An Instructor's Guide To The
An Online Publication written by Robert Kirwan
Presented by The Learning Clinic Education Centre

A practical guide for instructors who wish to use the Learning Coach Approach to tutoring

by Robert Kirwan, O.C.T., B.A.(Math), M.A.(Education)
Professional Learning Coach & Director of
The Learning Clinic Education Centre

AN INSTRUCTOR'S GUIDE TO THE LEARNING COACH APPROACH TO TUTORING  is one of a series of online publications that are being made available through The Learning Clinic Education Centre. While this particular publication is available to students, parents, grandparents and teachers, it is primarily intended for instructors who wish to provide effective tutoring services to students in elementary, secondary and post-secondary institutions in the Province of Ontario, and specifically in the City of Greater Sudbury. This guide will only be applicable to instructors who are working as personal "Learning Coaches" with students in a one-on-one in the student's home situation.

The information that follows is in fact the Official Instructor's Guide for members of The Learning Clinic Education Centre Registry of Tutors. All members of the Registry of Tutors have been directed to follow these guidelines while working with students who have sought help from the Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic Education Centre.

For parents who are interested, this section will provide you with an indication of what you can expect when you make arrangements through my practice, The Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic, for assistance for your son or daughter. The Parent's Guide To Tutoring will also provide you with additional information that you may find helpful in understanding the "Learning Coach" approach and how it compares with other forms of tutoring in the Greater Sudbury Area.


Before getting into the specific details of the "Instructor's Guide", let me state that everything I have observed with respect to trends and developments in the area of education has lead me to conclude that the demand for personal tutoring services will surge in the very near future. Despite the hard work and efforts of classroom teachers and education administrators, our children are caught in a system which is going to become even more demanding and challenging for most students. This is not a criticism of the current system. It is just a fact and we cannot hide from it any longer. Unfortunately, I don't think we can change the system to adequately prepare our children for the ever-changing world. We will simply have to come up with some innovative strategies to deal with the situation as it exists and make the best of it.

I am pleased to see that parents are quickly beginning to realize that their children are part of a rapidly shrinking global community. Their children are not going to be living in the same kind of world that their parents grew up in. The education and training they receive must prepare them for competition on a "global scale". Technology is breaking down geographic barriers making it just as easy to purchase something from Brazil as it is to purchase something from your neighbourhood shopping centre. Companies are being bought and sold at staggering rates, leaving many people without work after years on the job. The times are rapidly changing so much so that it is difficult to even predict what the next five years will bring. And yet, our children are enrolled in an education system where they must select a career pathway that will take them up to six or seven years of education and training. That is a lifetime in a career today and it is no wonder that many young people are graduating with diplomas and degrees that no longer match their interests because of the way in which their chosen career has changed.

The reality is that we cannot stop this "globalization" and we will never be able to slow down technology. Therefore, all we can do is find ways of positioning ourselves strategically in order to level off  the "playing field" and help our children compete on a global level for an unknown world that awaits them.


Graduates of our universities and colleges are quickly discovering that their main competitors for the best positions in their chosen careers are not their classmates, but rather graduates and professionals from other countries and provinces. Further, they are finding out that these competitors have been receiving support and guidance from professional tutors for the better part of their education. 

Parents in places like India, China, Japan, many European countries and even the United States have been doing everything they can to give their children a "competitive advantage" in order for them to find success in North American corporations. They have worked extremely hard, often taking on extra jobs in order to hire good private tutors for their children so that they can not only obtain the highest marks possible but so that they can also be taught effective strategies that will serve them well in the "global arena they are about to enter for the rest of their life".

While we have spent most of our time encouraging our children to play hockey, soccer, baseball, and getting them involved in activities such as swimming and engaging in all sorts of recreational pursuits, all of which are extremely important in order to lead a balanced life, young people elsewhere have been studying and developing the kinds of skills that corporate leaders are in search of.. When it comes time to apply for entry level positions in a chosen career, chief executive officers are more concerned about whether an applicant has the ability to help the company become successful. They don't care how many goals you scored in your last year of high school or how many fish you caught last year. As a result, our young people are losing the battle to young people who have devoted a lot of energy to developing the skills that the chief executive officers are looking for in new employees.

A PERSONAL TUTOR, otherwise called a "Learning Coach" will go a long way to helping a student regain that competitive advantage and deal with the challenges being presented by today's education system. Parents are now realizing this and those who can afford to hire private tutors will be stepping forward in ever increasing numbers to ensure that their children have a fighting chance to succeed in life.

The INSTRUCTOR'S GUIDE TO THE LEARNING COACH APPROACH has been written to help personal tutors become more effective in their role with students that are in their care. Read this guide carefully and be sure to incorporate all of the suggestions and strategies into your own dealing with your students. If you follow this guide you will definitely help your student achieve his/her education goals and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you indeed made a difference in the life of one person on this planet.

The Learning Clinic  Presents...
An Instructor's Guide To The

Chapter One: 
An examination of the different tutoring options available;

Chapter Two:
Essential Elements Of An Academic Management Program;

Chapter Three:
Using The Baseline Approach 

Chapter Four:
Questions & Answers About The Learning Clinic

Chapter Five:
Practical Strategies For Learning Coaches

Chapter Six:
Language Arts & Communication Skill Development Strategies

Chapter Seven:
Mathematics & Problem Solving Skill Development Strategies

Chapter Eight:
Reflections For Learning Coaches



Recent developments in education, coupled with the increasing popularity of privately owned franchised "Learning Centres" and other such tutoring companies are now causing more and more parents to consider "tutoring" for their children. As a result of this phenomenal growth, these tutoring companies are searching for strategies that will enable tutoring to become more affordable for a much larger segment of the population. 

In order for you to become an effective "Learning Coach" it is imperative that you be aware of the alternative types of tutoring options that now exist for students. Parents will be watching you closely to see how your approach differs from others. Keep in mind that when you assume the role of "Learning Coach" you are no longer just a "tutor" in the traditional sense of the term. You are much more than just a person helping someone with their homework. You are the "academic manager" of that student which has a world of implications which I will get into shortly.

As a "Learning Coach" you will be expected to help your students develop an "academic management program" designed to help them "learn how to learn". The skills that you will focus on will be those that will enable the student to achieve his education and career development goals by utilizing the techniques and strategies that are so very important in education and in life itself. Therefore, in order to establish some framework for the "Learning Coach" approach to tutoring, let us spend some time examining the evolution of tutoring and see how our "Learning Coach" approach compares to the others.


A large number of franchised "Learning Centres" have established branch offices in many of the major cities of the province. They typically have their head office in the Toronto or Ottawa areas and can usually find individuals in each city who wish to get into the education business by purchasing a franchise in order to benefit from the support of the organization. Most of the owners of these franchises have a business background, but very few have had any actual classroom experience as a teacher. They like belonging to a franchise because the structure is already set up. They do not have to create everything from scratch. Quite frankly, when you take over a franchise operation you are not required to do much "thinking" about what to do. You just follow a menu and do what you are told.

Most learning centers use a model of operation that is relatively similar to all others. They find a building to rent which can be divided up into rooms for instruction, testing and administration. Parents are required to bring their child to the learning centre once or twice a week for hour-long sessions at a specified time after school hours or on the weekends when there will be hired instructors available to supervise their work. If you are lucky there may be a centre located near you, but often parents are required to drive at least 20 to 30 minutes to get to the centre and then they have to wait around to pick up their child afterwards. Your child receives one hour of instruction, but it generally involves two hours or more of the parent's time to get this instruction for his child when you take into consideration travel time, arriving early, and getting back home.

Usually these "centres" offer " packaged programs" of study using a "mastery-learning" approach which requires students to complete a series of worksheets on particular concepts and skills until they record near perfect scores. Once they get a "passing grade" of 80 or 90% on a particular topic they receive some form of incentive reward as positive reinforcement and then they move on to the next page and so on and so on until they complete the period of time that they have contracted for in order to complete their program. There is not usually a "time period" established for each skill. The child will take as long as it takes and as many worksheets as necessary in order to finish a page with the required mark to move forward. Back in the 1970's we called these "level tests". They have appeared in many forms in the education system over the decades, but in most cases they were quickly discarded because of their ineffectiveness.

Younger children tend to like this method of instruction because they receive tangible "success" for their efforts in the form of prizes. They go home with "Dollar Store" trinkets that they choose from a prize table and they feel good about themselves. Children in the early grades also respond favourably to seatwork pages where the work is repetitive and relatively easy. The pages do not take very long to complete and the children can usually see the "prizes" on display, giving them added motivation. However, as children get older and develop higher level thinking skills, they tend to find this approach much less stimulating and the prizes lose their motivational effectiveness. The repetitiveness of the "mastery learning" approach is not something that older students find stimulating and in most cases the seatwork has very little to do with what the students are doing in school. It is actually like going to school after spending the day in school, and for learning resistant students, this does not sit well.

Students in learning centers usually share their tutor with one or two other children. The group of three will sit at a table with the tutor who is there to explain the new worksheets, mark the papers, and help the students understand new concepts. The three students are usually at different grade levels and will be working on different assignments. The tutor works with each child as needed. With three children this means that each will receive an average of 20 minutes of direct individual attention from the tutor. Often this total is much lower since there are times when all three students are working on seatwork and the tutor is merely available if anyone has questions. Since the "mastery learning" approach is all about seatwork and having children constantly doing "tests" to demonstrate mastery of a specific level of skill development, it is relatively easy for one tutor to supervise three students.

Usually when the children arrive at the learning centre at their scheduled time, they pick up their individual binder from a central desk. This binder contains the worksheets they have completed in the past and that they have left to do. The children are then assigned an available tutor. Some times they have the same tutor as before, but often the tutor will be different from the one they had the previous lesson. Having the same tutor is not critical with this model since the tutor is primarily responsible for correcting the worksheets then explaining to the student what must be done to correct any errors. The student then works on another similar page until the student obtains a mark that is high enough to move on. 

Parents may at first like the "mastery learning" approach because they are allowed to look through the binder of worksheets at any time and see how well their children are performing on the sheets. When all of the work is kept in one place and you can see marks that demonstrate your child is achieving a considerable measure of success, you tend to be quite satisfied as a parent. It becomes easy to show a parent a graph or a summary of the progress being made by the student. Parents like to see that their children are passing each level with high marks. They can also go back and see the work that their child has been doing on the worksheets. It is very impressive and helps to confirm to the parent that this is a good system for their child. 

Learning centers tend to be the most expensive tutoring option available to parents. There are a number of reasons for this. The owners must charge enough to cover franchise fees, instructor fees, administration fees, profit for the franchise owner, the cost of materials for worksheets and prizes as well as the cost to cover the rental of the space and purchase of the furniture. In addition, one of the largest components of the cost of operating a learning centre is the advertising required to promote the services. Usually franchise agreements demand a minimum level of mass media advertising which gets very expensive. In order to cover the expenses,  most franchise learning centres require parents to sign a contract to attend a minimum number of sessions (usually 30 or 40 in total). By using one instructor for every three students they maximize the revenue they can generate while still holding out that they can still provide for the needs of their students.


This is generally the first thing that a parent will try when it comes to providing assistance to a child. It is quite natural to help your child with school work, especially during the early years. Usually, by the time parents contact the Learning Clinic Education Centre, they have already tried helping their child and already used whatever help they can find from older brothers or sisters. Nevertheless, tutoring by a member of the family is still a very viable method of helping a child and there are things about these methods that a "Learning Coach" must be aware of. Especially since the parents and/or older siblings will be in contact with your student in between sessions. Some of this direct "intervention" will go on in addition to your own "coaching".

  1. TUTORING PROVIDED BY ONE OF THE PARENTS: Parents have difficulty tutoring their own children. I tell parents not to feel badly about this. It is just a fact. You are too emotionally tied to your child. It is like selling your own house. You take it personally when a prospective buyer points out flaws in your house and so it stands to reason that you would take it personally when your child is struggling with school work. You want so much for your child to succeed that you tend to tutor with your "heart" instead of your "head". In addition, you are your child's mother or father. You have a much different role to play in raising your child and while education is one facet of your overall responsibilities, your child needs you to be a loving parent. When a child has difficulty with school work he/she feels embarrassed and humiliated because he/she feels as if you are disappointed. In most cases parents find that trying to tutor their own children just leads to tremendous stress and frustration. Parents often have to become heavy-handed supervisors, constantly on the backs of their learning resistant children to do their homework and complete assignments. Tutoring turns into arguing and this spills over into resentment and deteriorating relationships during recreation and family time. 

  2. TUTORING PROVIDED BY AN OLDER BROTHER OR SISTER: There are times when a parent will ask an older brother or sister to work with a younger child. This is the most convenient and obviously the least expensive. It can work well if your children get along well together, however, parents often find that their "tutor child" is getting behind in his/her own studies as a result of having to spend time working with his younger brother or sister. The older sibling may also not be as patient as needed while working with a younger brother or sister and soon the effectiveness wears off. Eventually the tutoring sessions become less and less frequent until they die off all together. I often advise parents that it is nice to have an older brother or sister to turn to in emergencies or when stuck on a particular problem, but it is not the best tutoring situation for a child.


Having a friend, relative, older child of a friend, etc. come in to do the tutoring is acceptable if a parent can find someone who is going to be dependable and consistent. It is also possible that the parent will bring their child to the home of the tutor since that may be more convenient for the instructor. This is not as effective as doing the tutoring at the home of the student, but it is still better than nothing.

This is also one of the least expensive options since the relationship with the tutor may be such that they will likely not want to charge very much for their services. They may be "doing it to help out" as a way of demonstrating the strength of the friendship. 

This situation always works best if the relationship is not particularly close. In other words, the better the child knows his/her tutor, the least effective the tutoring will be. This has nothing to do with the ability of the tutor or the person's qualifications. It is just that often a child will find it easier to respond to a stranger than to a friend. To use another analogy, you should never sell a used car to a friend, just in case something goes wrong with the car after the sale. If anything does go wrong, you feel bad because your friend may have to spend money repairing the car and your friend may feel upset because you sold him a car that doesn't work. There is a lot of pressure on the tutor in this situation and as a result the tutor may not be around very long if it is something that may end up affecting the friendship. Also, if the tutor has to cancel sessions on a regular basis for personal reasons, you may have difficulty saying anything because you are likely paying him/her a low fee for the services to begin with.

Another pitfall about hiring a friend of the family to do the tutoring is that the friend may have the academic background in the subject area, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he has the ability to "teach". I have seen many adults suggest that they have a son or daughter in high school who can help out a neighbour and it doesn't work out well because the "tutor" may happen to be a good student, but that doesn't make her a good "teacher".


This is another phenomenon that has grown in popularity in recent years. I think it is something that school boards have done in response to complaints from parents about the quality of education and also in reaction to the provincial testing results which have not been all that flattering. One of the things that has fueled growth of in-class tutoring is that in cities which contain a School of Education, many of the teachers' college students are required to spend a certain number of hours in placements during the year. Some of these placements include providing "tutoring" to students during class time. It gives the Teachers' College students their placement hours and gives the classroom teachers some assistance with students who need more individual attention.

The assistance is usually provided to the students who have special needs, or who are falling behind. This can often be of great benefit. However, as you will see below, this is merely often more of what the child has been receiving in the past, except that it is being done with student teachers in small group settings under the watchful eyes of the classroom teacher. It many be somewhat better, but it is not a significant change from the past. I caution parents to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that this is a true form of "tutoring". It is merely a classroom instruction strategy that assists the teacher and provides experience to the student teacher. The student teacher in this case is merely a "teacher's aid". 

In some school boards, student teachers who provide this in-class tutoring are paid an hourly rate so that it becomes a part-time job for them as well. Once again, some parents think that this is the "tutoring" that they need for their children. They do not realize all of the non-academic skills that are developed by a "Learning Coach". Those skills will be outlined later on in this document. Much of this work cannot be done in the classroom.


When it comes to post-secondary students, most colleges and universities have a special "tutoring service" that is included as part of the tuition fee. This provides all students with a specific number of hours at the tutoring centre. I have heard mixed reviews about these services. The greatest complaint from students is that they don't receive consistent assistance over time. You have different tutors and you are often being given help with the academic concepts that are of immediate concern, but there is no long-term "coaching" involved. There are also a limited number of "tutors" available and you often have to wait a while to get in to see a tutor.


Some companies have been created where you bring your child to their office once a week to review the worksheets that your child has completed at home under your supervision. This is an option that appears on the surface to be the least expensive option, however you are usually required to purchase commercially printed workbooks from the office to work from in order to enhance the program. These workbooks are designed to be attractive and appealing to young children, but they are certainly not functional in that much of the space inside the covers is wasted in order to be more aesthetically appealing to the student. In some cases, when you add the cost of the books to the tutoring fee you are actually paying more for this form of tutoring and on top of that you are doing most of the work.

Parents would often be just as well off going to an educational book store and purchasing their own workbooks for their children. That way you would avoid the "tutoring fee" that you pay mainly for the opportunity to tutor your own child. Parents who have tried this approach find that they do not stay with the tutoring program very long since it is quite challenging to motivate your child to get anything out of the program.

There are a lot of similarities between the "do-it-yourself" and the "learning centre" approaches. Both rely upon "mastery learning". However, one has the parent doing the tutoring and supervision while the other does it in a more formal, professional setting. Regardless, they are still both examples of "mastery learning" and thus are subject to the same drawbacks.


There are some businesses that provide one-on-one, in-home tutoring for students in much the same manner as we do at the Learning Clinic Education Centre. The difference is that most of these companies are franchise operations. You may also find some not-for-profit organizations offering this kind of service. In many cases, the owners / managers of these companies have had little or no direct experience as a professional educator. They are simply operating a business and hire tutors to work for them. Some may have a distant connection to the school system, but not many.

Upon request, the company will send a tutor to your home to work with your child after doing an initial assessment. I will discuss assessment methods later.

Generally the tutor will have some kind of formal program to follow that has been structured from the head office. This is a franchise so there is always a need for the franchise to remain consistent from city to city. Some flexibility may also be built into the structure in order to customize the program to suit the needs of individual children. Nevertheless, because of the nature of franchises, some control is generally imposed by head office which tends to limit the potential impact of the instructional program. A franchise always must maintain consistency from city to city. That is the nature of a franchise. However, it is not always conducive to effective instruction.

