The Truth about Chain Learning Centers

Having been on the tutoring scene in NYC for over ten years, I’ve seen all the curricula, been exposed to all the methods, and used all the workbooks. I’ve also seen many kids confused, frustrated, and scared by math. As such, I’ve seen parents searching for any solution to help their children.

The Promise

Many parents turn to chain learning centers. These outfits promise academic improvement.

They tell parents that there will be “no more tears”, and for some students, this is the case. Likely, those students just needed some extra practice.

However, for students who are far behind or routinely struggle with homework, chain centers probably aren’t the best fit. Let me explain why.

The Reality

At a chain learning center:

  • Students plug away on worksheets made by someone not working there.
  • Students are given one initial assessment. Based on those answers, a computer program tells someone there which worksheet pages to print.
  • Students do not follow a plan for which concepts to work on. They simply choose a worksheet from their pile.
  • An instructor sits near your child. This does not mean the instructor is instructing.

Here’s a scenario I saw many times:

A child got a wrong answer. The instructor told the child the right answer. On the next question, the child’s answer was wrong. Again, the instructor told the child the correct answer.

Picture a child adding `3/8 + 1/8` and writing `4/16`. In the scenario I just described, the instructor would say, “It’s `4/8`. Don’t change the denominator when you add.”

Does the child understand why? We don’t know. Do children tend to forget math rules when they don’t understand concepts? Yes.

The instructor hasn’t paused to ask what underlying skill is missing that’s hindering this child. The instructor hasn’t created a few more problems to let the student try on his or her own.

But now the page is done and you are told your child worked on adding fractions.

Effectiveness and Observation

As we know, simply showing children how to solve a problem isn’t effective.

In addition, evaluating work after it has been done, as centers do on assessments, does not tell the whole story. Looking at a series of answers to addition problems doesn’t tell me if the child had to count on his or her fingers. Seeing answers to multiplication problems doesn’t let me know if a child actually understands how multiplication by `10`, `100`, and `1000` are related.

Unless I’m watching as the child works, I don’t know how they are approaching concepts.

Here is what is more beneficial: an educator watching a student work through problems, determining which skills are lacking, creating work specifically for that student, demonstrating algorithms, allowing the student work time, and repeating the process, in a sequential manner, for each concept to be assessed.

It’s not as easy as simply printing worksheets because the computer said skill 5.2 needed work.

Personal Attention

This level of attention can obviously be achieved through one-on-one tutoring, but if that isn’t an option for you, small group instruction is also beneficial.

Whenever I tutor one-on-one, there is always time when I have to step back and let the student try the work without any input from me. If I am working with two or three students, I can show student B something while student A is working. Since I am sitting with both students, I can still monitor how student A is working.

I can only keep this level of attention when working with a maximum of three or four students.

Whatever option you choose, you want an instructor who is responsive. A good instructor should be able to tell you what your child is working on and why.

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Elizabeth Campbell

Elizabeth Campbell

Liz has a B.A. in Mathematics and has been tutoring and teaching math in New York City since 2005, working with students as young as four, as experienced as thirty-somethings, and at every age in between. Having tutored students at private, charter, and public schools, she is familiar with a host of math curricula.
She has also taught high school math and has prepared students for a variety of standardized tests, including the ISEE, SHSAT, Regents, Common Core, and SAT. Because of her experience across age and grade levels, she knows how concepts learned in earlier grades connect to what students will need to know in later ones.
Elizabeth Campbell

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