more control over his schoolwork and didn’t know how to stop his downward spiral.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Brian’s father asked if we could help Brian organize himself and learn some study skills. According to Brian’s teachers, Brian could earn good grades if he just applied himself more to his schoolwork. He participated in class well and seemed to understand the material but did poorly on tests.
During our initial assessment of Brian, he demonstrated well-developed reading, written expression and math skills, although he tended to make careless errors in math. He expressed himself well and seemed to have a good ability to focus and sustain attention. While Brian showed good skill development in most academic areas, he did not know how to study or prepare for tests.
Brian showed the same pattern that many otherwise capable students have shown. They succeeded in elementary and early middle school because they participated in class well, learned the information and completed their homework. They did not study much for tests, but still scored well on them because they could manage the relatively small amount of information these tests covered. Once they reached high school, they did not realize that, to successfully handle the greater volume of material covered in class, they had to study in addition to completing homework.
We developed this homework and study skills coaching program for Brian:
- We scheduled Brian to see one of our tutors twice weekly for an hour then stay for an additional hour for independent and monitored study.
- Brian’s tutor contacted his teachers to determine what they expected from their students, the type of class work and homework they assigned, how they tested, when they tested and how they graded.
- The tutor used this information to develop a customized homework and study plan for Brian to follow each day, Sunday through Thursday.
- Using his assignments and books, the tutor showed Brian those organizational, time management and study skills most effective for each of his classes and assignment types. He also showed him how to balance the demands of his football practice schedule with his school and home responsibilities.
- He showed Brian’s parents how to effectively supervise Brian’s homework and study sessions at home on those nights he was not seeing his tutor.
- He monitored Brian closely to ensure he was using effective study strategies with gradually greater degrees of efficiency.
- Every two to three weeks, he asked Brian’s teachers at school to complete a brief progress report so he could determine which study skills Brian was applying well in each class and which areas needed more work.
- He shared these results with Brian then with his parents during a regularly scheduled fifteen-minute conference call every two weeks. During these calls, he asked Brian’s parents for their observations of how he was following through on his daily study sessions at home.
- He and Brian updated his homework coaching program as needed, based on the teachers’, parents’ and his own observations of how well Brian was applying effective strategies.
During the first eight weeks of tutoring, Brian’s grades stabilized. They rose from mostly C’s and D’s to C’s and a few B’s. During the next school quarter, as Brian used effective strategies with greater efficiency, his grades continued to rise. He earned mostly B’s, but made a C in algebra because of his tendency to make careless errors.
Brian’s tutor increased his training in using strategies to increase math accuracy and decrease careless errors. Toward the middle of the following quarter, instead of losing an average of twelve points per test because of careless errors, Brian lost an average of only four points per test. As Brian’s study habits strengthened with practice, his other grades continued to rise and he gained confidence in his ability to successfully manage his school responsibilities.
4. Tenth-Grade Home School Student Having Trouble with Algebra 2
learning most of her courses well but had trouble learning the second year of algebra. Belinda’s mother asked us to develop an instructional plan for Belinda that included review work, an algebra curriculum and strategies that would facilitate Belinda’s learning and long-term retention of the material.
We briefly assessed Belinda’s math skills. The results indicated that Belinda had a fairly good math foundation but was weak in algebra 1 skills. We developed a program that included several weeks of intensive review in algebra 1, gave Belinda’s mother our algebra curriculum then coached her to use teaching strategies that facilitated Belinda’s learning and memory. Over the course of three tutoring lessons with one of our teachers, Belinda began to use strategies effective for completing algebra computations and Belinda’s mother grew comfortable with using the curriculum at home.
Several weeks later, Belinda successfully completed the algebra 1 review. She and her mother returned to Ignite Achievement Academy to work on the first several lessons of algebra 2 with the lead teacher. During these joint tutoring sessions, the lead teacher continued to model effective teaching strategies for Belinda’s mother and study skills for Belinda. Belinda and her mother then continued the algebra lessons at home and checked in with the lead teacher once a month.
Because Belinda was responding well to the instructional plan, the lead teacher set the bar for mastery of algebra 2 at 90%. This meant that Belinda had to complete each lesson with at least 90% accuracy before continuing with the next lesson. She also had to score at least 90% on the final exam.
Belinda performed very well on the classwork, quizzes and lesson tests. Her early unit test scores were lower than 90%, however, so she had to return to previous lessons and practice certain skills further until she demonstrated proficiency. As she progressed through the lessons, she became more adept at using strategies that increased long-term retention and was well-prepared to take the final exam at the end of the course.