Despite its drawbacks, this is still a good tutoring option for parents in that their child is receiving the attention of one tutor who will be seeing the child every session, and the instruction is in the home, which makes it much more convenient for the parents, the child and the rest of the family.

The fee for this service is fairly similar in amount to that of a franchised learning centre, so you won't be saving any money on the tutoring. Fortunately for parents, the market conditions dictate that if the fee was much higher most parents would opt to go to a learning centre or forget about tutoring all together. Nonetheless, the total cost of the tutoring has built in provisions for a franchise fee to the head office,  instructor fees, a minimum level of advertising that is often dictated by the head office and of course the profit that must be earned by the owner to make the business viable.

In addition, parents are often required to enter into a long-term contract with the franchised company. It should not come as a surprise to any parent if they must agree to two sessions of one hour each per week over a period of anywhere from 16 to 30 weeks. I will also get into why I feel that 60 minutes is simply not enough time for a "Learning Coach" to provide effective instruction to a student. However, because franchise companies mostly operate within a safe structure, their focus is more on knowledge acquisition and therefore they can get by with one hour twice a week. I recommend that one 90 minute session is better than two one hour sessions.

Because of the busy life-style of families today, you will find that some learning centers have even begun to offer "in-home" service in addition to their "on-site" tutoring. The market will prevail and I think more and more parents will be demanding "house calls" when it comes to tutoring. It will be interesting to see how learning centers cope with the challenge of offering in-home tutoring services while maintaining the costs of running a centre as well.


There are many people in the community who put ads in the newspapers offering to provide tutoring to children. These are individuals who have some background in education, who are retired teachers, or who are simply university students or graduates who want to offer their services to earn extra income. Some of these people may be suitable for your child, but they are limited in their qualifications and can not help everyone in the same way that a tutoring agency like the Learning Clinic is able to, as you will see below.


This is the type of tutoring that what we offer with The Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic Education Centre

As an independent education, training and career development consultant I have chosen to operate my own private practice rather than buy into an existing franchise. This means that parents still get a personal tutor who will come into their own home to work one-on-one with their child, but I am not limited in the same way as I would if I was a franchise owner.

I have found that there are still very few former professional educators who have established practices such as mine, but I expect that during the next decade you will find this to be one of the fastest growing segments of the entire tutoring industry. I also expect that most of the practices will be owned and operated by individuals who have extensive experience and expertise in the field of education.

Because each independent practice will obviously be run differently, I will provide you with information about how I operate my own practice. This should give you a good idea about how a similar independently owned tutoring agency would operate. 

For example, when a parent calls me up in search of a tutor for their child, I not only offer them the same services they could get from a franchised company, I also provide them with many value-added benefits because of my 28 years of experience as a classroom teacher. I am also a current member of the Ontario College of Teachers, giving more credibility to my company. I am also interested in an overall "academic management program" for your child, which is why you will find so much information about career planning and personal development on The Learning Clinic Education Centre web site.

The Learning Clinic Education Centre also provides students, parents, grandparents and teachers with a wide variety of resources that they can access free of charge to help them meet their education and career development goals. Practices such as mine are much broader in scope and are not one-dimensional. This is not the place to give you a full overview of the services I offer, but if you go to the Question and Answer section you can find out more.

I am also free to develop my own instructional program, so you will find that tutors have much more flexibility when it comes to developing customized programs suitable for their students. There are no restrictions. The Learning Clinic is a one-of-a-kind firm that is completely autonomous.

As for fees for service, there are not yet many firms like The Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic to compare with, but in my own case you will find that the fees I charge for tutoring are generally a bit lower than what you will find from the franchised operations. There are some costs that I do not have to account for, such as franchise fees and an overkill with respect to advertising. Furthermore, most parents are thrilled to find out that they are not obligated to sign a binding long-term contract. Parents are only required to pay for six hours at a time and have the ability to renew the tutoring sessions for an indefinite number of six hour terms thereafter. This allows a parent to continue or terminate the program whenever they feel it is not benefiting their child.

There are three very unique value-added features offered through the Learning Clinic Education Centre that parents have greatly appreciated. We can offer these features because we are not a "franchise operation" and can therefore incorporate some benefits that will differentiate The Learning Clinic from other tutoring companies in the region.

  1. THE LEARNING COACH IS AVAILABLE TO HELP OTHER CHILDREN IN THE FAMILY AT NO ADDITIONAL COST: When you go into the home as a  "Learning Coach" for your student, parents are encouraged to use your services to assist other children in the family if you are so qualified. We believe that a parent is hiring a "Family Learning Coach" so we try to find out what other children in the family are involved in with respect to education in order to select a "Learning Coach" who is qualified to provide assistance to any of the students. The parent pays for six hours at a time, so how they use those six hours if up to them as the parent.

  2. THE LEARNING COACH IS AVAILABLE IN BETWEEN SESSIONS IF IMMEDIATE HELP IS NEEDED: In your role as the student's Learning Coach, we ask that you make yourself available for consultation in between sessions if the parent needs some immediate assistance that cannot wait until the next scheduled session. Often a quick phone call or an email can correct an immediate concern, so we want to assure parents and students that the Learning Coach is available in between sessions. There is no additional charge to parents for this service unless we find that it is being abused. There is also no additional pay to the Learning Coach for being "on call", however, we have found that the offer of this support goes a long way to entrenching the relationship between the Learning Coach and the family.

  3. PARENTS CAN SUSPEND THE TUTORING FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME: If the parent finds that they would like to take a break for the summer holidays or for an extended period of time during the year, they can merely stop the sessions and then resume them from where they left off. Parents appreciate this feature since it allows them to avoid wasting money for tutoring during times of the year when school is out.

Private practices similar to mine will soon be opening in cities across the province as more teachers retire from the classroom and discover that this is an exciting and rewarding way to continue to make a difference for children. My advice to parents is that when they find someone who is offering in-home tutoring services, make sure to ask if they are part of a franchise or if they are operating a private practice. Next, find out if they are a member of the Ontario College of Teachers. These are two very important items to know when deciding the future of your child.




The Learning Clinic provides your child the full undivided attention of a personal tutor. Some tutoring franchise centers have a policy where your child will be required to share a tutor with two or three other students. With The Learning Clinic your child will always have the benefit of one-on-one personalized instruction. Not only will we provide you with a tutor who is qualified to help your child with his/her curriculum needs, we will find one who is also compatible to the personality of your child. We feel that having a tutor you enjoy being with and who shares some of your own personal interests could make all the difference in the world. We set the stage for success by finding the best available match for your child so that there is an instant bonding and the learning process is able to move forward.


  A tutor will come right into your home so that you don’t have to disrupt your family schedule by going to an instruction center. We want to make the learning process as convenient as possible for the entire family. By arranging for a tutor to come to your home to meet with your child, the rest of the family can go about their normal routines without disruption. It also means that one or more of the parents are present at all times and can be assured that the tutor is accomplishing the desired goals and objectives with their child. We recommend 90 minute long sessions session so that your child has the benefit of receiving instruction in a relaxed manner. It also allows parents time to discuss the progress of the child. The 90 minute session is broken up into small manageable segments in order to keep the student interested and fully focused. It also allows us time to work on immediate problems as well as progressive long-term skill development.


You and your child’s tutor will work out a schedule that is convenient to everyone. Each week may be different and you can even schedule sessions as often or as little as you wish. We know that families are involved in numerous activities today and we don't want your tutoring schedule to interfere with other important family activities. Our tutors will cooperate with you at all times to make sure that the time and day of the sessions is the most convenient and beneficial for everyone involved. Furthermore, you can schedule sessions as often as twice a week or as little as once a month, depending on the needs of your child.


Because The Learning Clinic is a private practice, we are not required to use “packaged” programs prepared by head office as is the case with many franchised tutoring companies. Instead, we find out what your child is doing in class and help him/her develop the skills that are needed right now. This means that your child gets a personalized instruction program that is absolutely geared to his/her needs. As we are helping your child cope with the demands of the current school program, we are working on skills that will help your child in the future. This approach allows us to work with students from Junior Kindergarten right through to University and College. We help your child learn what he/she needs to know in order to succeed in the school program.


You have the ability to contact your tutor by phone or email in between sessions in case you have a concern that cannot wait for the next session. There is no extra charge for this service. This is one of the "safety" features we have built into our program. It means that if your child is ever in need of some immediate attention that can be resolved over the phone or with an email, then you can take care of the matter right away instead of having to wait until the next scheduled session.


We don't want anyone to feel "trapped" at The Learning Clinic Education Centre. Therefore, you are only asked to commit to six hours at a time. When you decide you no longer wish to continue with the tutoring you can simply stop. You are not locked in to a long-term contract as is the case with so many other tutoring companies  We want to give you the assurance that if you are not totally satisfied with the tutor or the program, you will be free to stop the sessions at any time. It also means that you can schedule your six hours as you see fit. Some parents spread the time over six or more weeks, while others feel that their children need to compress the sessions more closely together. The choice is yours and will be what is best for your child. 


You also have the option of stopping the tutoring for a month or two, or even longer and then you can pick it back up again, usually with the same tutor and at no additional cost. Many of our students take the summer off and then contact the same tutor they had before the break to continue in the new school year. We have also had some students who get help from a tutor at the beginning or end of each semester. Some students have called for another tutor several years after first receiving the assistance of a tutor from The Learning Clinic Education Centre. We maintain all records. Once you are a "client" of The Learning Clinic Education Centre, your family becomes part of our "data base", meaning that when you return we are familiar with your case history.


  We also provide parents the option of having our tutor come in and work with two or three children who are in the same class. This means that your child can have one or two of his/her classmates come over to share the services of a tutor. Parents may then split the cost of the tutoring services and receive the benefit of small group tutoring that is geared to achieving similar goals and objectives within a much smaller budget.

When we send a personal tutor to your home, you have the option of having the tutor take care of other children in the house. For example, the tutor may be coming in to look after the needs of one of your children, but if one or more of his/her brothers and sisters need some help from time to time, you have the option of asking the tutor to help them as well. This "Family Tutor" policy has been very well received by our parents who have children with different needs. 


Robert Kirwan will act as your personal Education Agent and will be available to provide you with guidance and advice on any education and/or career planning concerns you may have. There will be many issues arising with respect to the education of your children over the years. Whenever you are in need of some professional advice or guidance, all you have to do is contact Robert Kirwan and he will be only too glad to help. Kirwan also provides a service where he will represent you at IPRC and IEP meetings


Most importantly, you can get help for your child that is not only effective; it is also one of the most affordable tutoring options around. Our fee is one of the best values around, especially when you consider that we provide you with a personal tutor who comes to your own home for one-on-one service.  

The cost of tutoring services through The Learning Clinic Education Centre is only $36 per hour.

We feel that this rate is extremely competitive when compared with comparable tutoring options in the Greater Sudbury Area.


(Gr. 1 to 8) CURRICULUM
(Gr. 9 to 12) CURRICULUM












The following reflect my own personal philosophy of education with respect to what I consider to be the "essential elements of a good academic management program".  And, whereas the tutors who accept placements through The Learning Clinic become an "extension" of me, these are the fundamentals that they have will also adopt as their own.   

As far as I am concerned, the various elements I am about to describe are equally important. The achievement of education and career development goals is like pulling on a chain and we all know that a chain is only as strong as its "weakest link". Therefore, you cannot ignore any of the elements. If they are all addressed with earnest and sincerity, the end result will definitely be worth the effort.


The first thing that a Learning Coach realizes is that once a student experiences the satisfaction of success it become addictive. Successful students develop a self-confidence that cannot be put down. They simply approach each new stage in their education development with the attitude that they deserve to succeed and they set about to do whatever it takes to arrive at their goal. They believe in themselves and therefore they want to accomplish more which makes them believe in themselves even more. 

The challenge for a Learning Coach is to determine what it will take to help his student achieve the level of success that will generate the motivation and self-confidence to move from their current baseline state to a level that is more in keeping with their potential.

There is no disputing that in order to achieve success in school, it is necessary for the Learning Coach to address the basic literacy and numeracy skill development of the student. If you do not know how to add and subtract, you will never be able to learn how to multiply and divide. If you do not know how to express your ideas in words, you will never be able to complete essays and assignments. Therefore, it is important to focus on the basic skill development that is necessary for success at whatever level a student happens to be.


Even before addressing the core academic skills that must be developed, a good "learning coach" will help the student with some of the key work habits and essential learning skills that will make the process of academic skill development a whole lot easier. There are some skills that must be acquired in order for "learning" of other knowledge or skills to take place. These "transferable skills" as they are often called, once developed, will help any student achieve maximum success in any situation. These include, but are in no way limited to the following:

  1. The student must be able to organize his materials, notes, assignments and resources so that he has access to the information he needs;
  2. The student must be able to set short- and long-term goals;
  3. The student must be able to record his assignments with accuracy and clarity so that he knows what must be done;
  4. The student must be able to understand what must be done and then create a plan for getting it done;
  5. The student must be able to set priorities and keep those priorities in focus;
  6. The student must be able to manage his time efficiently and plan ahead;

Once the "learning coach" has helped the student with these transferable skills, it is time to help with some of the other strategies for success. The "learning coach" will show the student how to develop specific tactics that can be employed which will help move him forward to the attainment of his education and career development goals.

The "learning coach" will then take full responsibility for establishing realistic expectations and for giving the student positive reinforcement and encouragement when he meets his short term goals. Motivation is critical at this juncture as the child is attempting to effect change. It is not going to be easy and the student's self-esteem and feelings of self-worth will not change overnight. However, with the right approach, and the right strategies, the "learning coach" should be able to keep any student moving in a positive direction. The key is to work on short-term objectives while keeping your mind on the long-term goals. There will be set backs from time to time, but as long as the student sees that he is moving in the right direction and as long as he knows he has the "Learning Coach" to provide him with the support he needs along the way, he will be motivated to continue.


The very first thing a good Learning Coach must do is ensure that the student has established some very clear and specific short and long term goals. A great deal of discussion will have been done in this area even before the sessions begin, but this is an important first step. Once the Learning Coach is able to sit down one-on-one with the student, the two of them should spend some time to make sure that the goals are clear in everyone's mind. These goals should be written down and kept where they will serve as reminders to the student.


The Learning Coach will then help the student get organized. Organization is an essential element in the academic management program. Without organization the achievement of the goals will be impossible. 

The Learning Coach will help the student organize his notebooks so that notes and assignments are in proper order and easy to find. He will then help the student organize his work area, whether that is in his room or in an office. It is important that materials, supplies and other resources be in their place and accessible. The student will be able to see clear and demonstrable progress immediately and will actually "feel good" about this beginning step.

The Learning Coach will help the student come up with a system of recording assignments consistently. He will also help the student set up a study timetable and schedule to follow for the week. This will include specific times for completing assignments, reading and also recreation. The student must see his entire week from the point of view of a well-planned schedule so that he knows when he has time to complete his academic responsibilities. He will also build time in the schedule for social and recreational pursuits. Life must be balanced in order for an academic management program to be effective.

The Learning Coach will help the student come up with a system for "starting to work" where all of the pens, pencils, paper, etc. will be immediately available in one place so that he doesn't have to waste time trying to find anything. When the student is ready to sit down and work, everything should be available at his finger tips. Too much time is wasted "getting ready to work" by most students. 

The Learning Coach will help the student come up with a system that is foolproof so that the student will always have the necessary books and notes available when working at home. This may mean coming up with a plan that includes bringing all notebooks and textbooks home every evening.

The Learning Coach will also pay attention to the distractions that are in play around the house and advise the student as to where his at home studying should take place. He will also get a commitment from the student to remove obvious distractions such as the television, computer, cell phone, etc. Students are usually aware of how these distractions can get in the way of studying, but the Learning Coach will be able to make the student understand that this is part of the overall "academic management program" to which the student has committed. Therefore, because students are for the most part pragmatists, the student will recognize that he must do whatever he must do to "win the game" and achieve his goals. It is up to the Learning Coach to get the student to "buy into" this philosophy and agree to the strategies outlined by the "coach".

All of these organizational skills will be continuously reinforced until they are ingrained into the student's pattern of daily life. Each time the Learning Coach meets with the student, he will review the organizational situation that exists and together with the student will do whatever reorganization is necessary to develop long-term habits.


The Learning Coach will also discuss some very specific strategies that the student can employ in the classroom that will help tremendously to enhance the academic management program. For example, the student will be encouraged to change his location if and when possible by trying to sit closer to the front in order to get rid of some obvious distractions. Changing where and with whom he is sitting beside will help with his focus. The Learning Coach will also give the student tips on how to pay more attention in class. 

For example, the student will be encouraged to "look directly" at the teacher when she is talking. This will "force" the student to listen to what is being said. When I was a classroom teacher I used to tell my pupils that if they were looking at me when I was giving a lesson I would never ask them to give an answer unless their hand was raised. I told them that they could day-dream all they wanted as long as they were looking at me with their eyes open. Soon students discovered that they couldn't help but pay attention since one's mind often is influenced by the vision that is being captured by the eyes.

Other very practical suggestions such as taking notes even when you don't have to in order to retain information; being the first one to enter the room at the beginning of class; volunteering to help out when the opportunity comes up; asking the teacher questions to show interest in the subject; staying after the end of the lesson to get points clarified by the teacher; and being aware of portraying positive non-verbal messages when in the room.

The Learning Coach will also recommend that the student inform the teacher that he is receiving assistance from a tutor and asking for some suggestions on areas that the tutor should be working on. This will clearly demonstrate to the teacher that the student is interested in being successful in that class.

The Learning Coach will also help the student get into the habit of making notes to himself whenever he comes across a concept or topic that is giving him difficulty. When the Learning Coach and the student sit down at the next session the two of them can look over those areas that were causing the most problems. The notes made by the student will help the Learning Coach know what is needed in order to help the student better understand.


