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Nov 18, 2013

Editor's note: From time to time, we will be asking guest bloggers to contribute to our blog. Mark Skoskiewicz, founder of MyGuru tutoring services, offers his perspective on how to discern a need for tutoring versus Executive Function coaching in students.

Almost everyone I’ve ever met knows what a tutor is – someone with deep expertise in an academic subject or standardized test who teaches a student core concepts. Executive Function coaching seems to be less well known and understood.

Executive Functions are self-management skills that help people achieve goals. An Executive Function coach, then, helps students manage their emotions, focus attention, organize and plan their work and time, and reflect upon and revise their tactics as circumstances change. Beyond BookSmart points out that robust Executive Functions are critical for meeting the challenges of ever-increasing school demands.

So, before getting into the difference, it is important to set the right context by pointing out that there is some overlap, in practice, between the support a tutor provides and the support an Executive Function coach provides.


Similarities between tutoring and Executive Function coaching

Typically, both tutors and Executive Function coaches are helping you achieve better performance in school. They are also both frequently going to be found helping students complete homework and school assignments – just in different ways and from different angles. At MyGuru, some of our best tutors are in fact our best tutors precisely because they incorporate some elements of Executive Function coaching into their tutoring process. The differences, however, are in how they go about providing academic support and what elements of the process they focus on.

OK, so what’s the main way to describe the difference between a tutor and an Executive Function coach?

Tutors primarily discuss content, while Executive Function coaches focus more on process.

Let’s say you are struggling with chemistry. A tutor will sit down with you to explain the key concepts, review practice problems, and build up your knowledge base of chemistry. Executive function coaches can also help you in a chemistry class too. They might work with you to understand how the class is structured, how the teacher uses and assigns homework, and provide strategies and tips to help you organize yourself, manage your time to complete all homework assignments, and plan ahead to prepare in advance for big projects, quizzes, or tests.

Let’s apply this thinking to two students who both come home with a “D” on their report card in Physics: Frank and Janet. Let’s figure out which student probably needs a tutor, and which might need an executive function coach.

Frank’s parents notice that he spends a good two hours on his homework every night. His grade for homework is very high, but homework is graded on completion. He talks about big projects and tests in advance, and it’s clear he’s preparing for them. But he’s just not doing well on quizzes and tests, and he looks frustrated with the content when he’s studying. He’s always asking questions that you have a hard time answering, since you don’t know much about physics.

Janet has a “D” too, but she doesn’t study much, and frequently forgets to do homework, or forgets to bring it to class. Her homework grade is thus really low, but her quizzes and test scores are higher than Frank’s. In fact, Janet’s “B-“ average on tests is generally impressive given that she’s missed so much homework and literally forgot to do one entire project which was worth 10% of her grade.

Which student needs a tutor, Frank or Janet?

This is a stylized example, and hopefully it’s somewhat clear that my intention was to imply that Frank needs a tutor. His Executive Function skills seem strong – he manages his time, prepares in advance, and seems organized. So, he must be doing poorly on tests because the content is difficult for him to understand. For Janet on the other hand, it appears that Physics comes relatively naturally, since she does “OK” on tests without doing all the homework, and likely without preparing much in advance. She may need an executive function coach.


I’d bet that 90% of parents that see a “D” on the report card for Physics at least consider a “Physics tutor” relatively quickly. I bet a much smaller percentage consider an executive function coach as the solution. To know which might make more sense for your situation, you need to observe your child’s study habits, and perhaps take a look at how they earned that “D.”

Mark SkoskiewiczAbout the Author

Mark Skoskiewicz is the founder of MyGuru, a provider of 1-1 tutoring and private test prep services in Chicago and many other cities. In addition to providing tutoring services, MyGuru’s blogs offer (or try to offer) a wide variety of helpful information about generally doing better in school as well as about improving performance on standardized tests like the ACT or SAT.

About the Author


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