Last year, in what might be considered the third year of the pandemic, LEARN offered over 36,000 tutorial sessions to students in the English community of Quebec. LEARN, a non-profit educational organization mandated to serve the educational needs of the English community, has been providing online tutorials for over ten years to students at both the elementary and secondary school levels. Initially, the program was more oriented to homework support. However, over time, we recognized that we needed to be more focused on remediation and overall support in the learning process. Students opt for tutorials in various subject domains and can remain with the same tutor for the entire school year so that a relationship between tutor and student can be forged. The 30-minute sessions have proven so successful that we have experienced an annual growth rate of 25% over the last three years, and this year we expect we will exceed 42,000 sessions.
In the course of offering these afternoon and evening tutorials, which are provided by teachers from every region of the province, we have witnessed a growing interest from students with a variety of special needs ranging from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The problem, however, was how to address these needs in an online environment. While there is resident expertise within LEARN when it comes to online pedagogy, we recognized that many of our online tutors, who teach during the day and tutor later for LEARN, do not have the skills required to deal with some of the special needs of the students.
LEARN decided to partner with the Montreal Centre for Learning Disabilities to train our tutors and develop strategies that would allow them to be more effective with designated ASD and ADHD students during the tutorials. We first needed to determine if our tutors would be interested in receiving the training and in which specific areas they wished to receive this training. We sent out a survey with 4 questions:
- Would you be able to participate in online PD sessions to support tutoring students with learning disabilities?
- What specific learning challenges would you like to learn more about in order to support your tutoring students?
- What time in the week would work best for you for the PD sessions?
- Why are you interested in this training program?
The most encouraging part of the exercise was to see the interest expressed by a fair percentage of our tutors, that is, 37 out of 150. Given the numerous demands placed on our teachers these days, having roughly 25% of the tutors respond to the survey left everyone within the organization feeling quite positive about the outlook for this service. The chart below provides an overview of the learning challenges the teachers wished to have professional development for.
It was decided to start with Speech Language Disorders with a focus on elementary school students. The tutors preferred to take the training sessions on Saturday mornings and to start with a five-week program.
The interest from the tutors for this training stems from a desire to better serve the needs of the students and to personalize the service. Tutors have repeatedly told us that the tutoring sessions allow them to get to know students better than in their regular classes where they may see 150 students a day and where there is little opportunity to develop the relationships they know to be essential. It is exciting to see such passion and dedication from the tutors, and we have little doubt that our students will continue to benefit from this added layer of personalization and support for their learning.