Whereas test results form the bulk of the report card mark, the Learning Coach will work with the student to develop effective strategies that can be used to prepare for tests and assignments. A study schedule will be established so that the student is reviewing material far in advance of the test date. They will prepare practice questions and the student will go over those that are most likely to be on the test. 

The Learning Coach will help the student develop an approach to actually writing tests by suggesting things like: doing the easy questions first; proof reading all answers; and, remaining until the very end, even if finished early, in order to spend time to enhance the answers and not miss anything.

The Learning Coach will also show the student how to prioritize material that may be more likely to be on the test. This prioritizing will be enhanced if the student asks for suggestions from the teacher as to what will be on the test. The Learning Coach will also show the student how he can use clues from the notes and assignments to determine what the teacher may include on the exam.

The Learning Coach will show the student how to approach each test as if it were a game. The more prepared the student is prior to the game, and the more training the student does, the more the student should want to "play" in order to demonstrate his abilities and talents. This should remove much of the anxiety which may have been hindering the student's progress. The objective is for the student to actually look forward to tests so that he can demonstrate how much he knows and how he has prepared for the challenge.


The Learning Coach will also help the student get rid of any "self-defeating" attitudes and habits. The Learning Coach will get the commitment from the student that he will never discuss anything negative about the subject or school in general; always look for something positive to think about or say; search for ways to "like" the subject and the teacher; look for ways to take leadership responsibility in class; begin to "act" in a manner that is fitting for the career he wishes to pursue; and to look for ways to get out of the student's comfort zone and to become creative and innovative in the class.

This "attitude" adjustment is necessary because of the fact that the more you "like" something, the more likely you are to be successful in what you are doing. It is all about developing and maintaining a positive attitude without falling out of step. Once again, since the student will have committed to his long term goals, the Learning Coach will be able to make the student realize that this is a necessary step in the fulfillment of those goals.


Much has been written about the essential skills one must develop in order to achieve success in the workplace. The Learning Coach recognizes that some of these essential skills refer to core academic skills that fall under literacy and numeracy. These will be addressed as required in order for the student to be successful in his current grade level or subject area. 

However, there are other essential learning skills that are non-academic, yet they are skills that make it possible to learn new skills and also to participate in the educational and workplace settings which will be part of the student's current and future life.

Therefore, the Learning Coach will provide guidance to the student so that strategies and approaches can be utilized to improve his skills in the following areas in addition to all others mentioned in this article:

  • The ability to work independently in class and to focus on the tasks assigned by the teacher;
  • The ability to demonstrate initiative and creativity rather than always being a follower;
  • The commitment to complete all homework assignments on time and with an acceptable level of competency;
  • The ability to use information effectively;
  • Strategies for cooperating with others and avoiding confrontation;
  • Strategies for resolving difficulties and conflicts;
  • Punctuality
  • Dressing appropriately for all situations
  • Working safely, whether at home or at school

In many cases the Learning Coach will take advantage of "teachable moments" to address the above areas. In some cases the Learning Coach will make it a point to focus on specific strategies and explain to the student how they will impact on the academic management program that they are following.


The Learning Coach will show the student how to perform regular evaluations of his own progress. For example, the student will set aside a time when he will sit down and do a weekly self-evaluation of the progress being made towards his long term goals. He will write a summary or develop a list of areas where he needs to improve. He will share this with the Learning Coach so that they can compare their viewpoints. This will help the student when it comes to seeking guidance from The Learning Coach in areas that may not be obvious to the coach.


The Learning Coach will help the student develop a "problem-based learning approach"  to learning. The problem-solving model is one that can be used anywhere, at any time, in any sort of situation.
  1. STEP ONE: Understanding the problem:
    The first thing you must learn to do when faced with a challenge is to determine the exact nature of the problem. This investigative stage is critical to the entire process. You can't even begin to consider a solution until you know what the problem is in the first place. Therefore the Learning Coach will work with the student on ways in which he will be able to better understand any problem he is facing.
  2. STEP TWO: Collecting all of the relevant information:
    In any problem-solving situation you are given some information or details, and you also bring some knowledge of your own to the situation. Therefore, once you understand the nature of the problem, and you are very clear on the desired outcome you are seeking, you must make a list of all of the information you have at hand that can be used to come up with a solution. This is a discovery process that must be done before proceeding further. It will also allow you to identify information that is pertinent to the situation at hand and to disregard that which is going to be of no use to you at this time.
  3. STEP THREE: Considering the alternatives
    You must then consider all of the possible alternatives that are available and try to select the one that appears to be the best solution. This may mean that you need more information than what you were originally given to solve the problem. If so, then you must do some research to gather knowledge and data that is necessary for the solution. Once you know all of your options and you can identify the pros and cons of each option, you are ready to proceed to the most important step of all.
  4. STEP FOUR: Solving the problem
    You should then be in a position where you can go ahead and come up with the best solution possible based on the information you are given, the resources available and your own skills. At that point you should be able to solve the problem that you were facing at the beginning.
  5. STEP FIVE: Communicating the solution
    Once you have arrived at the solution to the original problem, you must determine the best method for communicating your conclusion to your target audience. Even if you do not have an outside audience at this time, you still must record the conclusion for your own future reference. In other words, you must communicate with yourself. You may have to defend your findings, so be sure to draw upon any convincing evidence that may be needed.
The above five-step process can be used in any situation in which you find yourself. It is all about understanding your problem; becoming aware of all of the information with which you are provided or you already know; considering all of your alternatives and options and then selecting what you think is the best one; solving the problem; and then communicating your findings or solution.

The Learning Coach will help the student apply this approach to his own situations in order to help the student develop the confidence to solve his own problems once the Learning Coach is no longer available for support.


The Learning Coach will involve the parents in the academic management program in the following ways:

  • He will suggest that the parents purchase specific learning materials and supplies that will help the student develop better organizational skills at home;
  • He will show the parents how they can demonstrate some of the concepts by example. For instance, if part of the plan is to increase the amount of reading for pleasure, then the parents themselves can take time to read for pleasure and make sure that their child sees them doing this;
  • The parents can go out of their way to improve their own organization of the house, garage, basement, desks, etc. Organization must become a way of life around the home so that the child sees how he is a part of the entire culture of the household.
  • The parents will be encouraged to provide positive reinforcement of any progress or effort being made by the child. 
  • The parents will be asked to avoid negative comments or arguments, leaving everything up to the Learning Coach.


On top of everything else mentioned to this point, the Learning Coach will always be addressing the core academic skills that need to be developed in order to meet the expectations of the teacher and the parents. For younger students this may mean improving general literacy and numeracy skills. For older students the academic skills may be more focused on specific subjects.

This is the easy part for instructors. You can find the curriculum content for any subject and grade level on the Ministry web site. The home page of The Learning Clinic Education Centre provides a direct link to the Ministry curriculum guides.

Text books and course of study summaries provided by teachers also give you a good indication of the content that will be included in the curriculum. There are a wide variety of worksheets and exercises available on line and in book stores that can be used to develop and reinforce the academic skills that are needed in order to fulfill the requirements of the curriculum.

However, as has been outlined above in this section, success in school is all about "Academic Management". All of the elements described above are important and essential to an effective academic management program. Knowledge of concepts and skill development will not be possible without sound academic management skills. This is where a personal 'Learning Coach" proves his worth to his students. There is no point in spending a lot of time on acquiring "curriculum concepts" until you have incorporated the basic principles of "academic management" into your lifestyle.

The positive development of each of the essential learning skills I have described will make it that much easier for the student to incorporate the academic skills that are necessary to achieve success in school and to get the marks necessary to get into desired post-secondary school programs.


Let me state unequivocally that it is my firm belief and conviction that a ”Personal Learning Coach" is much more than just a tutor! While tutoring is something that a "Personal Learning Coach" offers to his students, the fact is that anyone can be a "tutor". In other words, anyone can show you how to add and subtract. Anyone can lead you through worksheets and point out your mistakes. However, not every tutor is capable of being an effective "Personal Learning Coach". 

A tutor simply helps another person understand specific elements of a particular part of the curriculum in order to pass a course or complete an assignment in one subject area.

A Personal Learning Coach takes the practice of "tutoring" to a much higher level.

In order to help you understand the difference between the services provided by a person who is simply a "tutor" and the services provided by a ”Personal Learning Coach", consider the following fishing story. 

One day a fisherman was on his way home when he came upon a man sitting by the side of the road with his family. The man explained that he had no money to buy food and that his family was hungry. He asked the fisherman if he had any fish to give him so that he could feed his family. 

The fisherman reached into his sack and gave the man a few of the fish that he had caught that afternoon. The man was grateful for the food. He then lit a fire and fed his family a meal of freshly caught fish. 

The next afternoon a different fisherman was on his way home when he came upon the same family sitting by the side of the road. The man once again explained that he had no money to buy food and that his family was hungry. He then asked the second fisherman if he had any fish to give him so that he could feed his family.

The second fisherman reached into his sack and gave the man a few of the fish he had caught that afternoon.

Instead of leaving, however, while the man's wife was preparing and cooking the fish for dinner, the second fisherman took the man to the nearby stream that was running by the side of the road. The second fisherman then showed the man how to break off a branch to turn it into a fishing pole. The fisherman then gave the man a piece of fishing line and a hook. He showed the man how to attach a berry to the hook and then showed the man how to hold the fishing pole in the water with the hook and berry floating on the surface. The second fisherman stayed with the man until they caught a few fish from the stream. Once the second fisherman was satisfied that the man was able to catch fish on his own, the second fisherman continued on his way down the road, satisfied that the man and his family would never again be hungry.

The first fisherman provided the man with the means of satisfying the immediate hunger of the man and his family. That is what a "tutor" does. He solves an immediate problem. However, the next day the man and his family were hungry again. That is what most tutoring is all about. Most tutoring provides short-term solutions to learning problems, but soon those problems come back again.

The second fisherman was a perfect example of what you would expect from a "Learning Coach". Not only did the second fisherman satisfy the immediate hunger of the man and his family, he then showed the man how to catch his own fish and left the man with suitable knowledge and skills to make sure that he would never again go hungry. In fact, the man now had the ability to catch fish for sale to make money to purchase other things for his family. The second fisherman gave the man hope and the ability to make a good life for himself. That is what a "Personal Learning Coach" does.

A "Personal Learning Coach" recognizes the need to solve immediate problems, but also realizes that it is even more important to develop skills which will ensure that those problems never again present the same challenges as they did in the first place.

Anyone can be a "tutor". Anyone can help out with an immediate problem, but it takes a person with special skills and experience to be an effective "Personal Learning Coach".  




Each Personal Learning Coach has his own preferred style when it comes to working with students.

In my case, I have found the "Baseline Method" to be most effective.

Let me briefly explain how the "Baseline Method" works.


  1. First of all, it is important that we establish and agree upon the "Big Goals" for the student. In other words, what changes are desired, and over what period of time do we wish to accomplish those changes? To do this I ask the parents and the student to describe the changes they would like to see over the next twelve months. By doing this, we are able to establish a specific target which is achievable over a reasonable period of time. We may still discuss "long-term" education or career goals, but I find it is always best to work within "short-term" chunks of about one year in length.
  2. Once we know our destination, or our "desired outcome", it is then critical for us to establish the current status of the student. In other words, once we are clear about where we would like to end up we have to establish from where we are starting. I call this starting point the "baseline position" of the student. This is where the "Learning Coach" first begins working with the student. The Learning Coach will be able to do a thorough analysis of everything that he can find out about the student in order to establish this baseline position. It gives the Learning Coach a starting point.
  3. When we have a crystal clear idea of our "baseline position" as well as our "desired outcome", we are ready to determine the "gap" which must be closed and hence develop strategies that will begin to close the gap. 
  4. The "gap analysis" may force us to make adjustments to our desired outcomes and/or to our time frame. For example, we may find that there is too big a spread between our "baseline" and our "desired outcome" to reasonably expect to close the gap in the allotted time frame. On the other hand, we may discover that we can set our targets higher if the gap is not as wide as we originally expected. In either event, our "desired outcome" must challenge the student, but it must not be so far out of reach that the student feels discouraged before he/she starts.
  5. The next step is to develop a strategic plan of action that will work in conjunction with the current learning environment in which the student finds him/herself. I do not wish to create an artificial environment, nor do I want to have a program of instruction that is completely separate from that in which the student is currently enrolled. For example, regardless of what we are doing at The Learning Clinic, the student must still meet the responsibilities of his/her current school program. The Learning Clinic program must not "add" to the student's workload, but must rather "complement" the current school curriculum, all the time aiming to close the gap and work towards our desired outcomes within the allotted time frame. This is where the greatest difference is found between The Learning Clinic Education Centre and other tutoring companies. The Learning Coach is given a great deal of freedom and flexibility to be innovative and creative in developing a plan of action that will be most suited to his student. He is not limited by a "franchise-created" one-size-fits-all package. He is not forced to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. He can develop a plan that will meet the needs of his student.
  6. This is why I find it so very important for the "Learning Coach" to spend a great deal of time working with his student as they are doing a bit of their homework and current assignments. We do not supervise the homework, but merely help the student understand "how the homework is to be done". By integrating the Learning Clinic strategic plan of action with the school curriculum, the student is better able to make a connection between the two and is more likely to experience positive results in school immediately. These positive results will provide some of the motivation and inspiration needed to develop effective learning skills which will be used to achieve the "desired outcomes".
  7. Therefore, when we begin with the "baseline position", and develop a strategic plan of action which will close the "gap" between the baseline position and the "desired outcomes", the student experiences continuous growth and personal satisfaction. Each time we review the progress of our program, the baseline will have moved to a new level and the gap will be reduced as we move towards our desired outcome. As the "destination" gets closer and closer, the student becomes more and more motivated and inspired because they see the end in sight.

The "Baseline Method" provides a seamless integration of the Learning Clinic program with the current curriculum, thereby helping the student incorporate these effective real-life learning skills into virtually all areas of his/her life.

This is my ultimate goal as a Professional Learning Coach.




I am providing you with the following section which contains questions and answers that are mostly intended for parents who are wishing to find out more about The Learning Clinic Education Centre. You should browse through this section so that you are more aware of the background as well as some of the fundamental principles of The Learning Clinic. The answers are written "to the parents" so they will not come across as advice or recommendations to instructors.


“The Learning Clinic” is my own private practice. It was founded in January 2007 and is completely independent from any other business or operation. We therefore have the ability to meet the unique needs of each child who seeks assistance without being restricted by any other outside policies or practices..

Most of the other tutoring companies in the Greater Sudbury area are part of a franchise chain. This means that in order to be consistent throughout the franchise they must adopt a more or less standard procedure and content base for their instruction.  Students will therefore be required to develop their skills using standard exercise sheets that can be marked and evaluated using a central grading system. Local franchise owners do not have the freedom to make adequate adjustments to meet the needs of individual students.  

At The Learning Clinic, our tutors treat each student differently, developing a program that is unique to their individual needs. There are no two situations that are alike at The Learning Clinic, and no two students will be doing the exact same work. A “Franchise Owner” must exert a certain amount of control over local franchisees, and this control has a limiting effect on what can be done to meet the needs of children seeking tutoring assistance. The Learning Clinic has no such limitations.


The Learning Clinic sends a personal tutor in to your home to work with your child in a familiar environment. 

Some tutoring companies require you to bring your child to a specific centre at certain times of the day to work in a setting that is very similar to a regular classroom. 

We decided that it was more important for our tutors to witness the actual conditions under which the child works at home. Part of our responsibility is to help our students cope with the normal distractions at home in order to be able to develop the skills necessary to be successful when the tutor is not there to help out. We also tell parents to avoid making any changes in their normal routines while the tutor is present. Our goal is to develop “learning skills” in our students. We want our students to learn how to learn, so our tutors must be aware of all of the distractions that are being faced by the child. We did not feel we could provide effective long-term skill development by working with children in an artificially created environment. To do so would have been just like creating another “school away from school”. 

We also respect how busy parents are in the evening after school, so it makes it much easier if we come to you.  

There are other personal in-home tutoring companies in the province that offer services that are similar in nature to The Learning Clinic. However, these are largely franchise operations and as such are governed by head-office policies and procedures. Because of these limitations it is difficult to offer a truly unique program to each student. Franchises still must ensure some sort of consistency and control over their franchise operators and this is normally going to limit the flexibility of the program.


The Learning Clinic allows a parent to schedule tutoring so that it does not interfere with the rest of the family plans. We work around your schedule. 

Some tutoring companies require you to meet with your tutor during specific times once or twice a week. 

The Learning Clinic decided that it was important to be flexible and sensitive to the needs of the entire family. Therefore, our tutors will agree to meet with your child on a day and time that will be most convenient to you and your family. This means that tutoring may be on different days and different times each week. This is because we feel that some of the most important learning in a child’s life takes place away from school, so whatever the family is doing to provide enriched learning experiences is important. We do not want to interfere with your role as a parent and will therefore accommodate our schedule as well as we can to allow for tutoring sessions to supplement your activities. We do not feel it would be beneficial to the child for the rest of the family to adjust their schedule to fit the times for tutoring.  

As a "Professional Learning Coach" I strongly recommend that parents find personal tutors who are willing to work directly with their children one-on-one in your own home. While some centers may seem "cute" and "well-organized" they just don't provide the kind of support that your child needs.


The Learning Clinic” has adopted a “Learning Coach” approach to tutoring which utilizes a one-on-one instructional model. 

Some tutoring companies that operate a "center" require you to share a tutor with up to three other students. Each student is required to work on a different assignment page, with the tutor available to answer questions and give direction. When the student successfully completes the page, he/she gets a reward and then goes on to the next page. The pages are all kept in a binder that demonstrate the progression that has been made. This “mastery learning” approach may result in the learning of specific skills that produce good results in an upcoming diagnostic test.  However, we do not feel it will produce the long-lasting skill development that comes from one-on-one “coaching”. 

We help our students “discover” their skills and build upon their strengths so that they retain what they have learned for future situations. Mastery of specific skills does come with one-on-one tutoring, but it tends to have a much more long-lasting impact on the student. The "Learning Coach" approach also takes into account that there are many learning skills that have nothing to do with completing questions on worksheets and that can only be acquired through one-on-one in-home mentoring.


