Monthly Archives: September 2015

Element #5 of Highly Effective Tutorial: Regular Assessment and Progress Monitoring

Over the past few months, we’ve been discussing what we call the “7 Key Elements to Effective Tutorial” to break down the uniting themes among our programs, provide a road map to providing a successful tutorial program, and generate a conversation among experts and beginners alike on how effective programs work. Those elements are:

  1. High Quality Oversight
  2. Professionalization of Tutors
  3. 1:1 or 1:2 Ratios
  4. Balanced Collaboration and Autonomy
  5. Regular Assessment and Progress Monitoring
  6. Tutors for All (not Some)
  7. Leveraged Subsidies for Service

This month, we’ll be discussing Element #5: Regular Assessment and Progress Monitoring, and why these are so important.

91dbee0d-26d4-42ed-bd02-7a3af8296aac At an early Tutors for All planning meeting, erstwhile Match School Dean of Students (and current Assistant Principal of Central Queens Academy) Glenn Liebeck shared his vision of assessment in tutorial programs: they should be frequent, they should be regular, and they should be a big deal.

Think about The Biggest Loser on TV, he said.  Everyone knows when they’re going to be weighed in, and everyone knows how they do on the scales. The result is a level of excitement, accountability, and investment in results that is absent in everyday life, let alone school.

While Tutors for All never went all in on the publicity front — NBC didn’t offer us the airtime — we have been informed by and always believed in Glenn’s vision.

What does that mean in practice? First, that we start our tutorial programs with an assessment, the “Show What you Know.” We do leave time for relationship building, clear articulation of expectations, and other areas of importance for effective instruction.  However, we are up front with tutors and kids that tests happen, that tests matter, and that they will have multiple opportunities to get get better at these tests over the course of the a program.

Second, we give the assessment regularly, about once every 4 or 5 tutorial sessions.   This may seem like a lot; what kind of gains could realistically be expected after three or four hours of instruction?  The latest research on testing, however, shows that sitting down and being assessed has instructive as well as evaluative value.  The process of taking a test requires and reinforces certain skills: recollection, connection, and application — that “stick” long after the assessment is over.  Up to point, the more students take tests, the more they apply what they’re learning, the more they learn.

Third, we identify and celebrate growth as it happens, in as close to real time as possible.  Take that second assessment, for example.  While most students won’t have achieved big gains after three or four tutorial sessions, invariably a few will.  Identifying and celebrating those students makes a huge difference for the level of investment for the tutors and the students moving forward.

Making the Show What You Know central, frequent, and important plays a big role in how we run our programs and why they are successful.  At the same time, it’s not the only assessment that happens in Tutors for All programs.

We assess our tutors through observation of their sessions with students.  Our tutors assess us, giving us feedback as to how to better structure and administer programs. Finally, our students assess us, using criteria that were developed through years of talking to kids and learning what is really appreciated.   In all of these areas, the frequency and regularity of the monitoring is what makes the difference.


Tutor Spotlight: Super-Recruiter Melinda Pigeon

Melinda, a second year pre-med student at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, has been a tutor with us since fall 2014. In that short time, she’s recruited six new tutors to our ranks – the most referrals ever accomplished by one person! We asked her to tell us more about how she got involved and her passion for student progress.


How did you first find out about Tutors for All?

I found out about Tutors for All last year during my freshman year, when I was looking for work study jobs to apply for. I love kids and have always been good at math so it seemed like the perfect way to spend my time.

What made you want to come back and serve with Tutors for All again?

Tutors for All became something that I looked forward to each week. I loved watching my student progress each week. Not only did my student seem to be understanding more, I noticed that she was growing more and more confident with herself. My second semester with Tutors for All I was a lead tutor. This was a great opportunity as it gave me more opportunity to reach out to the other tutors and hear about their experiences. Tutors for All became so much a part of my weekly schedule that upon getting my tentative fall 2015 schedule last spring, I moved classes around so as to free up some time for tutoring. I think that Tutors for All is a great program and very beneficial to not just the students, but also the tutors throughout Boston.

How many friends did you get to join up?

I believe last year I got around 5 or 6 friends to join up. This year, I’ve been spreading the word on many Boston college Facebook pages and through email, so hopefully we will see some new faces resulting from that.

What did you do to convince your friends to join T4A as well?

