Free Learning Resources# Why Math Tutoring Doesn't Help

September 7, 2021

*By Lillie Therieau *

Many parents think that simply hiring a math tutor will help their students struggling in math. However, we often find that tutoring just perpetuates the same issues your child has been having in class.

Math tutors often operate under the same philosophy and strategies that math teachers do. They have the same goals and are working toward them in the same ways. If your student isn’t learning well in class, a math tutor might present the same barriers to learning. It’s better to mix it up and introduce a new learning strategy to break your student out of their learning block.

Math tutors, just like math teachers, are trying to get your child to a better test score or more correct answers. They’re there to help your student figure out how to get more right answers.

However, that’s not what we should be focusing on.

Without an existing grasp of concepts and an understanding of abstract math ideas, any correct answers will be hollow. Your student might be learning how to memorize multiplication tables or easy math shortcuts from their tutor, but they aren’t getting the fundamentals.

So when they move on to the next lesson or unit in class, they’ll fall behind again. A math tutor can help your student appear to be understanding what’s going on in class, but they’re actually just paving over the gaps after the fact where they should have been learning the concepts.

So your student isn’t doing well in math class. They’ve asked you for more help, or maybe the teacher has let you know that your child is falling behind. You’re not quite sure what to do, so you turn to a math tutor. After all, that’s probably what your parents did, or what you’ve seen people do in movies and television shows.

Your student will go into math tutoring looking for illumination, answers to their questions, and guidance. What they’ll find, unfortunately, is all too often a rehash of the same way their teacher was trying to convey the information.

This feels incredibly frustrating for a struggling student. If you aren’t getting something one way, doing it the same way won’t help anything. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome just doesn’t make sense. Your student instinctively knows this, and it might cause them to shut down or react negatively to the tutoring.

They’ll try even harder to fit their square peg in the round hole, trying to force themselves to solve the same problems they don’t understand. It can all lead to burnout.

When a student burns out, they stop trying. They’ve become so frustrated with the process that they no longer want to put themselves out there and give it a try. Many people think burnout only affects adults, but the same psychological effects can occur in younger children as well!

However, there’s another, even more important reason that math tutoring doesn’t work for students struggling with math.

Students are capable of understanding math. Every one of us has the capacity to understand abstract mathematical concepts and apply them to new contexts. It is possible! So why doesn’t it feel like it sometimes?

Many of us have been taught to have math anxiety, in fact, over 50% of Americans report being anxious and feeling negative about math. It’s hard not to pass this on to our children, and even teachers are sometimes guilty of it. Sometimes, we can make our kids feel like math is impossible, even if we don’t mean to pass that message along.

A student who is struggling in math risks internalizing that message and taking it with them for the rest of their math education journey. It’s important to show students that they can thrive in math class and are capable of working hard to raise their grades.

However, math tutoring isn’t a great way to do this. Math tutors can often over-explain and end up telling students the answers. They seem like the ultimate authority in math and students can feel intimidated.

Math tutoring can reinforce two negative messages. One: the student will never be as skilled at math. Two: that they shouldn’t try. After all, the math tutor is getting paid to give them the right answers!

These messages aren’t empowering. They don’t give a student the confidence to believe in their abilities and learn from their mistakes.

Without being empowered and assured that they can do the math, students will continue to battle math anxiety!

Alright, math tutoring isn’t an effective tool for helping a struggling student catch up in math class. What’s the alternative?

A platform like Elephant Learning provides an adaptive experience that learns with your student, evaluating their conceptual grasp of ideas before leveling them up to harder concepts.

Elephant Learning is all about a firm grasp of the concepts. We know that students who have this deeper understanding will do better long-term and be able to keep up as more layers of complexity are added.

A strong foundation is necessary to build a sturdy house, and the same is true when it comes to learning math. If students never learn fundamental concepts, they can’t be expected to build on them. It’d be like trying to build a house on a swamp!

Plus, Elephant Learning empowers your student. There’s no losing or negativity in our neutral platform. If a student gets a question wrong, they simply get brought back to make sure they understand the concept that underlies the question. They then work forward again, surpassing the mistake and learning from it.

Unlike math tutoring, Elephant Learning allows your student to steer the ship of their own success. They’ll become empowered by their obvious growth and capability, and shed their anxiety around math.

Elephant Learning is a powerful tool that combines adaptive algorithms and an evidence-based approach to math education through conceptual understanding. It’s exactly what a student struggling in math needs to succeed.

Skip the tutor and try Elephant Learning instead!