The Learning Clinic” has been able to provide a program that is affordable for most families. As with most things in life, you always get what you pay for. Tutoring is no different. Unfortunately, tutoring is something that many families may not feel they can afford. 

The Learning Clinic has found a way to allow parents to adjust the tutoring they receive to fit their budget. For example, our fee is $216 for every six hours. This is comparative to the hourly rate charged by the other major tutoring companies in town. In fact it is often lower than other options. 

However, these six hours can be taken over two weeks or they can be stretched out over four months. Your child may need to see the tutor twice a week or he may just need the tutor to come in for a visit once every month. Even once a month may be all a child needs to catch up on some of the important skills that are needed for success in the classroom. 

Furthermore, you can plan on one session every week or two, and when needed, bring in the tutor for extra sessions. You only pay for six hours at a time, so when you use those six hours is entirely up to you. Your child can benefit from a tutor for as little as $54 a month. And when you consider that this is less than a single massage therapy session, it is definitely worth the money.  

You may be able to find friends of the family, or other students who live in your neighbourhood to do the tutoring for less, however, when you consider the peace of mind that comes from the knowledge that you have your own professional "Family Learning Coach" you can turn to for help whenever the need arises, it is easy to see that the extra cost is worth it in the long term.


The Learning Clinic” will not commit you to a long-term contract. Your only commitment to The Learning Clinic is for six hours at a time. 

You are not required to sign a contract that forces you to remain with a program that is 30 or 40 weeks in duration. Once your six hours are up, you have the option of continuing for another six hours or terminating the tutoring. 

A number of our students have been with their tutor for up to two years, while others go through 12 or 18 hours and then stop for any number of personal reasons. This policy is especially popular with high school students who may wish to hire a tutor to help with the last month of school, just before exams. They may only need the tutor for six hours, so why pay for anything more. 

The other reason we wanted to maintain this six-hour commitment is because conditions change in a family and we did not want to be an added burden in times of need. When selecting a tutoring company for your child, you should examine contracts carefully. For example, The Learning Clinic does not penalize you if you are forced to cancel a session for any reason. We merely re-schedule at a later date. You don’t lose time or money.  

Once again, because The Learning Clinic is my own private practice, I am able to offer this service as a value-added benefit to parents. I decided right from the beginning that I did not want parents to hesitate getting a personal tutor for their child merely because they were unsure of whether or not it was going to be worth the money. I want to make it very easy to "test the waters" and then decide whether to continue or drop out. This allows reluctant parents to try it out for a while and see how it works. If you don't like it or change your mind, you are not really out much money. 

I also guarantee that you will not be harassed or bothered to commit to our program if you just call up to ask a few questions. I am a professional educator and a member of the Ontario College of Teachers. Even though I operate a private practice, my main concern is for your child. If you are not certain that you wish to utilize the services provided by The Learning Clinic then I respect that decision.


One of the most unique benefits of my practice is that when you contract for services from "The Learning Clinic”, I send a tutor who will work with all of the children in your family. While most tutoring situations only involve providing instruction to one student, parents appreciate the fact that if they have more than one child, they can request a tutor with the qualifications to provide assistance to all children in the household. 

There is no additional charge for this service. You are paying to have a tutor come into your house for six hours. How you divide up that time is completely up to you. 

For example, there are some situations where the tutor will work with one child for one hour and then the other child for 30 minutes. The parent pays for 90 minutes of tutoring service whether there is one child or two. 

Most franchise companies will charge you an amount for each child. The Learning Clinic does not charge extra for this service. 

This is one of the features that I can offer because I operate my own private practice. When you contract the services of The Learning Clinic, you are contracting "my" services. You and all of the members of your family become clients of The Learning Clinic. "Robert Kirwan" becomes your "Family Learning Coach" to whom you may turn when you need help with education or career development matters. My job is to provide you with the resources you need to achieve your goals. If you need a personal tutor for your child, I find an instructor from my Registry of Tutors who will fill the role on a temporary basis. If you approach me again a couple of years from now for another tutor for your child, I will find another instructor from my Registry of Tutors for you.  


The Learning Clinic” maintains that you CANNOT guarantee the success of tutoring programs. 

While some franchise companies claim to “guarantee” that your child will improve by at least a full grade level from the tutoring program, The Learning Clinic will NEVER make such a guarantee.  

As a professional educator for most of my working life, I can definitely guarantee you that no one can guarantee any level of success when it comes to learning. I will guarantee that your child will benefit positively from the tutoring he/she receives from The Learning Clinic and that it should make him/her a better student. 

As a professional learning coach and a former teacher for 28 years, it bothers me when companies make claims that they can "guarantee" your child will improve by one or two grade levels. I feel it is my obligation to provide you with some cautionary information if you are seriously considering selecting a tutoring company for your child based on the claim that your child is guaranteed to improve by one or more grade levels. 

For example, some companies will have your child take an initial “diagnostic” test which will reveal certain deficiencies in specific skill areas.  The initial test is usually "thrust upon" your child during your first interview session as part of a "free evaluation" offer. As a former teacher I can tell you that when a child is given a surprise test and placed inside a strange room to complete a series of skill testing questions in a given time, the results will not be accurate. Furthermore, the resulting score will usually be far lower than expected. Therefore, as a parent you will naturally be astonished at how low your child scores in a number of significant areas. A program of instruction will be offered that will cover several months of tutoring which will focus on improving the areas of weakness that were identified by the "free diagnostic test".

This program of instruction will include a series of worksheets that focus on the weak skill areas and will be designed to help your child "master" the identified skills. At the end of the program a second diagnostic test will be administered. This time your child will be prepared and fore-warned. The test will be written in a much more comfortable setting and your child will be faced with a familiar style of questioning. This end-test will usually reveal significant growth in the weaker areas, thus enabling the company to justify its guarantee. In other words, by comparing the score of the initial test to the end test, your child will have easily advanced by more than a full year according to the "test tables". It does not, however, mean that your child is doing that much better in his day-to-day program at school.

In order to prove this for yourself, I would recommend that you enrol your child for a "second" session with the franchise company. Have the tutoring company provide your child with another 30 or 40 sessions of instruction in exactly the same skill areas. Only this time you will be using the "end-test" results as your starting point. See if your child improves by at least a full grade level this time around. I doubt you will see as great an improvement and you may actually be able to get your money back the second time around.

The Learning Clinic would rather focus on improving the overall learning skills of each student so that success can be achieved in class. We supplement the work being done by the classroom teacher and are therefore more concerned with helping our students “learn how to learn” rather than “learning how to complete work sheets”. Our approach has proven to be the one that provides the most long-lasting results and is most supportive of what your child is dealing with at school, regardless of what level he is in.


Keep in mind that "The Learning Clinic” is owned and operated by a member of the Ontario College of Teachers. As a member in good standing with the Ontario College of Teachers, my work as a private practitioner in the field of education receives a certain level of credibility that other tutoring operators do not have. 

For instance, I am bound by the same code of ethics and professional standards as all other teachers and guidance counselors. Teachers know that I am acting in the best interests of the students at all times. If not, I could lose my certificate. They understand that I am not merely running a private business. I am “one of them” and as such can be trusted. 

Therefore, teachers feel comfortable about recommending The Learning Clinic to the parents of their students. This endorsement has lead to the continued growth of my practice.


Our tutors are always available by phone or email in between sessions. Often your child may just need a quick answer to a specific question that cannot wait until the next scheduled session. All you have to do is give the tutor a call and he/she will do what can be done to solve the problem. There is no charge for this service.  

Once again, you will not find many other tutors offering this kind of value-added service. It just does not fit within their "policies and procedures". I must comment that one of the reasons I can offer this service is because my instructors themselves are passionate about what they are doing. Many of them are attending Teachers' College and intend to become career educators. They take great pride in the work the do with their students and make themselves available whenever needed. This is the kind of passion that makes The Learning Clinic different from the others.






With students in Grades one, two and three, the focus will usually be on the development of basic literacy and numeracy skills. 

In other words, your student will normally require assistance mainly in language arts and/or math. 

The level of instruction will obviously depend upon which grade level your student happens to be in and whether or not the student is functioning at or above that particular grade level. During this level students are "learning to read" so they are developing many of the specific sub-skills of language while attempting to make sense out of the structures and rules.


Keeping in mind that with students in Grades one, two and three, the focus will usually be on the development of basic literacy and numeracy skills, with students in Grades four, five and six, the focus will be on the use of these basic skills to develop effective learning skills.

During the primary grades children “learn to read”. 

In the junior grades, children “read to learn”. 

This is the fundamental difference between the Primary and Junior Grades. The transition takes place during Grades 3 and 4, which is when many parents first start to consider seeking assistance for their children. This is the time when we receive many phone calls from parents about hiring tutors for their children. The transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" can be quite difficult if the student has learning deficiencies in literacy and numeracy.

Thus it is no surprise that during the junior grade levels students who have lagged behind in their basic literacy and numeracy development find it most difficult to keep up with their classmates. It is during this period of time when students begin to develop a dislike for learning and lose a great deal of self confidence. 

On the other hand, it is also during this time when the opportunity presents itself for developing a very positive attitude towards learning and school that will remain with students for the rest of their life.

Once again, just as it was the case with Primary Grade students, most of the children who are struggling in the Junior Grade level normally require assistance in language arts and/or math. In some cases parents may be worried about specific subjects such as science or social studies, but the root cause of the problems regardless of what subject will usually be in the area of language arts.

The level of instruction will obviously depend upon which grade level your student happens to be in and whether or not the student is functioning at or above that particular grade level.


With students in Grades seven or eight the main focus will be on preparing them with the literacy and numeracy skills they will need to be successful at the secondary school level. 

In most cases, parents will be concerned about either math or language arts, but they will also be concerned about the marks that their children are receiving in specific curriculum areas as well. 

This is a time in the education career of children when marks begin to take on a whole new significance.

If a child’s skill development has been lagging behind the others in previous grades, it will become very noticeable in Grade seven and eight. Unfortunately, many students “mask” their weaknesses through inappropriate behaviour and attitude, often generated by peer pressure. Underachieving children at the Grade 7 and 8 level often have well ingrained learning resistance tendencies that must be addressed before any improvement in marks is forthcoming. It is at this age level when the “coaching” skills of the personal tutor become extremely important. It is at this age when the “matching of compatible tutors” becomes critical.

At this grade level the tutor must be flexible and must be prepared for the unexpected. You may also have to abandon certain strategies that don’t seem to be working. Students in Grades seven and eight can be very emotional and difficult to deal with if you get on their wrong side, so you must make sure that you come across as their “personal learning coach”, not just another teacher. This doesn’t mean that you let them get away with too much, but rather that you are there to help them succeed in school and show them some strategies that will be useful to them in this regard.  



When it comes to working with students at the secondary school level, the learning coach pretty much has his topics and program selected  since these students are generally looking for assistance in a very specific subject area. Very seldom are they looking for general literacy and numeracy help., although the root of the problems may well stem from a lack of literacy and numeracy skill development at the elementary school level.

Most schools use a semester system, which means that students take a course for a period of about four months of the year. Therefore, when they finally come to us for help many of them are already in the last half of the semester and are in need of urgent attention. This means that you may be facing some uphill challenges when you take on a secondary school placement. However, we can only do our best and parents have been very understanding so far.  

The individual sessions at the secondary school level are best split into three main components.


Once you have finished your brief conversation with your student’s parents (in the case of students in Grades 9 and 10) you can get down to work. The first thing you will do is ask the student to show you what was done in the class since your last session. This means that the student will get out his notebooks and textbooks and the two of you will look over the notes and assignments.

You will ask the student to show you anything that he didn’t fully understand and your first task will be to do some practice questions to make sure that he has grasped the relevant material. There may be some weeks where all you do is trouble-shoot and clear up problems of the past week.

Once you have taken care of the problems, you can look over the material that did not present any difficulty to the student. What you can do here is ask the student to explain what was done, or do a couple of practice questions to make sure that the student does in fact know how to do the work.


The next thing you will do is anticipate what is coming up next in class. The student can help you out here by having a course outline or by asking the teacher beforehand. You should then try to prepare your student for the new material by making him familiar with some of the vocabulary and material that will be presented in class. Our goal here is to make sure the student won’t be lost when the new material is presented. He will have some prior knowledge of what is coming so that it may be easier for him to understand when the teacher takes it up in class.


The last thing you should do is help the student with any assignments or projects that he is working on for the class and also help review material from previous units in preparation for the final exam or upcoming quizzes. When you take on a placement half way through a semester, the student will likely have had problems with early units. You must go back and help the student with this previous material since it will be tested on the final exam.

This is also a time when you can help develop some good study habits and help your student with tips on how to prepare for tests and quizzes.


While you are doing all of the above with your student, you should be looking for opportunities to show your student little tips and strategies that will be helpful in class. Tell the student how you got through the course. Let the student ask you questions about your program and how things are in university. Your student may just need to have someone to talk to. Give your student the motivation and encouragement he/she needs.



All of the instruction sessions offered through The Learning Clinic are based upon a minimum of 90 minutes per session. Some of the intermediate, secondary and post-secondary students may benefit from longer sessions, but at the primary and junior levels I strongly recommend 90 minutes.

While this may seem like a long time to some parents, it really isn't. I like to allow time for an instructor to talk to the parent at the beginning to see if there are any concerns that have come up during the week and then allow a bit of time right at the end to summarize the session and talk about follow-up activities that the parent may be able to do to prepare for the next week's session. It also allows the instructor to break the session up into several smaller sub-units so that she can deal with more than one area of concern. There are also many things that must be done as part of the "academic management program" that will require time to review on a consistent basis. For example, the tutor must find time to go over the notebook organization for the past week and make suggestions that will improve the student's organizational skills.

With sessions that are 60 minutes long, you are too rushed and the shorter period forces you to concentrate on more of a “prescribed program” instead of allowing you the flexibility to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities that arise unexpectedly. It is as if you just get started and you have to wrap things up. 

During the course of each session the instructor will look for opportunities to allow the student to get up and stretch, get a glass of water or juice, or to change the pace of instruction. As you move from topic to topic you will have a chance to take a quick break to refocus so that the student doesn’t become bored or tired.

I also believe that you can learn more about a child by getting to know her well, and the extended period of time in a more relaxed atmosphere allows the instructor to motivate and inspire the student more effectively.



Regardless of the age of the student, I always recommend a brief five-minute meeting with one or both parents at the beginning of each session. I would do this while the student is getting set up at the work station in an informal manner. There is no problem with the student being present since it merely reinforces the fact that the instructor is working with the parent as part of a "team" in an effort to help the child. If there is something that the parent wishes to discuss in private, then that can be arranged as well.

This becomes an important opportunity to discuss what has been going on during the time since you last meet with the student. Here the instructor is looking for some idea about problems that were faced by the student during the week that the student may have forgotten or that he may not be readily willing to volunteer. Since the parent has been observing the child all week long and will have first-hand knowledge of what has been going on during the week it gives the instructor something to focus on for part of the session.

As a Professional Learning Coach, I would never accept a comment from a parent such as, “There is nothing much that happened this week.” The name of my practice is THE LEARNING CLINIC and as such it is my job as the “Learning Coach” to make a diagnosis and deal with the “learning condition” of the student. As is the case with any good “doctor” you need to know how your "patient" is doing and what may be troubling him before you begin the treatment.

There are times when you may  have to stimulate the conversation by asking the parent pointed questions about the amount of homework the child has had in the past week; the nature of the homework; any assignments that were brought home; projects that are being worked on; the amount of reading that was done during the week; trips to the library; major events that occurred in the family; etc. As you continue with the question and answer period you should jot down appropriate notes for future reference. This conversation gives you a good idea of how the child did during the previous week and you can pick up some topics that you may be able to use during  upcoming sessions.

When dealing with primary level children in Grades 1 to 3, many of them won't be able to volunteer much information so you will really need to rely upon the parent to give you what you need in order to do an effective job. This may be one of the shortest segments of any instruction session, but it is definitely one of the most important with primary aged children. It also gives the parent confidence in what you are doing and shows that the instructor is professional in his approach. Only a professional would want so much detail and information.

You should never, if at all possible, allow a parent to “skip out” of this part of the session. Even if the parent seems to be in a hurry to get away, always make sure to ask some very pertinent questions and when you come to a problem or concern, go further with the questioning until you fully understand the nature of the difficulty. Besides the fact that as a "Learning Coach" you need this information in order to do your job, parents find that it is a very professional approach and demonstrates to them that you are serious about your job. The more you “dig” for information, the more the parent will be confident about your awareness level about the real issues and challenges facing their child.

After you do this for a couple of sessions, the parent gets into the habit of being prepared for this part of the evening. She then tends to be ready to provide you with all of the information you need. She also tends to become more observant during the week which allows her to be more aware of problems as they come up.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this part of the instruction session. All "Learning Coaches" must make sure to spend time talking to the person who is the key to the child's education development. A child's parent is always going to be the one who has the best interests of her child first and foremost.  A good Learning Coach realizes that if you are going to be successful in helping the child, you must make sure that you address the concerns of the parent.  



Once you have finished talking to the parent and you sit down with the student, spend a few minutes communicating with the student. Go through the process of asking how the week went and talk about anything exciting that happened in the child's life since your last meeting. Let the student bring up topics that are not related to school or tutoring if he offers.

If you are going to be an effective "Learning Coach" you should be “listening carefully” to identify topics that you might want to pursue during the session. If something exciting happened to the student that was non-school related, it may end up being some kind of motivational topic upon which you can focus later on. Whenever necessary, make sure you jot down notes to remind you to deal with certain issues later on. You may want to refer to some of your notes later on in the session or even at future sessions with the child when you have more time.

As you are going through this part of the session you may wish to refer to things that were mentioned by the parent. The child’s parent will not likely be in the vicinity during this part of the session so the child may talk more openly about some of the concerns that were expressed by the parent. Ask specific questions to discover where the main problems and challenges lie from the point of view of your student. This conversation will be establishing the topics that you will be addressing during the course of the evening, so make sure you are thinking about the direction in which you will be going with the instruction. As you identify each different topic that will be dealt with later on in the evening tell the child that you will “take care of this later on”. It will be comforting to the student to know that help will be forthcoming. It will also help you in “preparing” the session and will establish a “game plan” for the remainder of your time with the child that night.