A lot of people I knew had heard me talking about how proud I was of my student and with her progress throughout the first semester. They would ask me how I found the position and how they could get involved. Everyone seemed to really just jump at the opportunity, whether it was volunteer or work study. With the people that I didn’t know, the ones that reached out due to my Facebook posts, I presented them with my story. I focused on describing how rewarding it had become to actually be able to see the progress and to know that what you’re doing for these kids really will impact their future. In the beginning, you really could see the impact of the achievement gap; the lack of opportunities present for encouragement and teaching skills inhibited students from reaching their full potential. Tutors for All provides these children with the encouragement and skills that they need to not only get ahead for the time being, but also provides them with a sense of confidence they can continue to build throughout life.

What did you end up using your Amazon gift cards on?

I used my Amazon gift cards to buy myself a Fitbit. Going into the medical field, I try to lead a healthy lifestyle. Buying a Fitbit has helped me make a few lifestyle changes such as eating healthier and taking up running.

Want to become a super-recruiter like Melinda? We offer a $25 Amazon gift card to the source of all referrals that end in a hire. We seek experienced individuals who have a passion for education and community outreach with skills in leadership and teaching. Recommenders can direct applicants to

Meet Tutors for All’s New Staff!

This month was a busy month at Tutors for All as we said hello not just to a new year of students and tutors, but to three new staff members: Program Coordinator Joe Alvarez, Program Manager Kate Ferrell, and Growth and Partnerships Coordinator Stephanie Park! They shared a little bit about themselves and what brought them to Tutors for All.



 From left: Kate Ferrell, Joe Alvarez, Stephanie Park

Kate comes on board as the new Program Manager for the Tobin School and Boston Green Academy.  She is a ten year veteran educator who spent 8 years in the classroom teaching high school history and Adult ESL, then two years running a vocational program for a non-profit agency that served youth in foster care throughout the greater Boston area.  She graduated from UMASS, Amherst in 2004 with a B.A. in History, and went on to graduate from the same higher learning institution with a Masters of Education in 2005 through the “180 Days in Springfield” Project.  She has committed her career to providing excellent educational services to youth in underserved communities and is thrilled to be part of the Tutors for All team.  Her passions also include spending time in nature, learning new things, yoga, meditation, and bringing mindfulness into all aspects of daily living.

Stephanie joins Tutors for All as a 2015-16 AmeriCorps New Sector Resident in Social Enterprise (RISE) fellow. She will be working to develop and execute the Tutors for All growth plan by engaging in board and fund development, partnerships, and marketing. After graduating from Scripps College in 2013 with a major in cultural studies, she spent two years abroad in South Korea, first as an English teacher at an all-boys high school through the Fulbright program, and then as the assistant projects coordinator with a grassroots progressive Korean organization. Her experiences as a teacher and community organizer have led to her passion for providing organizations with the support and capacity they need to carry out their work, and have provided the perfect nexus for her work at Tutors for All.

Joseph is the new program coordinator for Tutors for All, and will be working to help support the Codman, Tobin, and Boston Green Academy sites.  After graduating from Boston University in 2013, Joseph spent two years an AmeriCorps service member.  His first year he worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Waukesha, Wisconsin helping to oversee a youth mentorship program run through Carroll University and Waukesha County.  His second year brought him back to Boston to serve as AmeriCorps fellow with Tenacity, serving at the Mario Umana Middle School in East Boston.  His experiences from his service have made him passionate about education and bridging the achievement gap that exists here in Boston.  In his spare time, Joseph loves to play soccer and tennis at Moakley Park or spend a nice day reading out on the Esplanade.

Departing Interview: Ben Nichols

benWhat did you enjoy most about working as a tutor and office manager at Tutors for All?

“As a tutor, I loved being able to be on the front lines, working directly with students and helping them grow and improve their skills and abilities. It is so fulfilling to see growth and change happen, and so exhilarating to be a catalyst of that improvement.” “As an office manager, I have really enjoyed interviewing potential tutors and talking with them about their hopes of tutoring with us. It has been so enjoyable to meet so many amazing people that want to give of their time to help those around them. It’s been great to be part of that team!”

What will you most miss about working at Tutors for All?

“It has been such an amazing opportunity to work with you, Mark and Luisa, and learn from you, as you are both education experts and understand what it takes to make a difference in the lives of those with whom you work. I will miss working side by side with you, striving to close the achievement gap and do something that means much more than just punching a time card.”

What are you off to next?

“This year I will be finishing my master’s degree at New England Conservatory in Jazz Saxophone. This school year I will also be doing a lot of music teaching, which I am very passionate about. Education in general has always been important to me, as some of my greatest heroes have been teachers!”

