Students can benefit from tutoring at any age. It really depends on each student’s individual circumstances.
Some students will benefit from starting tutoring in elementary school, getting hands-on support in math, reading and/or writing. Other students may only need tutoring once they hit high school as subjects become more complex and expectations rise. Others may never need tutoring, doing well enough with just teacher, parent and peer support.
That being said, in general, many students will benefit from getting a tutor sometime in middle school.
In this post, we’ll look at why middle school is such a pivotal time in a student’s academic journey, and how middle school tutoring can help lay the foundations for long term success.
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Why Middle School is a Pivotal Time
Middle school is a pivotal period, both academically and socially. It’s where students are building many of their foundational academic and social skills. It’s also where negative attitudes about school tend to crop up and take root.
A graduating middle school student with strong foundations and a positive, growth mindset will be set up well for long term success.
Unfortunately, many students exit middle school with gaps in their foundations and a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Those gaps can hold them back in high school, reinforcing their negative attitude, which in turn keeps them disengaged and underperforming.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Understanding Algebra’s Outsized Importance
This cycle of negativity and poor performance is incredibly common with math.
Most elementary school students have neutral or positive feelings about math. Most high school students have negative feelings about math. The culprit is middle school math, A.K.A. Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1.
Algebra represents a paradigm shift in the world of math. It requires new modes of thinking, new big ideas, and new notation. Collectively, these form the bulk of a student’s math foundation alongside the basic arithmetic and number sense taught in elementary school.
In short, you need Algebra to succeed in high school math and beyond, but internalizing all the new and challenging concepts is a big ask. Many student’s get derailed, and as hard as it is to stay on track, it’s even harder to get back on once you’re off.
The Shift to Self Accountability
Beyond the challenges of Algebra, middle school also coincides with big shifts in school format and student expectation.
In particular, middle school students are starting to move between teachers for each subject. This naturally means less contact time with each individual teacher. It also means that their teachers now have hundreds of students to keep track of instead of just a few dozen.
This shift requires middle school students to be more self accountable with things like note taking, organization, time management, and planning. Essentially, they need to make significant strides in their executive functions.
The thing is, executive functions aren’t formally taught in most schools. Individual teachers may emphasize them, but nobody takes a class on executive functions.
Instead, most students develop their executive functions by modeling their thinking, behavior, and decision making off of what’s around them. Bad habits can rub off just as easily as good ones.
How Middle School Tutoring Can Help
A middle school tutor won’t make the challenges of middle school disappear. But a tutor can help to identify the challenges as they arise and provide tools to overcome them.
Crucially, a middle school tutor is there to help nip academic struggles in the bud, before bad habits can form and before negativity can take root. This can save a lot of heartache down the road.
The Benefits of Middle School Algebra Tutoring
Take math, for example.
Most students take Geometry during 9th or 10th grade, right after Algebra 1 and before taking Algebra 2. Geometry uses some Algebra, but it’s still common for students to experience learning loss. They might not notice it right away, but once they start Algebra 2, the learning loss will be apparent.
Tutors are familiar with this trajectory and are well positioned to help head it off. A middle school tutor can help solidify the algebra foundations taught in Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1. Moving forward, they can also emphasize those foundations within Geometry and Algebra 2, keeping the learning loss at bay.
Not only does this help a student stay successful in math, it keeps their confidence up, which plays a huge part in student performance and outlook.
The Benefits of Middle School Academic Coaching
Outside of math tutoring, middle school students can also really benefit from academic coaching.
As mentioned above, middle schoolers face increasing expectations around self accountability and executive function. But these skills aren’t formally taught. Instead, students pick them up indirectly by modeling their behavior off teachers, parents, and peers.
Academic coaching takes a more direct approach, identifying areas of growth and assigning weekly tasks designed to help build better habits. For example:
- If a student is disorganized, an academic coach can help them set up systems of organization. Then, they can check in each week to make sure the systems are used and maintained.
- Or, if a student is struggling with getting assignments turned in on time, an academic coach can help identify and resolve the underlying issues (e.g. low motivation, poor communication, minimal note taking, no use of planner, etc.)
Academic coaching can happen at any age, but so many bad habits can form in middle school that become much more difficult to correct down the road.
Don’t Wait for Academic Struggles and Negativity to Take Root
If you’re considering tutoring for your kid, the best age to start is probably whatever age they are currently at.
Tutoring works best in support of ongoing student success. While it can certainly help dig students out of a hole, it’s best to avoid the hole in the first place.
In other words, don’t wait for academic struggles and negativity to take root. Get started with a tutor today!