What is Bottom Up Tutoring?

May 7, 2022

We are often asked what the difference between Novaread and, for the sake of this explanation, Stanford Tutoring is. It can be difficult to answer because answering questions like this one can lead to answers that sound like us describing why we are great and whoever else is not so great. The reality is more that we just aren’t the same thing.

The easiest way to explain this is to think of it as Top Down vs. Bottom Up.

When you have a child who is struggling to meet the expectation placed on them by the curriculum of their current grade, and you decide to seek help, it can be approached in two totally different ways.

Top Down

If you are in grade 6 and have recently been introduced to early level Algebra and you find it difficult, you are part of a very large group of students who have found this tricky, to varying degrees. The top down approach would be to take a look at the ‘ask’, in this case Algebra, and find out where things are going wrong. The answer can vary immensely. One child may require 30 minutes over lunch, with his teacher or even a kind and patient fellow student, to help the student focus on what is actually being asked of them. With several examples and a bit of practice they get it. It could also be a situation where a solution slightly more involved is required. You may seek out a University student advertising on Kijiji or you may look into a local tutoring service that will see the student twice weekly over the course of several weeks and over that time they reinforce the curriculum that leads up to where this student is and then they ‘get it’.

All of the examples to this point are top down. You start at the ‘ask’ and reinforce there or reinforce somewhere in the steps just before the ‘ask’.

If the student requires bottom up and you start with top down you run into an interesting situation. As you look at the prerequisites to whatever the ‘ask’ is you find struggle. Maybe, if we are using the Algebra explanation, you find struggles with the operations, starting with division. You attempt to practice that and you find issues with multiplication. Looking further you find difficulties with subtraction and addition. Before long, you are at the bottom without a comprehensive understanding of what the student knows with confidence and where they have gaps in their knowledge. These are the students who require a bottom-up approach. These are the students we work with.

The student who will be successful with top down tutoring never needed a solution as comprehensive as Novaread. The student who requires bottom up tutoring, will find the explanations being provided by top down tutors more confusing than anything else.

The way to know which is needed is through assessing the student’s skills. Otherwise, you are guessing.