Do tell…

“Well, Mr. Williams, my 7th grade Algebra teacher, has always been one of my heroes. I was so nervous entering the 7th grade. I was very shy and worried that I wouldn’t be smart enough for the classes I had been placed into. Mr. Williams sensed my stress, as I often came to him after class with a handful of questions I had been thinking about. He always took time to help explain concepts to me very patiently. This, over time, helped increase my courage to ask more questions during class, and to excel in math. His kind and helpful personality helped me believe in myself and has helped shape so much of who I am. Because of teachers like him I had the desire to become a tutor this summer, and it has an amazing experience!”

Is there a tutoring experience you had this summer that you would feel comfortable talking about?

“Definitely! This summer I worked with a student named Marvin on Accounting 101. We both put in a lot of time and effort into each tutoring session. We made flash cards, practiced creating all sorts of financial statements, and worked on understanding the most important accounting rules and practices. Marvin worked hard, and grew so much throughout the program! He studied his flashcards, worked on practice problems that I gave him, and did his very best to learn all that he could. It was a joy to be able to work with him and to see him learn so much. Being part of something as fulfilling as that is one of the best parts of being a tutor at Tutors for All. I highly recommend it!”

Element #4 of Highly Effective Tutorial: Balanced Collaboration and Autonomy

For eight years running, Tutors for All programs have achieved jaw-dropping results for Boston kids and the organizations that serve them.

How have our programs accomplished this?  While each program in our history has its own unique story, we believe that seven key elements unite them and offer a road map to follow.

MGH Spring 2014 Report

  1. High Quality Oversight
  2. Professionalization of Tutors
  3. 1:1 or 1:2 Ratios
  4. Balanced Collaboration and Autonomy
  5. Regular Assessment and Progress Monitoring
  6. Tutors for All (not Some)
  7. Leveraged Subsidies for Service

Over the next few months, we’ll be spending some time discussing each of them.  Our goal: a conversation among experts and beginners on how effective programs can work.

Today’s topic: Balanced Collaboration and Autonomy

Although there are many reasons for Tutors for All’s success, one key factor is its strong partnerships with the schools and community organizations in which it works. Tutors for All has worked with a wide variety of partners: district schools, charter schools; high schools, middle schools, elementary schools; organizations like the YMCA and Mass General Hospital. Each of these institutions has its own set of standards and expectations for the students it serves. Tutors for All works needs to collaborate to produce a smooth, collegial environment in which to pursue academic success. At the same time, Tutors for All programs need autonomy in order to instruct each student individually, building on his/her unique combination of strengths and areas for growth.

Upon partnering with a school, the Tutors for All Program Manager spends considerable time molding Tutors for All’s model into a program best suited for that school and the needs of its student population. The Program Manager works with a designated liaison to integrate the standards of behavior into the Tutors for All expectations. This can involve learning how to use a school’s system of merits and demerits, or using the same language when speaking about the academic expectations (e.g. an oft-repeated motto, “Everybody learns here,” acronyms, “Let’s see that SLANT”, or nomenclature, “welcome Bicentennial Scholars!”) Where possible, a program manager will work with teachers to gain insight into students’ learning styles and align curricula appropriately. The program manager and the liaison have regular weekly meetings to check in on norms, expectations and learning goals. It is critical for Tutors for All and school/community partner to represent a united front. An effective Tutors for All program is smoothly integrated within an academic environment. Students are encouraged, supported, and accountable, fairly and equally by everyone invested in his or her academic success


At the same time, however, Tutors for All operates as a “school within a school.” We have our own instructors (tutors), our own curriculum, and our own administration (coordinators and program managers.) The academic content of a tutorial is not determined by daily class or homework, but instead by a student’s progress mastering the skills necessary for the independent completion of that work.  The pace of the lesson is determined by the students needs, and disciplinary infractions are handled by program administration. This level of individualized instruction and intervention (where necessary) in a student’s learning allows a classroom teacher to then focus on the class as a whole, and to follow the grade level content assigned.


This balance of collaboration and autonomy between partner school and its Tutors for All program allows for a united front of tutor, teachers, and administrators working towards providing our students with the most individualized education possible. With the support of the partner schools, tutoring becomes legitimate and incorporated into the school schedule as a mandatory class, rather than a stigmatized, remedial program. With the support of Tutors for All, students are taught and teachers are freed from reviewing and re-teaching remedial skills to students.  The result: students are prepared for and teachers can focus on grade-appropriate content, with “college and career preparedness for all” no longer just a saying, but now an achievable goal.