Many people wonder if online tutoring for dyslexia can be as beneficial as in-person tutoring. It’s a question I have had as well. This is my story about why my tutoring business is online rather than in person. I am a person who is against children having very much screen time at all. But yet now I am teaching reading online. Is this contradictory? Does it make me a big hypocrite? Read on to find out my reasons.
Two years ago now I was preparing to begin a master's degree in literacy specializing in dyslexia. It was a program that I had been keeping in the back of my mind for almost 15 years. I realized I was unprepared to teach reading when my daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia. This made me mad. Why had I not been taught these things in my teacher preparation courses? I attended the International Dyslexia Association’s annual conference, Reading in the Rockies, every year. I was trying to learn more. I began to realize that my story was common. Most teachers did not learn anything about dyslexia in their teacher preparation courses. It was at Reading in the Rockies that I met an interesting group of teachers. They were taking a training course to become Certified Academic Language Therapists (CALT). I had never heard of Academic Language Therapists. But as I listened to them I became convinced that they were taking a very comprehensive training. Possibly the best training there was. I wished that I had that training. But the thought of taking it at that time seemed overwhelming to me. It was expensive too and I was trying to live on one income and stay debt-free. Also by that time I had invested in the Barton Reading and Spelling System. I was finally experiencing success with my daughter's reading. So, I just kept the information about the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA) in the back of my mind.
After my children were both at community college it was my turn to think about what I wanted to do. I spent 2 years substituting in local schools at all levels (PreK-high-school) and thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. The whole time that degree to become a Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT) was in my mind. I knew that the thing I had loved most was working one-on-one with students and teaching reading. I had tutored reading on and off ever since college. I wanted to do that again. But this time I wanted to know everything that I could know about how to teach struggling readers. I finally decided to go for it. I would get a master’s degree and become an Academic Language Therapist. The classes began in June 2020. I’m sure you already know that my classes ended up being online. Before this, I think I had been on zoom once. It was quite the experience of learning to do everything online. I would say that my learning curve was higher for the technology piece than for the reading classes.
After the summer classes, I needed to begin my supervised practicum. I needed to find a student to be my practicum student and begin teaching what I was learning. I was trying to figure out where I would find a practicum student. I wondered if I could successfully start a tutoring business in my small town. I doubted that there were enough people living nearby to support such a business. Then I found a group of online tutors. I put an ad on Facebook. I was thinking that I could either have them come to my house or if they lived far away I could do my tutoring online. I decided to pray about it and see what happened.
My first student lived on the east coast. He became my practicum student, and I began working on my supervised practicum. I mailed all the physical materials to my student. At first, I was trying to work with him as if he were in person. I had purchased a big whiteboard and set up a room in my house for tutoring. I was trying to use those things even though we were on zoom. That was not ideal. Then I learned that the curriculum came in an online version and purchased that.
Things were going smoothly online. As time went on, I learned more ways to do online tutoring more effectively. I had some other students that I was meeting at a school, but I still hoped to get some students to come to my house. I advertised again saying that I would do either online or in-person. This time I got a student that would come to my house.
The curriculum that I learned during my practicum is the same curriculum used at Children’s Hospital. It is a very good, well-researched curriculum. But it is for beginning readers. It can also be very beneficial to older readers but I did not think it would be the right thing to use for this new student. I had to spend quite a bit of time preparing something different to use with him. And then that very week when he was to come to my house for the first time our well broke. We had no water. We ended up having to drill a new well and we had no running water for 3 months. I had a student and his mother coming to my house and my well was broken. If they needed to use the bathroom, they would have to flush using a 5-gallon bucket. They could not wash their hands in the sink. And it was during a pandemic. I felt I should clean my house extra well since I had a student coming and this was harder with no running water. You can imagine I was pretty stressed. It seemed like this one student was taking a huge amount of my time. After a few weeks, this student started playing soccer after school. His mom told me they didn’t have time to drive a half-hour to my house and then drive back for soccer practice. She asked if they could come online. I was relieved. I realized that it would be so much more convenient for both of us. So, this was the final thing that made me decide, at least for now, I was going to be online doing this reading therapy.
Here is a picture of the well being drilled at my house. The well drillers finally got to us about 3 months after our well had quit working.
I am still a person who believes children should be outside running and playing and doing chores. I believe they should read physical books that they can hold in their hands. I think they should play with physical toys like Legos and not video games. In fact, I am anti-video games. I am aware that research shows that children are negatively affected by too much screen time. But I do believe that the reading therapy that I am doing is completely different than regular screen time. I send physical materials in the mail to all my students. I am interacting with them in real-time. And there are so many advantages to doing this online. One of the main advantages is that most people do not live where they have access to someone with this training. Doing this online makes me accessible to you wherever you may live.
I am currently writing a research paper comparing online and in-person reading therapy. Stay tuned because I plan to share the findings of this research paper in the coming months.