Building Fundamentals that Improve as the Expectation Increases Over Time

May 7, 2022

What is Bottom Up vs. Top Down Tutoring

We are often asked what the differences between Novaread and, for the sake of this explanation, Oxford Learning are. It can be difficult to answer because answering questions like this one can lead to answers that sound like us describing why we are effective and how another option may not be. The reality is when you look at the methods being used, the student instructor ratios, core philosophical differences and the office environments, you see we aren’t actually doing the same work.

Key Difference

One of the key differences lies in how we approach the needs of our students from a fundamentals perspective. 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.Supporting children with complex learning challenges - Jenga game depicting the significance of fundamentals

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 answers will vary.

In Class Support from your Teacher

Helping each child may require something as simple as 30 minutes over lunch, with his or her 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.

Short Term One on One Help

It could also be a situation where a solution slightly more involved is required. You could seek out a University student advertising on Kijiji. You may also look into a local tutoring service that will see the student twice weekly over the course of several weeks. 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.

Bottom Up

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.

Bottom Up allows a student to start a program at a place where they can understand what is being asked of them. That point will vary from student to student.

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 and wasting valuable time that could otherwise be used to get the earliest start possible on building the skills required to meet with success.

This same approach, Bottom Up, is how we approach the work we do in our Literacy and Core Language programs.