Use your own strategies to get the child to talk to you and allow this part of the session to flow in its own direction. There are many things you will find out during this time that will be useful during the remainder of the session. Always remember that we are trying to tie everything we do to the child’s real-life experiences and interests. You will get a sense of what these interests are during the conversation. This means that there may be situations where you ask the child to show you something in the house to explain what he is talking about. Or you may ask the child to find something that is needed in order to fully understand an issue. The “activity” will help break up the session and it will demonstrate that things are “happening” between you and the child. Just be sure that whatever you are doing is clearly related to the goals and objectives you are attempting to accomplish with the child.

This is also an important opportunity for you to develop the child’s “oral communication skills”. Make sure you ask questions and get the child to “explain” in detail what he/she is sharing with you. While we do not necessarily want your student to recognize what you are doing, anyone observing, such as the child’s parent, should be able to understand that you are developing communication skills during this segment. Get the child to use colourful language to describe what he/she is talking about. Make the child use the full extend of his/her vocabulary to get his/her point across. Help the child develop appropriate ways of talking to you and giving explanations. Even if you know what your student is trying to say, demand that he “actually say it”. This means that you may have to ask the student to repeat things for more clarity.

It is quite possible that this conversation may last 10 or 15 minutes. This is good. Do not rush through it. Oral communication skills are important in the development of literacy and unfortunately, children do not have enough opportunity to express themselves orally, especially not to someone who is outside the classroom or his family.

As you approach the end of your discussion you will simply move right into the next part of the session where you get down to some specific skill development.  



Once you are finished talking to the student, the two of you should make sure everything that will be needed during the evening is available at your work station. This includes notebooks, textbooks, readers, and other supplies that you may end up using. 

You don’t want your session constantly interrupted with the child running to his room to get supplies. This is part of the strategy you will use to develop organizational skills within your student. 

Show the student how important it is to be prepared and organized. Show the student how to arrange his books, writing materials, etc. on the table so that there is plenty of room to work and so that everything he needs can be easily accessed. If you must reorganize binders and notebook pages, this is the time to do it.

Once again, this is a critical part of the tutoring process. Many children have difficulty in school in part because they have poor organizational skills. You may find that you are spending a lot of time doing this in the beginning sessions, but once the child develops these skills things will proceed much more smoothly in the future. 

You should also ask the parent if it is appropriate for you to see where your student works on most evenings. That may be a desk in his bedroom. It is important that the desk area be organized, so you may have to offer suggestions to the student. If you do go into the bedroom, make sure that the parent accompanies you. I think most parents will be pleased to have you explain to their child the importance of keeping a bedroom neat and organized in order to achieve success in school. Coming from the Learning Coach will make this much more relevant to the child than if the parent demands that he clean up his room. This is part of the "academic management program" so in between sessions the parent can refer to "what the tutor asked for" when it comes time to reminding the student to clean up the room.

Organization is something that must be supervised constantly. Therefore, you must take time to make sure that the student is meeting the requirements with respect to keeping everything organized and in its place.



At this point you are ready to begin dealing with the topics and problems that have been addressed during your initial conversations with the parent and student. I am sure that by now you see why it is important for you to have a minimum of 90 minutes per session.

A number of concerns may have been identified. You can begin looking at them one by one and take whatever steps are necessary to provide the proper assistance to your student.

This may mean pulling out notebooks, assignment sheets, making up questions, etc. Deal with the items that have been discussed at the beginning of the session since those are the ones of highest priority at the moment. While you are doing this part of the session you can also continue to reinforce suggestions on notebook organization and neatness in order for your student to see how very important organization is to you.

During this portion of your session you may be dealing with topics and issues that originate from all areas of the curriculum. At this point it doesn’t matter whether you were brought in to work on language arts or math. You will need to turn your attention to matters of importance that were identified as immediate priority by the parent and student during the past week. The child may need help in math, but if the parent indicated that he had problems with a science concept, then you must deal with that matter in the first part of the session. Always make sure to pay heed to what the parent indicates are the problem areas.

Once you have taken care of those issues, you are then ready to switch in to the main area of focus. This means that in the vast majority of cases, you will either be concentrating on language arts or math. 



Once you have dealt with the different topics that are of highest and most immediate priority, you should ask the student to show you his notebooks. 

This means that if you are focusing on math, you will ask to see his math notebooks and assignment pages. If you are dealing with language arts, you will ask to see his language arts notebooks and assignments. If you are working with both math and language arts, you will ask to see the rest of the notebooks he has with him and look at assignments that were done during the previous week. Hopefully these materials will be available. If not, you may be able to ask the child to get an old assignment that was brought home. Some may even be on the fridge.  

Try to have the child get into the habit of bringing all of his notebooks out when you meet, not just the specific subject notebooks. Tell the student that you want to help him in all of his subjects and you may have suggestions that will be helpful. If you have time at the end of the session you can look over the other subject notebooks.

The purpose of this part of the session is for you to get your student to explain what was done during the past week and to demonstrate that he/she understands the work that was completed. Remember that these may be topics and subject matter for which the child had no problems.

Keep in mind that the purpose of doing this is two-fold. First, it gives you a chance to offer suggestions on notebook organization, neatness, corrections, etc. Secondly, you can also look at material that was done incorrectly and review the work to make sure that the child now is able to do the assignments.

ALWAYS REMEMBER that our main goal is to help students become more successful in their current school setting. We want to focus on making sure that the student is able to meet the expectations of the classroom teacher before we go ahead and work on other extra skill-building activities. You will be providing your child with support that will make things much easier in school. This will demonstrate the “relevance” of what you are doing and the main purpose of your being there. That will ensure that the child will be more open to your suggestions and assistance.

You should have a “General Notebook” for use with your student. If it is helpful, you can create some practice questions in the “General Notebook” to reinforce concepts that were covered in class. You don’t need to make the child do 20 questions or anything like that, but make up one question at a time and have the child work on them until the concept is mastered. The General Notebook will be used for all sorts of impromptu purposes that crop up during your sessions. By having the General Notebook available at all times you will have a place where you can record all of the practice work that you do with the child. It will be a handy reverence later on and will also be something that you can show the parents if they wish to see what you were working on during the session. The General Notebook can contain little notes that you make to yourself as reminders for the future.

If your student has his/her books present, then this segment could last 20 minutes or longer by the time you get through everything. Remember that this is a time for you to question your student to make sure that the concepts have been understood and grasped. Just because he understood how to do a question five days ago doesn’t mean that he can do it now. Make him prove that he knows what he is doing.  



Once you have completed reviewing the notebooks and completed assignments, find out if the student has any homework or assignments that must be done during the upcoming week.

You are not to sit there and do the work with the child, but take time to make sure that the child understands what is needed to be done and that he understands how to do the work. You may be able to do a few practice examples to help “teach” the child what he needs to know. The whole purpose here is for you to make sure that the child won’t have to go to his mother or father later on to find out how to do the work. That is something they are hoping the tutor will take care of.

It is possible that your child will not have any homework or long term assignments that need to be looked at. This is fine. On the other hand, there may be times when the child has a major assignment or is having a great deal of difficulty with a homework problem. You will spend whatever time is necessary to deal with these matters. Remember that the purpose of the assistance in this case is to make sure that the child is able to do the work on his/her own after you leave. Give your child the foundation so that he/she can do the work later.  

By the time a student gets to Grade 7 and 8 she will usually have some projects or long-term assignments to work on. There may be times when the child has a major assignment or is having a great deal of difficulty with a homework problem. You will spend whatever time is necessary to deal with these matters. Remember that the purpose of the assistance in this case is to make sure that the child is able to do the work on his/her own after you leave. Give your child the foundation so that he/she can do the work later. It is very possible that there will be some sessions where most of your entire session is spent helping out with the organization and research with a single project. This is fine if you feel it is necessary. 



It is strongly recommended that you ask the parent to join you and the child during the final five or ten minutes of the session. During this time you can briefly discuss some of the main things that you worked on during the session and perhaps show the parent some of the “good work” that the child has done. This will give the student some excellent positive reinforcement and will increase his/her motivational level for subsequent instructional sessions.

At this time you should also explain what you would like the child to do in preparation for the next session. If the child has not come prepared with all of his books, you can ask the parent to make sure that they are brought home from school the next time. You may also ask the parent if she can find out from the teacher what the next topics will be so that you can work on this during the upcoming sessions.

I would suggest that while you are in front of the parent at the end of the session you encourage the child to spend 10 to 20 minutes each evening reading and ask the parent if she would be able to find time to help with the reading. This will establish the “partnership approach” in the eyes of the child who will then see that the parent and the tutor are helping with the development of the desired skills. The child will see that the parent and tutor are working together. During the week when the parent asks the child to do some reading, the parent can simply indicate that this is what the tutor asked for and leave it at that. If the child doesn't do the reading then let him deal with you at your next session. We want your student to volunteer to read on his own without constant nagging and supervision. 

Encouraging the parent to spend time each evening reading to the child or with the child not only does this help build the skills you are trying to develop, it is an excellent habit to get into for a whole lot of reasons. This is especially important for children in the primary and junior grade levels. Consider the little story that follows:

Howard was a a man who thought he was in tune with the times. When his four-year old son David acquired a taste for “The Three Little Pigs” and demanded that his father read it to him night after night, Howard took action. He purchased a child’s easy-to-use tape recorder and read the story onto tape for him.

The next time David asked for the story to be read, Howard switched on the recorder. David was fascinated at the novelty of his father’s voice reading his favorite book from a ‘machine’. The following night when he asked for “Free Li’l Pigs”, Howard went a step further. He showed David how to work the playback on the recorder for himself.

The following evening, when David arrived and pushed the storybook at him, Howard said, “Now, David, you know how to turn on the recorder.” He smiled and said sweetly but insistently, “Yes.” Then he added, “But I can’t sit on its lap.” Needless to say the tape recorder was placed in storage after that.

There are many activities that you can suggest to your parent. Most of these will only take 15 or 20 minutes to complete. Don't overload the student with too much, but just ask for a couple of things to be worked on. The good thing about having something to do to prepare for the next time the tutor comes in is that it keeps the tutor in the mind of the child. The child will then come to look forward to the next meeting with the tutor to show you what he has done. It will give him a sense of accomplishment. It will also give the parent and child some quality time together.

A final thing to keep in mind is that CONSISTENCY is very important in this program. You must try to see your student EVERY WEEK. Once you begin missing weeks, or sessions are cancelled and not rescheduled, the student and the parent soon begin losing interest in the tutoring and will usually decide to terminate or suspend the program.  Your student is your responsibility, so demonstrate your concern by showing the initiative in making sure that you meet on a regular and consistent basis.





If you are focusing on language development, this is one activity that you should do with your child every week. It is also an opportunity for you to get up out of your chairs and move around the house to break up the session.

Ask the parent provide you with a notebook and call it “Vocabulary Building ”.

Get up with your student and ask him to pick out eight to ten different things in the house. They could be anything at all, but try to keep them to “objects” in the beginning.

As your student points out an object, YOU print the word neatly and clearly on a new page in the notebook. Make sure you begin the page with the day and date so that you can keep track of when you used the words. List the words at the top of the page. You will have to print neatly and use lower case letters since that is what children are required to read most of the time. Also, make sure to leave a couple of spaces underneath each word and simply continue printing on that new page and on to the next one if necessary. You only need about 8 or 10 words so you should be able to get everything on one page.

When you have your words written down, return to your work station and ask your student to read the words back to you. Do this several times.

PHONICS FOR PRIMARY STUDENTS: I would suggest that a useful exercise at this time is to break each word down into syllables. This is a good skill to develop in primary grade children. Write the broken up word underneath the main word. Help the child “sound” out the whole word first. This will be easy since it was the child who came up with the word in the first place. Then have the child look underneath the work at the syllables. Show the child how to sound out the syllables so that they sound the same as the original word. You shouldn’t dwell too much on the syllables at this time, but hopefully your student will get the idea that this is how he can “attack” new words – by recalling sounds of similar letter patterns in words for which he knows the pronunciation.

Once you have reviewed all of the words and done the syllable exercise, ask the student to pick out any one of the words in the list. Then the two of you get up and go back to that object together.

When you are back at the object, ask the student to describe the object to you in as many ways as possible. The student may pick out a word such as a “glass” (the glass may have been on the coffee table). What you are looking for now are sentences such as:

            The glass is on the coffee table.

            The glass is made out of plastic.

            The glass is half full of water.

            The glass belongs to my father.

            The glass is hard.

            The glass is cold.

            The glass has a picture of a flower on the side.

Make sure the child describes the glass using complete sentences and make sure that he begins each sentence properly with the name of the object. Whatever the student says, you print on the notebook. Even if you are dealing with a junior level student, you do the printing so that you get this done faster. You may have to go on to the next page for this. Once again, make sure that the student is using complete sentences during this exercise. There can be no slang used here.

When finished describing the glass in as many different ways as possible, the two of you will return to the table where you will then ask the child to read back each of the sentences. Try to have your child do this with as little prompting or assistance as possible. Encourage the child as he is reading and give as much positive reinforcement as possible as the child demonstrates his ability to “read” these sentences.

If you have time, do the same procedure again with another one of the words that were selected.

This exercise helps the student build up a number of different skills. It also allows you to get him to read sentences that contain vocabulary that he has created and that exist in his home. You will be amazed at how well your student remembers the words that you have printed on the page. You can ask the child to practice reading the sentences and words in between sessions with his/her parent. This a great exercise for primary students who are learning to read.

AS AN ASSIGNMENT, ask the child to do the same thing with some of the remaining words during the week. Discuss this with your parent. I would even suggest to the student and the parent that they make a game of it. The student can write the descriptions (following the model of the examples you have done) and then see how many clues his parents need to guess the object. If both parents are in the room they can do it as a contest between the two of them. The person who guesses correctly gets so many points. This is a version of the “I spy with my little eye something that is …..” game. Each time a clue is given the object becomes clearer.

Each week you can review the work that the child has done on the other words to make sure that the vocabulary is appropriate and spelled correctly. If the child did not have time to finish the assignment you can do a couple of more words with him. From time to time you can return to previous pages and ask the child to read the sentences again. This will develop his sight vocabulary.  



This is an activity that will help your student develop creative writing skills.

Have a separate notebook that you entitle “Creative Writing”.

Ask him to select any topic he wants. Once he chooses a topic, (allow him to select anything he is interested in, even if it is the same topic as he selected in the past), put the topic in the middle of the page. You will be doing all of the printing for this exercise.

You will then prompt the child with questions that need to be answered in order to write the story. Ask him where the story will take place; who is going to be in the story; when the story takes place; what is going on at the beginning of the story; what is going to happen during the story (try to get him to come up with a problem that will confront the main characters); how the problem is going to be solved; and how the story is going to end. The two of you will spend time visualizing the story and what the child wants to have happen in the story. Once you have all of the information you need to begin the story you are ready to write the first draft.

For this exercise we are interested in having the child think creatively to develop his story telling skills. Therefore, ask the child to TELL you the story and YOU print the words to the story for the child. You may have to help him with the beginning sentence, but after that try to get the child to give you the story in his own words. You can print the story out on the page beside your “brainstorming” page. Leave spaces in between lines for proofreading and editing and print large and very clearly so that the child will be able to read what you have written.

The story does not have to be very long, but it should have a beginning, middle and ending. Just keep in mind that you are working with a primary grade student. The story does not have to be a masterpiece. As long as it has the basic form of a story and includes some good vocabulary, we will be happy. Stories will vary in length depending on whether your student is in Grade one or Grade three.

When you are finished, have the child “read” the story back to you, making sure to actually read and pronounce all of the words you have printed. You may have to give him a bit of help from time to time, but remind the student that the words were spoken by him to begin with so none of the words will be strange. The child knows how to say the word. He just has to learn how to recognize the word and its parts. You may need to write the word out in syllables and help with the phonics.

This notebook will end up consisting of a series of stories that are written at the child’s “oral vocabulary level”. Usually a child has a much more sophisticated oral vocabulary than a written one, so the story should sound rather good.

Hopefully this will give him the confidence that will improve his “reading vocabulary level” as well.. You will also be allowing him to focus on the creative side of story writing without being handcuffed by the actual writing and word formation. We can take care of writing later. All too often a young child gets “turned off” with creative writing because he has problems writing as quickly as he thinks. His mind is racing, but his hand cannot write the thoughts down fast enough. As a result, the child is forced to “dumb-down” his story so that it more closely matches his handwriting ability. By writing the story for the child, you will be helping him “open up” his creative side and he will “love” writing stories. More importantly, he will be greatly motivated to learn how to “read” his stories and will therefore develop his reading skills at the same time: all because you, the tutor, are writing the words down on paper for the child.  

Keep in mind that "Success Breeds Success". As your student begins to feel better about his own abilities his self-worth will increase and he will begin to feel motivated to improve his learning skills.

While the two of you are reading the story over, discuss any changes that the child may wish to make in order to improve the story. You can prompt him to add more detail and/or description. By doing this you will be showing the child how to proofread and revise his work. It is still important for you to do all of the printing and spelling at this point because our focus is on the actual creation and development of the story, not on handwriting and spelling. Remember that it is important to get the student to suggest the words that will be used. We want everything in this story to consist of words that are part of your student’s vocabulary. All you are doing is facilitating putting the idea on paper.

Once you and the student are satisfied that you have finished the revision, you can begin the process of writing out the good copy. You should have another notebook called MY STORIES. Before you begin, the two of you should decide on a good title for the story. When you are satisfied with the title, begin on a new page and put the title across the top. Leave about half a page and then begin writing out the good copy of the story.

Ask the child to read the rough draft to you and you will print the good copy in the notebook. You may have to help the child with the reading, but it is important that the child once again realize that this is his story. You are doing the writing merely to get it done faster. As you continue writing the good copy, make sure you only write on the bottom half of each page. The top half will be left for the student to draw and colour appropriate pictures to go along with what is being written on each page. The drawing of the pictures is to be done during the week. You can ask the parent to make sure that this is done as an assignment. You should also ask the parent to spend time with the child practicing reading the story a few times during the week. Make sure you tell your student that you will want to hear him read his story to you next session.

