In Brief: The Telephone Tutoring Model
The details are pretty simple. First, each new student is assigned a tutor. Often, the assigned tutor is also new; most tutors work with one student only, long-term.
At the start of each tutoring partnership, the tutor talks with the student's parent(s) or guardian(s), and together they make initial arrangements regarding a schedule. Some tutor-student pairs like to have a weekly schedule (for example, holding sessions Mon-Thurs at 4pm and Sat-Sun at 11am); others prefer to schedule sessions day-by-day (for example, scheduling tomorrow's session at the end of today's session). Often the schedule changes over time, and it can be adjusted to the needs of either student or tutor.
For each session, the tutor simply calls the student at the appointed time. Both tutor and student have copies of the books and materials to be used in the session, and the tutor instructs the student as to what to do when (for example, what page to turn to in what book). Tutor and student do a lot of reading aloud, and they do various exercises verbally. The tutor provides modeling and reinforcement, also verbally, and tracks the student's progress through curricular materials.
Why the telephone?
For one thing, the phone is what makes our high-frequency, long-term work possible in the first place; connecting tutors and students in-person, six days per week, would be a logistical nightmare! Working by telephone allows us to use those most important tools for skill-building - a strong and positive one-on-one relationship, verbal modeling and feedback, individualized practice, etc. - while also using that other most important tool, time (and its close relative, regularity!).
For more of our thoughts on time, see here.
But beyond this, the phone also allows us to take our work almost anywhere. Most of our tutors and students do not live in the same cities; some do not live in the same states. Tutors and students can keep working together despite moves or travels. And unlike perhaps the vast majority of programs, we do not have to restrict our services to a specific place; within the limits of feasible cell phone use, tutors and students can live and operate anywhere.
Why not Skype?
First: In practice, Skype is not nearly as accessible as basic voice calling. Many of our students and tutors carry out their sessions from places with unreliable (or non-existent) internet connection.
Second: Even in the best of circumstances, Skype often has a voice lag that mars or delays interactions. Because we so rely on tutors' abilities to provide very prompt feedback and reinforcement to students, we cannot afford to risk such a lag.
Third: Our curricular activities are primarily reading-based. When tutors and students are working, therefore, they are looking at the pages of their books. We have found that the images Skype provides can be highly distracting, putting the need to keep looking at the book into conflict with the social convention to look at the person one's talking to. (And particularly if students have added challenges with attention-control and focus, these distractions can easily become prohibitive.)