Name: Laura Mayer
Center: The Learning Turtle
Location: Washington DC Metro Area: Central Maryland, DC, and Northern Virginia
Number of years using SOI: 9
Why did you decide to start using SOI?
I was trained in testing SOI and implementing the modules when I worked for a learning center early in my career in education. I was fascinated by the simple-yet-effective method. Later, as a teacher in a public, suburban high school, I saw the majority of students struggle with the standard curriculum. Accommodations, “pull outs,” during-school homework/help time, and medication all seemed to be quick, temporary fixes (albeit with good intentions). I started testing my own students with SOI and tutoring them several days a week after school. Then I decided to make it my full time job!
Tell us a little bit about how you incorporate SOI into your clinic.
I describe The Learning Turtle as a “holistic tutoring company” because we look for the cause of academic challenges using a variety of perspectives. However, SOI is our cornerstone method. We build cognitive skills in conjunction with academic skills (which are the sole focus of “typical tutoring”). For instance, our SAT prep students work on math problems, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and test-taking strategies (which are all a part of a typical SAT course), but we also focus on visual processing, verbal processing, spatial reasoning, evaluation, etc. (which are the foundational skills that support the former).
Our greater vision, however, is to teach SOI to educators. Therefore, we are also a “tutor training company” that wants to prepare an army of tutors to help struggling students everywhere, but we’ll settle with working in the DC Metro area first!
What is the biggest benefit of SOI?
My specialty in education is the English language; specifically, I taught remedial reading for several years using another researched-based methodology. I did see it help some students, but not many. I still felt something unspoken was amiss.
While teaching that course, I saw the widest range of abilities per class I had ever encountered in my career: ESOL, Special Education, 9-12th graders, reading abilities from 2nd to 8th grade all “under the same ceiling.” Even with a co-teacher and assistants, it was challenging to meet every student at his/her needs AND help raise them to meet the same expectation or curriculum. We all felt like we were being pulled in several directions at once to help these students.
I realized that using SOI enabled all my students to have the same chance at success. It “levels the playing field,” so that a student’s differences in abilities do not hinder his or her chance to learn. SOI does this by evaluating each student’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses and then by targeting the challenging areas that inhibit him or her from understanding the curriculum. It especially helps students that have not benefited from commonly used school interventions, such as working with the school’s reading specialist. This is because there is a hidden, underlying issue that is not being addressed.
While most teachers don’t encounter such a range of differences in their classrooms, every one of their students does have a unique skill-set. Thus, I still feel that my experience is a reflection of teaching in general and the greatest benefit of using SOI still applies to every teaching scenario.
How would you describe SOI to someone who has never heard about it?
I have an analogy I like to use to describe SOI to the families I meet:
What’s your favorite sport? (Most say football.) Well, let’s say you’re the placekicker on the team. (That’s the person who kicks the field goals.) So every day you need to practice kicking that field goal in a variety of scenarios: from different distances away, under different plays/passes, etc. This practice can make you a better placekicker.
This is what typical tutoring does: You practice different subjects that need support and over time you probably get better. But what if your coach (or teacher!) says that your scoring percentage is lower than it needs to be: so let’s say you’re making that field goal only 60% of the time. You’re frustrated because you DO practice or maybe you’ve gotten to the point of giving up because all your effort seems fruitless. (Sometimes students quit altogether!) You just don’t know how to get better.
That’s where some fine-tuning is needed and SOI can help. So what if someone could analyze WHY you’re only scoring 60% of the time? What if the real issue is not the amount of practice but HOW you practice it? What if every time you kick the ball, you are leaning too far to the side—and that’s the real reason your goal-kicking is “off.” It’s not always because of the amount of practice; the TYPE of practice matters, too! Now practices can be more efficient and successful because the root of the problem is targeted.
That’s what SOI does. The student is given the precise tools he or she needs to succeed!