During subsequent weeks you should pick out one or more of the previous stories and have the child read them back to you. Also, ask the parents to ask their child to read the stories to them from time to time. Make sure that the child “reads” the exact words. These are words that the child selected, so we want him to learn how to recognize these words. Since he came up with the words to begin with he will already have the phonics down pat.

Over time this story book will become something that the child will be proud of and will want to return from time to time again to read. These stories are his own creation at his own level of interest. You will also be able to see the progression as he improves his skills over time. This may become the child’s favourite “reader” and you will be amazed at the vocabulary level of the stories. It may be at a much higher level than any of the readers that the child is bringing in from school.  



Give your student a notebook and title it, “Brainstorming”.

During this segment of the session you will be spending time doing some planning for a short essay on a topic of interest for your student. In order to come up with a topic that will generate a lot of discussion and ideas, you may have to rely on your notes or on things that you talked about during your initial conversation with your student at the beginning of the session. Your student may have talked to you about something that he seemed very interested in or showed some kind of passion. It may be appropriate for you to suggest that as the topic of the day for brainstorming.

Depending on the age and maturity level of your student, you may be able to generate some interesting topics. If your student is younger, for example, the topic might be “hockey”. Older children can be asked to be more specific and perhaps come up with a topics like “Hockey violence”; “Girls playing hockey”; Hockey practices”; etc.

That is why you, as the tutor, will be in a good position to suggest the topic of the day based on some of the comments that were made by your student at the beginning of the session. Try to suggest a topic that will generate a lot of ideas from your student.

The first time you do this you will have to explain the purpose of going through the “brainstorming” exercise, but chances are that your student will be very familiar with this strategy. It is something that is used frequently in school.

Put the topic in the middle of a new page and put a circle around it. Please make sure that you have two full pages facing each other when the notebook is open. The brainstorming will be on the left hand page.

Then you encourage your student come up with as many different things about the topic as possible. Every time the student suggests something, YOU print it on the page in order to speed up the process. You want to create excitement and stimulate ideas at this time. From time to time you can ask questions that may generate more ideas and information items that can be branched off on the page.

When you have a pretty good number of ideas about your topic, go to the new page on the right hand side and put the topic at the top of the page as the title.  

Then discuss the opening sentence with your student. The two of you should examine the brainstorming page and agree on the most effective and appropriate opening sentence to begin the essay. Try to get the student to express an opinion in the opening sentence. For example, if the topic is “hockey”, an appropriate sentence might be any of the following:

            “Hockey is the best sport in the world.”

            “I think hockey should be played all year long.”

            “Hockey is a dangerous sport.”

            “Boys and girls should not play on the same teams.”

YOU write down the opening sentence underneath the title.

Then you and your student should look back at the brainstorming page and decide what information should be used in the essay. You need the best ideas to “back up” your opening statement so select the ones that will give the most impact. Tell your student that at this time it is necessary to pick out the best ideas because you only need to include three or four of those ideas in your essay. While you are doing this you will be able to show your student how to combine some of the ideas into one.

On the right hand page, underneath the opening sentence, YOU write out the ideas that you and your student decide should be included in the essay. Once again, we are focusing on the “process” and I do not want the child to get distracted because of handwriting difficulties. You are still the assistant.

After you have listed the important ideas underneath the opening sentence, you and your student should discuss the “order” of importance of the ideas. Decide on which one should be mentioned first, second, etc.

The next thing you should do is ask your student to present the essay to you in “oral form”. Tell the student to dictate the essay to you, only this time, DO NOT write down what he says. Instead, help him formulate effective arguments and statements. Ask pointed questions so that he verbalizes what he would write. When he comes to the end, YOU PRINT out his closing sentence at the bottom of the page.

AS AN ASSIGNMENT, ask your student to write the first draft of the essay in another note book called “My Opinions”. This is to be done before the next session. I would like you to have your student do this in another notebook so that he can have the convenience of “looking” at his brainstorming notes while he is writing up his essay in sentence format. It is much easier than having to continually turn back and forth. This again will remove any distraction or challenge that is not part of what we are trying to accomplish.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Have the student do the “first draft” on the left hand side of two facing pages. Tell the student that the draft must be written so that it is no longer than one page. The reason for this is that you want him to be able to write the “good copy” on the right hand side of the page after the two of you have revised it.

The following week you will examine the “draft” with your student. Have him read the draft to you and then the two of you can examine it to see where improvements might be in order. Do the actual editing and revisions with your student so that he can experience the process. When you are finished, ASSIGN the writing of the “Good Copy” for the following week.

PLEASE NOTE: This is an exercise that your student will LOVE, if you have the right topics. It is also something that can be done in a relatively short period of time and does not require a lot of extra work to do as an assignment. However, it will give you an excellent idea about the progress being made by your child since when he is doing the written copies he will have to use his own writing and vocabulary skills.

ALSO NOTE that even if you are in the process of revising and editing a first draft, you can still do another brainstorming activity with a different topic. It will take two full weeks to complete the good copy of one essay, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have several “brainstorming” preparations “on the burner”. Your student can do first drafts as he has time in between sessions. Your main objective is to show him how to do the brainstorming to come up with ideas to back up his opinions and then how to determine the most effective ideas to use in his final essay. The writing of the essay is the easiest step if the brainstorming is done well.  



This will be an on-going assignment that you and your student will work on over several weeks.

You will do the first part in the “Brainstorming” notebook. If your student does not have a "Brainstorming" notebook yet, get him one.

First of all, spend some time discussing a topic for a story with your student. This should be a topic that is of particular interest to the student. The whole exercise depends on the student’s passion for the topic. During this process YOU should be doing all of the writing in order to help move the procedure along.

Once you come to an agreement on a topic open up the Brainstorming Notebook so that you have two empty pages facing each other. Create a “brainstorming” chart by putting a circle around the middle of the two-page spread (right along the staple).

You will now have “four” quarters on the two-page spread, each consisting of a half page of the notebook.

At the top of the left hand page put the title: OPENING SITUATION. Half way down the page put the title RISING ACTION. At the top of the right hand page put the title: CLIMAX. Half way down the right hand page put the title: CLOSING SITUATION.















Next, go through the process of discussing what is going to be included in each of the four main segments of the story. Talk about how the story is going to open up; who the characters are; what they are doing; where the story takes place; etc. Make sure that the student understands that for any story it is important at the beginning to set the stage for what is to come. You can then discuss the nature of the problem that is going to be faced by the characters in the opening situation. Explain to your student that the problem must set things in motion and that the story is about the characters facing the challenge presented by the problem and coming up with a solution.

Then you can discuss some of the events that the characters are going to go through during the story as they deal with their problems. All of these actions should be leading up to an eventual solution that will take place during the climax.

Talk about how the climax must be the most exciting part of the story and discuss what will happen. Make sure you jot everything down in point form, neatly enough so that your student can make out your writing later on.

Once you have discussed the solution to the problem, then the two of you will decide how the story will end. Make sure that the student understands that the story must leave the characters in some sort of situation that is similar in nature to the opening, but that they should be changed in some way because of their experiences. You can show the student that the closing situation could easily be the beginning of another story if another problem is introduced, but make sure that the student understands that if the story is to come to an end, there is really no place to create any more problems. This is a “Lived Happily Ever After” kind of conclusion we are looking for.

Once you have finished the “brainstorming” the two of you can go back over the work to see if there is anything else that should be added. If you have time, you can ask the student to tell you the story “orally”. As your student does this he may come up with other things that should be added to the outline of the story. Kids like telling stories, so this should be a fun exercise. At the same time, you will be able to help the student understand the basic elements of stories and how the events connect.

AS AN ASSIGNMENT, you can ask your student to begin writing up the first draft of the story in another notebook called “MY STORIES”. Tell the student to do as much work as he can during the session, but that it is not necessary to have it finished by the next time you meet.

The next time you meet, take a look at what the student has done so far with the first draft. Have the student read back what has been written and the two of you will go through the revision process. Edit the story and add anything that you and your student feel will make the story better.

Week after week the two of you should continue with this process. If the student doesn’t have time to do anything with the story during the week, then you should have the student give you the story “orally” again, either in full or in part. You want to keep up the interest in the story.

Eventually the first draft will be completed to the satisfaction of both of you and your student can read it back to you.

AT THIS POINT, you and your student can decide what you should do next with the story. It is always nice to have the story written out in good with a colourful picture on each page. However, our purpose was to develop the process. It was not to produce a good copy. If the child wishes to work on the good copy, then suggest that the good copy be done on loose-leaf paper. Suggest that the title of the story be done as part of a large picture on a “full page” that will be the cover page. Then have the story written on one side of each subsequent page. Tell the student that each page should have half of the page for pictures and half of the page for writing. The page can contain one picture or it may contain two or more smaller pictures placed among the text. We want the finished product to look wonderful and colourful. Tell your student that he can take as long as he wants to complete this good copy. You should ask to see it each week so that you can provide positive reinforcement for his work. When it is finished, the story can be put in a duotang folder or in plastic sheets to protect the pages.

IN THE MEANTIME, you will begin working on the brainstorming and rough draft of another story as time permits.


READING COMPREHENSION - Junior & Intermediate Levels

Quite often students in Grades four to eight are asked to read stories from a reader at school and answer a series of comprehension questions. Discuss this with your student and ask to see some previous assignments. Look at the questions and examine the kinds of answers that the student has been writing.

If you see that there is some room for growth, ask the student to get his reader and practice doing some answers over again in the General Notebook. If the student does not have a reader, then perhaps you may have one with you that you brought from home, or you can just ask the student to get any book in the house for you.

This is a skill that students must master if they are to be successful in future language arts classes. Show the student how to find the answer and how to structure the answer so that the question is “included” in the answer.

For example, if the question is: “Why did the mother lock the back door?”, make your student understand that the answer must begin in the following way: “The mother locked the back door…”. Show the student how to make answers sound more refined and sophisticated.

You may want to incorporate this kind of practice into most of your sessions. You don’t have to do too many answers, but at least have a variety of different kinds of questions. Help the student formulate his answers and allow HIM to write the answer in the notebook. This will slow him down and allow him to thing about his answer. You should reinforce the importance of thinking out the answer before actually writing it on paper.  

In order to help your student develop reading comprehension skills you should ask the child to bring you one of his favourite books. 

It should be a story book either from school or one that his parents may have purchased for him in the past. He may also have selected one from the library. Get your student in the habit of bringing in a library book, etc. so that there will always be one on hand. If you have a forgetful child, you may want to bring in several books from home yourself so that you have some available.

Ask your student to pick his favourite part, or to just pick out a page in the book. YOU will read the page to him orally. Then you can ask him a couple of questions about what you have just read to see how well he listened to you. You can judge your time, but it is expected that you will only read to the child for a few minutes. Depending on the grade level and the book selected, you may be reading anywhere from half a page to several pages. This is a reading comprehension exercise, so you want to make the child focus on your reading for at least two or three minutes. Make sure you ask comprehension-type questions about what you have read and take time to discuss the answers. We want the child to eventually come up with the most appropriate answer.

Then you should reverse the process and ask your student to read a different page to you. This time you can help him with pronunciation and vocabulary when necessary. Once he is finished reading, ask him a few questions that will demonstrate his comprehension level of what he has just read. Some students concentrate so much on pronouncing the words when reading orally hat they have trouble understanding what they have read. You want to give your student practice at not only reading orally, but understanding what he is reading while doing it.

Finally, have the student pick out a third page and this time both of you read the page silently. Then once again, you ask him some comprehension questions. This will give you an idea of his ability to concentrate when reading silently. You have to give him time to read the full page, so don’t rush him. You may be surprised at how well he understands the story when reading silently as compared to when he reads orally. I think, however, he will demonstrate the highest level of concentration when answering questions posed after you have read to him orally.

While doing all of this, try to search for opportunities to get into discussion about implications or inferences that can be made from the story. See if you can do some higher level analysis of the story. Don’t just ask “What colour was the girl’s dress?” Rather, ask, “Why did the boy walk behind the wagon instead of in front of it?” You will be developing comprehension skills, but you will also be improving the student’s oral communication skills at the same time.  




Mathematics has been referred to as a way of making sense of the world.

Young children begin school with a natural curiosity and interest in mathematics. They come to school with an understanding of simple mathematical concepts and problem-solving strategies that they have discovered through explorations of the world around them during their early years of life.

Unfortunately, despite all of the good work that is being done by remarkable teachers in elementary and secondary classrooms across Ontario, between the time they enter school as a child and the time they take their place in society as adults, for many people the "sense-making" of mathematics is lost.

And yet, in our information-and technology-based society, especially the one in which our children will live, individuals must be able to think critically about complex issues adapt to the many new situations that come their way, solve a wide variety of problems at work and at home, and then be able to communicate the results effectively to others around them.

There is no question, therefore, that mathematics is and will continue to become an even more powerful learning tool. 

As children identify the relationship between mathematical concepts and everyday situations, they develop the ability to apply mathematics to every part of their lives and to other curriculum areas as well. 

It has been said that if you are good in math, you will be good in all subjects and indeed in all activities and initiatives that you undertake in life.

Therefore, as a parent, it should give you some cause for concern if your son or daughter is having difficulties in mathematics while he / she is still in the early years of formal education.

While it is true that every year in a child's education is important, it is my opinion as a professional educator that the most critical years tend to be the junior years - namely, grades 4 through 6.

The junior years are an important time of transition and growth in a child's mathematical thinking. 

Indeed, it is an important time of transition and growth in the life of a child period!

There is an obvious and natural shifting to more abstract reasoning as junior students begin to make connections between different concepts and develop methods that can be applied to new situations. They begin to find more than one method of solving problems and they develop the ability to effectively communicate their findings to others.

For some students, the junior years are a time of growing mathematical confidence, interest and sophistication in the subject.

However, for others, it is a time of growing confusion and a time when they abandon their natural ability to think mathematically and to make sense of mathematical situations. Tragically , for these students, mathematics becomes a set of rules to be memorized and followed, without creativity or sense.

If your child is in one of the junior grades ( Grade 4 through 6 ) and he/she is becoming confused and disenchanted with mathematics, you should be a very concerned parent. I should be a very concerned parent.

This is a very critical period in your child's education and if he / she begins to fall behind at this time, or begins to develop a negative attitude towards mathematics at this young age level, the repercussions are likely to follow for the rest of his / her life.

There are two very serious concerns every parent should have at this time:

  1. While most children are able to demonstrate the ability to handle the basic skills by the end of Grade 6, many of them do not see much sense in what they are doing and have difficulty applying their knowledge in problem-solving situations. The difficulties in this area begin during the junior years and become more pronounced during the next four years in grades 7 to 10.
  2. As students move through the school system there seems to be a negative shift in attitude towards mathematics. This negative shift does not affect all students, but as you will see below, the number is significant and your own child may be affected. Once again, if you notice the early signs, there may be something you can do as a parent to overcome the problems before it is too late. One of your options is to arrange to have a private tutor "coach" your child through this stage of his/her life.

Making Sense of Mathematical Procedures

A study in 1993 found that two-thirds of Kindergarten and Grade 1 students enrolled in mathematics programs that focused on problem solving were able to solve the following problem:

  • If a class of 19 children is going to the zoo and each car can take 5 children, how many cars are needed?

When asked whether all the cars were full, they said: "No, there is an extra seat in one car." or "Yes, because I'm going too."

In other words, they were making sense of the question.

On the other hand....

Grade 8 students enrolled in non-problem-solving programs were asked the same type of question, with larger numbers:

  • An army bus holds 36 soldiers. If 1,128 soldiers are being bused to their training site, how many buses are needed?

Two-thirds of the 45,000 grade 8 students tested performed the long division correctly. However, some wrote that "31, remainder 12" buses were needed, or just 31, disregarding the remainder.

Only one-quarter of the total group gave the correct answer of 32 buses.

THAT'S RIGHT....Only 25% of the total group of grade 8 students came up with the correct answer. Yet, 67% of the grade 1 students were able to answer the same type of problem.

THE CONCLUSION: For the Grade 8 students, "mathematics" meant carrying out procedures without making sense of what they were doing.

As noted, most of the Grade 8 students could determine that they had to divide 1,128 by 36, and they were also able to come up with the correct answer to the division question, but most of those students were unable to make enough sense of their work to determine that if there were 12 soldiers left over, you just couldn't leave them behind or squeeze them into the other buses,  you would need an extra bus to take those 12, even if the bus was over half empty.

Developing A Negative Attitude Towards Mathematics

The Ontario provincial assessment for students at the Grade 6 level in 2003 showed that 36% of the students achieved a mark that was below the provincial standards. While this was not very encouraging, there was another indicator that was even more of a concern.

Three years prior to the particular 2003 Grade 6 test, namely in the year 2000, those very same students who took the Grade 6 test were asked to indicate whether or not they liked mathematics. When they were In Grade 3, 68% of the boys and 60% of the girls stated that they liked math. These were good numbers.

Three years later, by the end of Grade 6, however, only 55% of the boys and 40% of the girls reported liking math.

While there has been significant improvement in the teaching of mathematics in Ontario schools, it is also painfully obvious that for many boys and girls, mathematics has become a subject that they learn to fear and dislike as they move through the grades, especially through the Junior Grades of grades 4 through 6. 

Unfortunately, as children become less confident mathematically, they learn to stop thinking mathematically, and come to rely on memorizing procedures to get the correct answers. Mathematics becomes a guessing game which makes very little sense.

What is even more disconcerting from the statistics is that by the end of Grade 6 as many as 60% of the girls no longer like math.

Furthermore, almost half of the boys do not like math.

These statistics are cause for alarm and should set off warning bells and whistles for all parents.

If as many as half of the children have developed a negative attitude towards math by the end of Grade 6, there is a good chance that your child may be one of them.

And if that is the case, the following section will be even more alarming.

Implications For Parents

Without a doubt, the junior years have a significant impact on whether students see themselves as capable of mathematics as well as on whether they view mathematics as an interesting subject worth pursuing. 

Furthermore, a child's attitude towards mathematics and capacity for mathematics are closely linked. 

Moreover, studies have found that one's attitude towards mathematics is developed early and is fairly stable throughout life. This is worth repeating.

One's attitude towards mathematics is developed early and is fairly stable throughout life.

In other words, if a child develops a negative attitude towards mathematics in the junior years, he/she is likely to maintain this negative attitude for the rest of his/her life, right into adulthood. Parents who themselves have a negative attitude towards mathematics likely developed this attitude while they were in elementary school.

Conversely, if a child develops a positive attitude towards mathematics in the junior years, he/she is likely to maintain this attitude for the rest of his/her life and will continue use mathematics to make sense out of all areas of life right into adulthood..

If your young child is beginning to struggle with mathematics, or if he/she is demonstrating evidence of a shift towards a negative attitude towards mathematics, then this is something you must take seriously as a parent. You do not want your child to develop a negative attitude towards mathematics during the junior years knowing that this attitude will be extremely hard to change as the years go on. And with so much emphasis on information and technology today, anyone who has difficulty with math will face many serious challenges when they try to qualify for a satisfying career.

DO NOT! I repeat, DO NOT simply disregard this negative attitude towards mathematics as something that your child will grow out of. Studies have clearly shown that negative attitudes grow and become more entrenched as a child ages and progresses through their formal education years. A child who hates mathematics at the end of grade 6 is not likely to begin loving it by the end of grade 8 unless something drastic changes his/her attitude. That is why The Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic places such profound importance on providing local children with effective tutoring instruction in mathematics at the elementary and secondary levels.

It has been found that instruction that is focused on problem-solving; providing students with a range of solution methods; and helping students develop effective methods of communicating  ideas often results in a more positive attitude towards mathematics, a less narrow view of the subject, and a stronger understanding of mathematics.

That is why The Learning Clinic has adopted a problem-solving focus to the development of effective programs of instruction for students in its care. We not only ensure that our students understand the basic skills of mathematics, we also work closely with each of our students to provide them with the necessary coaching that will help them apply these skills to solve problems which will help make sense of the world around them. 

Above all, we work on instilling a positive attitude in all of our students because we know that attitude is critical in determining the level of success a child will experience in all of life's endeavours.

By the time a child gets into Grade 7, he / she has usually established a level of understanding of mathematics that is pretty much indicative of what one can expect from this point on. In other words, if your child has had a difficult time with mathematics during the junior grades, he / she will likely find it increasingly difficult during the intermediate years during Grades 7 through 10.

This doesn't mean it is the end of the world and as a parent you should just give up. 

On the contrary! 

As a parent it is your responsibility to do whatever you can to provide your child with every opportunity to learn. It is still not too late to turn things around. It just might take a bit longer to overcome the accumulated effect of the Junior years.

In its introductory remarks, the Expert Panel on Student Success In Ontario: Mathematical Literacy, Grades 7 - 12, states,

 "Mathematics is a fundamental human endeavour that empowers individuals to describe, analyze, and understand the world in which we live. Mathematics is embedded in the modern workplace and in everyday life. We must embrace the fact that every adult and every child CAN DO mathematics."

As a private sector professional Learning Coach, it is my belief in the ability of my students to become mathematically literate that helps develop the self-confidence they need to succeed. I truly believe that self-confidence is a key ingredient in learning and success in mathematics. Without self-confidence, you will not succeed in mathematics. When my students see that I have confidence in their abilities, they too begin to develop self-confidence and take the necessary steps to succeed in achieving their objectives.

Mathematical literacy implies that one has the ability to estimate; interpret data; solve day-to-day problems; reason in numerical, graphical, and geometric situations; and communicate using mathematics. It implies the confidence to apply one's knowledge base in the practical world.

One look at the workplace is enough to prove that mathematics is the cornerstone of a growing number of industries and careers. Problem solving, the processing of information, and effective communication of this information are becoming routine job requirements. Mathematics arises in everyday situations both inside and outside the workplace. It is the key to coping with a changing society. 

Without mathematical literacy, the adult of tomorrow will be lost. It is just as important as reading and writing and in fact is so entwined with today's way of life that we cannot even begin to imagine how we will be able to comprehend the information that surrounds us without a basic understanding of mathematical ideas.

Implications for Parents: Everyone Is Capable of Becoming Mathematically Literate

If, despite all of the best efforts of your child's teachers during the junior years, your son or daughter is still struggling with mathematics in grades 7 through 10, it is not too late to provide him / her with private tutoring that is based upon the philosophy inherent in the "learning coach approach" which has been adopted by The Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic. 

A child who is underachieving in mathematics may just need some outside assistance to develop the self-confidence that is needed to achieve a higher degree of success. The knowledge of having the support and guidance of a "personal professional mathematics coach" may be enough to enable your son or daughter to become mathematically literate and then apply those skills and abilities to other areas of curriculum and indeed life itself.

The Expert Panel on Student Success In Ontario: Mathematical Literacy, Grades 7 - 12 makes it very clear, and we at The Learning Clinic agree: "Everyone is capable of becoming mathematically literate. The path towards this social goal begins at home and in the classroom, supported by the family and the community. All students can learn mathematics - with enough support, resources and time - and we must ensure that they do!



In order to do an effective job as a "Learning Coach" with respect to mathematics and problem-solving, it is important to be aware of some fundamental information about the program.

First of all, the mathematics curriculum is organized into strands consisting of the five major areas of knowledge and skills in which students are expected to achieve desired outcomes based on provincial standards.

The five strands are:

            Number sense and Numeration


            Geometry and Spatial Sense

            Patterning and Algebra

            Data Management and Probability

Each term two or three of these strands are covered in class, therefore what you will be doing in math will largely be determined by which strand is being presented by your student’s teacher at the time.

As children are being taught the knowledge and skills corresponding to each of the five strands, they are engaged in seven mathematical processes which are designed to help students acquire and apply the knowledge and skills presented in the five strands.

Those seven mathematical processes include:

            Problem solving

            Reasoning and proving


            Selecting tools and computational strategies




The parent of your student may feel that he is below grade level in math or is having trouble with math in general. The parent may feel that their child needs some help improving basic math computation skills and will often focus only on the improvement of these basic skills. My feeling is that in many cases the problem is one of confidence. Children develop a low level of self-confidence when it comes to math because of difficulties they encounter in the early grades. If we can increase their confidence level many of their computational problems disappear. 

As you see from the above, “selecting tools and computational strategies” is only one of the seven mathematical processes. The others are all just as important, but when a child is having difficulty remembering his basic computation skills, parents and teachers tend to “over-focus” on practicing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. The use of flash cards and oral drills is fine once in a while, but a steady diet of this can be a real turn off for most students.

The analogy I use is that of “spelling”. Some people feel that the best way to improve spelling is to give a child a list of twenty words and have the child memorize the spelling of the words. Then you give a test at the end of the week and if the child spells the words correctly in a quiz, you conclude that he is good in spelling. The problem is that when he must use those very same words in a paragraph a few days later he spells the words incorrectly because he has not learned how to use the words in context, or he is unsure of how to spell the word because he memorized the words on the spelling list in a different order.

For example, a child may remember how to add in the following order: 4 + 4 = 8; 4 + 5 = 9; 4 + 6 = 10. But when you give him a problem with 4 + 5, he is unsure of the answer because he only remembers how to do the work as part of a pattern. He must know what comes before and after in order to find the answer. As a teacher I witnessed this often at the beginning of my career. I would give a list of twenty words and then give the dictation in the same order as the words appeared on the list. Once I started mixing up the words, some children were confused because they had learned to “associate” each word with the words that came before and after.

Another example that comes to mind is with the game of hockey. You can practice your puck handling skills by skating around pylons during practice sessions. You can be very good at pylon drills. But in a game the opposing players are not pylons. They actually move and get in your way. When that happens, some of the best pylon puck handlers are lost and their confidence fades quickly. As a hockey coach I always found it best to do all puck handling drills on the open ice or around players who actually moved in practice. In this way I was able to show players strategies that were more realistic and would be useful in real game situations.

The same approach is necessary for math, especially at the primary level. That is why I am providing you with three simple, basic activities that I feel should be part of most, if not all, of your sessions with primary level students who need help with math.

In order to do the following, you can find numerous examples of seatwork on the internet and the parent may have a textbook or workbooks that come from school. If you want to use manipulatives, there are bound to be plenty of things you can use in the house (spoons, cups, grapes, etc.). When you need manipulatives it is always best to “grab” something that is unusual and that is part of the immediate environment so that it stands out in the mind of the child. Showing your student how to subtract by taking the items out of the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter will have far more impact than using popsicle sticks. Just make sure to ask the parent for permission to move around the house or to use some of these items to aid your instruction.  



Using the child’s school notebook, textbook, activity sheets, etc. “make up” some practice questions that are similar in nature to those that are being covered in class. I would suggest that you have a separate notebook called “Math Practice” where you can do this. You may also find it convenient to bring in some of your own assignments that you have prepared in advance from the internet or from other workbooks that you have at your home. These may be on paper. Just try to keep the paper in the notebook or in a separate file folder so that you have access to them later on for reference purposes.

You will find that there are countless web sites that contain free math activities. The Ministry of Education is also a good site for finding information about the curriculum for each grade level.

My own personal philosophy with respect to the development of math skills is that it is better for the instructor to work “with” the student “while” the student is doing the actual question. Allow your student to go through the “thinking process” himself and to do everything possible to come up with the answer on his own with as little assistance as possible. You may prod him and ask pointed questions to help him “discover the solution”, but try to make him do the work himself while you watch and support him. This allows you to show him how and where to write the solution on the page so that it is organized effectively. Some children always put their work in the middle of the page and skip lines instead of starting at the margin and working from left to right. Organization is extremely important when it comes to math in the later grades, so if you can develop some good work habits right from a young age it will certainly help the child later on.

If the child begins to go in the wrong direction, or if he makes an error and it appears as if he is not going to recognize that mistake on his own, you MUST step in immediately and help him become aware of the error. DO NOT allow him to continue after making a mistake or he will do all of this work and come up with the wrong answer. Mathematics is a very complex discipline for many people. For others, it is very easy. Nevertheless, if your student gets into the habit of doing something incorrectly, it becomes extremely difficult to break him of the habit. Therefore, it is best to prevent the “habit” from starting right from the beginning. It is also easy for a child to lose self-confidence when it comes to math, so we want to prevent this from happening.

Once your student completes one question, you can create another and go through the process again. You can even ask the student to help “make up” his own questions. Young children like doing this. They like to create a question and then solve it themselves. Because you are going along one question at a time, you will be able to determine “when” to switch to a different topic or concept. If the student is doing well and appears to have grasped the concept you are working on, then you can introduce another type of question and go through the process together again.

On occasion you may want to demonstrate how to do the first question for the student so that he has a model from which to follow. It may be a good idea to put some kind of “border” around those examples so that the child can refer to them in the future. This will help her identify the questions that have been done by the “tutor” if she has to refer to the book in between sessions. It is also something that the parent will appreciate when trying to help with homework in between sessions.

While you are going through this procedure you will be able to help out with basic computational skills that need to be practiced and provide your student with tips and strategies. You may be able to help out with other concepts that seem to have been lagging in your student. By doing one question at a time, you will be in a position where you may be doing a “measurement” question and then discover that your student is having trouble remembering how to do simple addition. You can then be able to go down below a bit on the page and practice some of the particular addition concepts that are blocking her progress. Once you do that instruction you can go back and complete the measurement question. This “on-the-spot” spontaneous teaching allows you to focus on specific skills that need to be addressed immediately. It is also motivational for the student in that she sees very clearly the relationship between the two concepts or skills.

To use the hockey coaching analysis (and remember you can insert any sport you wish into this example) if I am doing shooting practice with my team and I see that a player has trouble with his backhand shot, I will stop and give him some practice along the boards with backhand drills. Once he had the “hang of it”, we can go back to the original drill which may have actually been practicing breakaways.

This “coaching approach” is invaluable if you are providing assistance in the area of mathematics. It is much better than having your student do a page of questions and then going back and correcting the work when he is finished. By doing one question at a time and by addressing difficulties as they come up, you will be “filling the gaps” much more effectively and efficiently and the child will be instantly reinforced for his successes. This does a great deal to build up confidence in your student, and when it comes to math, confidence is half the battle.

This “Math Practice” notebook and/or file folder will become one of your most important tools if you are helping your student with math. Use it whenever you need to practice a concept or drill. And show it to your parent so that the parent is aware of what you have been doing.  



Most students need some practice with math computation facts. These are the fundamentals of mathematics. You must know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide (although multiplication and division are often done in later grades). If you don’t have the ability to recall basic math facts, you will always have difficulty with math. Therefore, there should be some element of practice in this area every session. Just words of caution, however, PLEASE don’t overdo it and go wild with flash cards. You can do the flash cards for five or ten minutes, but the vast majority of math is done with paper and pencil. Kids need to see the questions on a page and they need to see the questions in the context of the concepts that are being taught in class.

I would suggest that you have your student begin a new notebook for math practice. Call it BASIC TRAINING. Tell the student that you want him to fill one page each week in between sessions practicing his/her basic math facts. The level of difficulty will depend on the grade level. Make sure that the parent is aware of this request. It is not a lot of work to do, but it will help.

With this assignment tell the student that he/she is to make up the question and put in the correct answer. Don’t have yourself or the parent make up the questions: have the student make them up. Have the student put in the correct answer as well. This will give the student practice in thinking about both sides of the problem: the question and the answer. For example, you will have a whole page of things such as: 2 x 8 = 16; 4 x 9 = 36; 8 + 16 + 10 = 34. The important thing is that all of the questions on the page involve basic math computation and everything is to be done mentally. There is to be no written solution of the questions. This means that the student will be doing facts that he/she already knows or is comfortable with. That is why you must keep a watchful eye on the level of difficulty of the questions.

DO THE FIRST PAGE with the student. Just sit there and tell the student to write down questions for which he knows the answer. If he begins to follow a pattern, then allow him to continue. For example he may begin to write 1 + 1 = 2; 1 + 2 = 3; 1 + 3 = 4. That is perfectly fine. Let him continue. Make sure that he spaces his work out in a neat and organized fashion so that the numbers are being written in a normal size. We want him to have space to put a lot of questions on one page.  

The point of this exercise is that we want the child to demonstrate the math facts that he already knows. Over time, his questions will become more and more advanced as he discovers patterns and as he expands his confidence. The level of difficulty will progress naturally with no need to be forced. In fact, his growth may be much faster than if you were controlling the level of difficulty.

Some time during your weekly session you can take out the BASIC TRAINING notebook and check the answers with the student. If there are any errors, go over them with the student and put a final mark at the top of the page when finished.

Once you have completed correcting the page that has already been completed, ask the student to do the next page right then and there in front of you. You will watch as he puts the questions and answers in place. If he makes an error, stop him and ask him to reconsider. Help him discover the correct answer and then allow him to continue (make some sort of mark on the question he got wrong for future reference). When he is finished this page, mark it and put 100% at the top. (It should be perfect because you are doing it with him).

The reason I want you to do a page with the child is in case the child forgets to do the page in between your session. At least by doing one page during the session you will be giving him some practice and you will be reminding him to do one for the next time you meet.

YOU MUST BE PATIENT with this activity. You will be tempted to put the questions down yourself and then have the child do the answers. However, it is far more important for the child to have his “brain connect the relationship” between the numbers he is writing down and the answer. Math is not a fill in the blanks discipline. Let him actually write down one plus one equals two. DON’T WORRY! His work will increase in difficulty from week to week. Children want to demonstrate their abilities and they naturally want to show off their skills. In fact, your student may even end up doing questions that are much more difficult than what you would expect.  



It is my professional opinion and observation during a 28-year teaching career at the elementary level that problem solving is central to learning mathematics. By learning to solve problems, and by learning mathematical concepts through problem solving, students are given numerous opportunities to connect mathematical ideas and to develop conceptual understanding. 

Most experts and specialists agree with the premise that problem solving must form the basis of effective mathematics programs and should be the mainstay of mathematical instruction. Once a student understands the basic computational rules and skills, problem solving becomes the tool by which they connect the knowledge they gain in mathematics classes to the real world in which they live. Once this connection is made, a student becomes a master of the mathematics process and begins to make sense of the world in which he/she lives.

It is obvious that many students in the Junior and Intermediate grades have a good understanding of mathematical computational patterns. In other words, they have little real trouble when it comes to adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing on simple quizzes or worksheets. Understandably, up until Grade 3, most mathematics programs in school focus on the mastery of basic computational skills. However, there are many students in the primary grades who have problems with basic computations because they have not made the connection between math and the real world. Math does not make sense to them. That is what we are trying to address with the problem-solving strategies that I strongly recommend for the tutors of the Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic.

The first thing you will do is give your student a new notebook and call it PROBLEM SOLVING.

At this point in your weekly session you and your student should “make up” several problems that involve the concepts being taught in class. Try to relate the problem to an area of high interest for the student. For example, if the student is interested in hockey, try to create hockey problems that deal with the desired topics. Together the two of you can go through the creative process of thinking up the problem and YOU write it down in the notebook to save time. Show the student how to check to see that the problem has enough information so that a solution is possible. Once you’ve written up the problem, solve it together underneath. Once again, show the student how to organize the answer. Show the student the process of thinking through the steps and then finish off the problem with a concluding sentence to summarize the finding. You may want to write out the conclusion to save time if the child is young. This will become a “sample” that he/she can go back to for future reference.

It is recommended that you get up from the table and go around the house to solve problems. This can take on the format of a detective exercise. For example, if you are doing measurement, the two of you may go into a room and you may say, “I wonder how many pencil cases we can fit on the coffee table? Or I wonder how far it is across the room?” Try to get the student to look at life from a “mathematics point of view”. Have the child recognize the wide use of numbers everywhere he looks. Make sure he sees the “connections” between real life and mathematics.

As you are working on the problems you will be able to do some impromptu instruction on computational skills. This will once again show the child the connection between the different areas of math. It will help your student understand the importance of practicing in his Basic Training notebook.

As an assignment, you may ask the student to create three new problems in preparation for the next session. Once again, make sure that the parent understands the nature of this assignment. The process of having the child make up the problem is developing the thinking process around the identification of the elements of a problem. All that will remain is the actual mechanical solution. Encourage the student to consider the problem a bit like a short story. Usually, if a child can make up the problem he is also thinking of how to solve the problem. He will become very skilled at ensuring that the problem has all of the necessary information so that it can be solved. Then, when he is given another problem to solve he will be more capable of identifying the information in the problem that must be used in the solution.

During the next session take the problems that were made by the student and together the two of you can solve them. If the student forgets to do the assignment, then make up the problems together during the session. The first thing you will check on is whether or not the student has included everything needed to solve the problem.



It is my professional opinion and observation during my 28 years of teaching at the elementary level that problem solving is central to learning mathematics. 

I repeat!

Problem solving is central to learning mathematics.

By learning to solve problems, and by learning through problem solving, students are given numerous opportunities to connect mathematical ideas and to develop conceptual understanding. 

Most experts and specialists agree with the premise that problem solving must form the basis of effective mathematics programs and should be the mainstay of mathematical instruction.

Once a student understands the basic computational rules and skills, problem solving becomes the tool by which they connect the knowledge they gain in mathematics classes to the real world in which they live. Once this connection is made, a student becomes a master of the mathematics process and begins to make sense of the world in which he/she lives.

It is obvious that many students in the Junior and Intermediate grades have a good understanding of mathematical numeric concepts. In other words, they have little real trouble when it comes to adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing on simple quizzes or worksheets. Understandably, up until Grade 3, most mathematics programs in school focus on the mastery of basic computational skills. 

Once a child enters the Junior grades, the focus shifts to more of a problem-solving approach and this, unfortunately, is where the school system begins to lose a lot of students. From Grades 4 to 6 a child either latches on to mathematics or flounders and gets lost in a world of frustration.

It is not surprising that most of the high achieving students in elementary grades are those who have little trouble with mathematics. Mathematics helps to build confidence and helps students make sense of all other subject areas. On the other hand, students who are just getting by, or who are falling behind, almost always have difficulty with mathematics. For them, nothing makes sense and it shows in everything they do.

Parents sometimes have trouble understanding how their child can be doing so well in mathematics up until the end of Grade 3 and then watch the difficulties mount as the child progresses through the junior grades. There are many theories for this difficulty, but they always stem from the fact that despite the best efforts of teachers, mathematics is not going to make much sense to a great number of students within the confines of modern day classrooms. The connection between mathematics and real life cannot be made inside the four walls of a classroom. You must move beyond the school and help students make the connections so that they can begin to see how mathematics makes sense of life itself. This is precisely why it is so important for parents to take on a "coaching" role at home.


The Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic uses a five-step problem solving model. This is the same five-step model that can be applied not only to the study of mathematics, but also to any other area of life in which one finds him/herself.  This is why we contend that if you have a solid foundation in mathematics, you can do just about anything in life.

The five steps are:

            1.         Understand the problem

            2.         Gather all of the available information

            3.         Consider your alternatives

            4.         Solve the problem

            5.         Communicate the results

  • The first thing you must do is make sure you understand the problem. If necessary, restate the problem in your own words so that it is clear in your mind.
  • There is absolutely no point in trying to solve any problem until you clearly understand what it is that must be solved. This may not be as simple as it sounds. Sometimes problems can be a lot more complex than they first appear, so it is critical that you look at the details from all angles before going on.
  • Once you understand the problem, you must identify all of the information you are given as well as all of the information that you may need to solve the problem.
  • In most cases you will be given all of the information you need, but there are times when you must draw from outside sources to gather additional information.  
  • When dealing with some problems you may find that you need to do some additional research to come up with the information you need. There are even some problems that simply cannot be solved because you are missing some critical information.
  • The next thing you do is consider all of the possible strategies for solving the problem. 
  • This is where you draw upon your previous experiences and the knowledge you already have. 
  • You then select the strategy you feel will work best based on the information you have to work with. This is an important consideration, especially in real-life situations. Often times your solution to a problem might have been different had you been aware of different information. Nevertheless, you can only work with what you've got, so you do the best you can with the information you have at hand and decide on the best option.
  • At this point you go ahead and perform the necessary calculations and actions based on the chosen strategy.  
  • You will use any tools and manipulatives that are necessary, draw diagrams, use words and/or symbols to track your progress. 
  • The Learning Clinic process emphasizes the importance of being able to go back and follow your own work when finished. Therefore, you must record EVERYTHING. I advise that you should write down all of your steps and calculations so that you can go back and check them from time to time.
  • Once you have come up with your solution, you must check the answer to see if it is reasonable and then even review the method used. For example, once you come up with the answer, you may discover that there was a better strategy that could have been used to arrive at the same answer. Keep this in mind the next time you are faced with a similar problem.
  • All that is left now is for you to communicate your results appropriately. 
  • Communication is simply the process of expressing mathematical ideas orally, visually, and in writing, using numbers, symbols, pictures, graphs, diagrams, and words. Mathematics has been called a "language" by many people. It is a way of communicating with others.
  • Communication is an essential process in the learning of mathematics, for what good is solving a problem is you are not able to effectively communicate the results to your intended audience. 
  • In many cases, you require highly refined skills in writing and speaking in order to help your audience understand the mathematical relationship you have just determined. 


Learning Style Has A Lot To Do With The Success You Will
Have With Your Students

One of the biggest challenges facing students today is that their personal learning style may not be in sync with the teaching styles being employed in educational institutions in which they are enrolled. Further aggravating the situation is that the learning style of parents may not be the same as the learning style of their children, thus causing additional frustration.

Therefore, part of your role as a “Personal Learning Coach” is to determine the learning style that works best with your particular student.


One of the simplest ways of determining your own likely learning style is to ask yourself what comes to mind when you hear the word "dog".

If you see a picture of a dog in your mind's eye or if you see the letters of the word, you are probably a "visual learner".

If you hear the bark of a dog, you are probably an auditory learner.

If you feel the fur of a dog, you are probably a kinesthetic learner.


Our learning style is the way we respond to environmental, social, emotional and physical stimuli to understand and process new information that is presented to us. We all use each of the three learning styles from time to time, but each of us tends to have one style that is more prevalent.

When it comes to helping your children, it is important that you not only have a clear understanding of your own dominant learning style, but that you also know the prevalent learning style of your child.


To oversimplify the matter, visual learners learn by watching. When presented with new ideas they recall images they have from the past and try to relate these previous images to the new concepts. They actually form a picture in their head about the ways things look. It is estimated that about 40% of students fall into this category.

For example, in order for a visual learner to develop new vocabulary, he would have to both hear the word and see the work in written form at the same time. When you read stories to a child who is a visual learner, you should allow the child to follow the story as you read it out loud so that he/she sees the words that you are reading. This way he/she will have a better chance of remembering the new vocabulary.


Auditory learners tend to spell words phonetically but they have trouble reading because they do not visualize well. These students learn by listening and they remember facts when they are presented in some entertaining form. Auditory learners like being "read to" but do not like to follow along. They also learn a lot from watching television. Auditory learners love using email because they can get away with spelling phonetically. They are also very developed in terms of oral presentation skills, but have trouble writing and reading.


Kinesthetic learners are what we call "hands-on learners". They like to learn through manipulation and are very successful in the arts, mechanics and the trades. It is estimated that up to 50% of all students fall into this category and have trouble learning in a traditional school setting.


Studies have shown that almost 80% of instructional delivery in secondary and post-secondary settings is auditory in nature, however only 10% of all students are auditory learners.

This means that in order for a child to find success in school it is often necessary to show him/her how to strengthen his auditory skills or how to review the original information in a different manner at home in order to understand. It means that the student may benefit from the services of a personal tutor who is more able to incorporate a more suitable teaching style in order to reinforce concepts taught in class.

As a “Personal Learning Coach” you have an enormous opportunity to influence your student. This Program Guide is full of suggestions that allow you to utilize whatever learning style is most appropriate for your student. The suggestions also incorporate all three learning styles into the process at various points in time. This means that you should have little difficulty “getting through” to your student and really making a difference.  


Always Remember That We Are not Teaching Reading , Writing and Arithmetic…We Are Teaching CHILDREN!

   You are a “Professional Learning Coach”. You will be working with individual students who will remember you, not because of your superior academic accomplishments or strengths, but rather as someone who actually “believes in them”.  

   I have a story I want to share with you at this time to reinforce this point. It is a story that had a profound impact on my own personal philosophy of teaching and is a fundamental principle behind everything that is done through the Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic.


   As Mrs. Thompson stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

   Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant.

   It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take  delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X's and then putting a big "F" at the top of his papers.

   At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child's past records and she put Teddy's off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Teddy's first grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners... he is a joy to be around."

   His second grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle."

   His third grade teacher wrote, "His mother's death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn't show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren't taken."

   Teddy's fourth grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school. He doesn't have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class."

   By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy's.  His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag.

   Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume.

   But she stifled the children's laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist.

  Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, "Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to." After the children left, she cried for at least an hour.


   Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her "teacher's pets."

   Many years later they met again. By this time Teddy had gone on to medical school and had become a successful doctor.  They hugged each other for a long while, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson's ear, "Thank you Mrs. Thompson for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference."

   Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, "Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn't know how to teach until I met you."

   During my own 28 years as a classroom teacher I came across a lot of “Teddy Stoddards”. My only hope is that they remember me as someone who believed in them and showed them that they could make a difference.

   That is the best you can hope for as a “Personal Learning Coach”.  


Changing Your Focus Can Produce Remarkable Results. Always Look For New Ways of Overcoming Challenges With Your Students

Have you ever come up against a problem that you just couldn’t solve? 

Where it felt like you were simply banging your head against a brick wall - over and over and over again - without making any “headway”? 

Sure you have. 

And can you remember how you finally came up with a solution? You most likely took a step back and approached the problem from a different angle, with a new focus which enabled you to find a simple solution which was there all along. 

Consider the lesson of the moth which was discovered in Joe Lake ’s garage one day. 

As Joe was preparing to travel to his office, he opened the garage door and startled a large moth which immediately tried to escape by flying to the circle-topped window of the door. It tried frantically to exit through the invisible wall of closed glass.

Joe tried raising the garage door higher in hopes of aiding its escape. That caused it to fly higher and become entangled in a spider web. 

Fearful that it would remain entangled in the web, Joe took a long-handled broom to assist him in helping the moth escape the tangled threads. 

The moth then returned to furiously pumping his wings and banging into the glass, which was, in his perspective, the pathway of escape, but instead, the moth remained captive. By simply turning his focus to one side, he would have easily exited his prison. Rather, due to his intent on one direction, he remained confined, captive and perhaps doomed.


People are quite the same as the moth in this story. Too often we come across individuals who are so sure of them self that they refuse to change their focus. They would rather continue in one direction without changing focus or giving consideration to other alternatives. How often we have witnessed failure, when a simple change of direction would have resulted in success.

It is very much like the old farmer who had plowed around a large rock in one of his fields for years. He had broken several plowshares and a cultivator on it and had grown rather morbid about the old rock. After breaking another plowshare one day, and remembering all the trouble the rock had caused him through the years, he finally decided to do something about it. When he put the crowbar under the rock, he was surprised to discover that it was only about six inches thick and that he could break it up easily with a sledgehammer. As he was carting the pieces away he had to smile, remembering all the trouble that the rock had caused him over the years and how easy it would have been to get rid of it sooner.

So the next time you find yourself facing a “brick wall” with your student, before you spend too much time banging your head needlessly against it, remember the moth banging into the glass. Remember the farmer who finally decided to put a crowbar under the rock and discovered a simple solution. 

Try to change directions and refocus on the problem. By approaching the problem from a different direction and viewpoint, the solution may be easier than you thought. This is a very important thing for a “Personal Learning Coach” to remember. If your student is having trouble with a particular concept, change your focus and you will be surprised with the results.  



The Purpose of Life Is To Matter; To Count; To Stand for something; To Have It Make Some Difference That We Lived At All......Leo Rosten

Make This Your Mission As A Personal Learning Coach

Leo Rosten's quotation is a remarkable statement.

Isn’t that what living life to the fullest is all about? Isn’t it all about discovery; finding hidden talents and interests; experiencing all there is about life so that you can make wise decisions as you grow and develop into a mature, responsible individual?

I want to share with you with one of my favourite stories of all time. It is called The Star Thrower, and is written by Loren Eiseley. Her story has been told and retold so many times that I am sure it would be next to impossible to find the original version, but the story goes something like this:

Once upon a time there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to walk along the beach and enjoy the waves crashing upon the rocks. Early one morning he was walking along the shore by himself. As he looked down the deserted beach, he saw a human figure in the distance. As he got closer to the stranger, he saw that it was a young teenage boy. The boy was reaching down to the sand, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As the old man got closer, he yelled out, "Good morning, young fellow. What are you doing?"

The teenager paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish back in the ocean."

"Why on earth are you doing that?" asked the old man.

The boy replied, "Because the sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in they’ll die."

The old man looked at the teenager in disbelief and said, "But the beach goes on for miles and miles and there are starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference."

The young boy listened politely, then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, "It made a difference for that one." And then the very wise young boy continued on his way down the beach, bending down and throwing starfish after starfish back into the ocean.

Whenever I feel like I am up against tremendous odds and that my efforts are hopeless in the larger scheme of things, I think about The Starfish Thrower. I would advise every student, parent and teacher to make a copy of this story and keep it somewhere handy so that every time you wonder about your worthiness you can read it.

We have all been gifted with the ability to make a difference. It is just like Leo Rosten stated in the title to this article: "The purpose of life is to matter; to count; to stand for something; to have it make some difference that we lived at all".

It is my personal belief that there is something very special in each and every one of us. It is also my belief that it is our responsibility as human beings to reach out to the people who come into our life and make a difference by sharing those special gifts. And the wonderful thing is that we can all accomplish this with very little effort.

You may not be able to change the world, and you may not be able to make a difference to everyone, but you certainly can make a difference to most of the people you meet.

The young boy in the story understood this very important meaning of life. He represents all young persons who have the courage to experience all there is to encounter along their journey of life. They are not afraid to reach out and try new things.

The old man in the story had become skeptical from his experiences with others. He had adopted the philosophy that if he cannot change the world, there is no use in even trying. He would sit back and do nothing to save the starfish. 

What he learned from the young boy on the beach is that even if the odds are against you and it seems as if there is little you can do, what little you can get done will definitely make some difference. It doesn’t matter how long your journey may be, you can still only get there one step at a time.

Don’t miss out on a golden opportunity to make it a real difference that you have lived at all. Live your life to the fullest and be the best you can be.

As a “Personal Learning Coach” you have been given a huge opportunity to make a real difference in the life of your student. You may not be able to make a difference to all students in the world, but you certainly can make a difference in the life of each individual student that you touch. Make the most of your opportunities.  


As a Professional Learning Coach with 28 years of teaching experience in the public elementary school system, I have found that the "problem-based learning approach" is the most effective method of helping students acquire effective skills in the area of mathematics and language arts, and indeed in most other subject areas as well.

When this approach is used, the teacher acts as a "facilitator" or "learning coach" , presenting you with problems that you must work through. It requires the student to become an active participant in the learning process. The "learning coach" is responsible for providing you with the information you need as well as for creating an environment which is conducive to learning.

Regardless of the subject area in which your child is registered at the Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic, the problem-based learning approach will be the underlying philosophy that will be used by his/her Professional Learning Coach.  This approach will guarantee the learning that takes place will have a long-term impact on the future of your child.


With problem-based learning, you are given opportunities to:

  • examine and try out what you already know about a particular subject area;
  • discover for yourself what you need to learn to improve in that area;
  • develop your people skills for achieving higher performance;
  • improve your communication skills;
  • state and defend your positions with evidence and sound argument;
  • become more flexible in processing information and meeting obligations;
  • practice skills that you will need in real life situations.


The problem-solving model is one that can be used anywhere, at any time, in any sort of situation.

  1. Understand the problem:
    The first thing you learn to do when faced with a challenge is to determine the exact nature of the problem. This investigative stage is critical to the entire process. You can't even begin to consider a solution until you know what the problem is in the first place.
  2. Collect all of the information:
    In any problem-solving situation you are given some information or details, and you also bring some knowledge of your own to the situation. Therefore, once you understand the nature of the problem, and you are very clear on the desired outcome you are seeking, you must make a list of all of the information you have at hand that can be used to come up with a solution. This is a discovery process that must be done before proceeding further. It will also allow you to identify information that is pertinent to the situation at hand and to disregard that which is going to be of no use to you at this time.
  3. Consider the alternatives
    You must then consider all of the possible alternatives that are available and try to select the one that appears to be the best option. This may mean that you need more information than what you were originally given to solve the problem. If so, then you must do some research to gather knowledge and data that is necessary for the solution.
  4. Solve the problem
    You should then be in a position where you can go ahead and come up with the best solution possible based on the information you are given, the resources available and your own skills.
  5. Communication
    Once you have arrived at the solution to the original problem, you must determine the best method for communicating your conclusion to your target audience. Even if you do not have an outside audience at this time, you still must record the conclusion for your own future reference. In other words, you must communicate with yourself. You may have to defend your findings, so be sure to draw upon any convincing evidence that may be needed.
The above five-step process can be used in any situation in which you find yourself. It is all about understanding your problem; becoming aware of all of the information with which you are provided or you already know; considering all of your alternatives and options and then selecting what you think is the best one; solving the problem; and then communicating your findings or solution.

Apply this to every challenge which comes your way and life will be a whole lot more pleasant.

This is the mathematical process which many young children are missing out on and which is needed in order to help them make sense out of the world in which they find themselves.


The Learning Clinic is The Private Practice of
Robert Kirwan, B.A. (Math), M.A. (Education), OCT
4456 Noel Crescent, Val Therese, ON P3P 1S8
Phone: (705) 969-7215    Email:

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