The Symbols Difference

Symbols provides excellent service, quality and added benefits in a number of areas, which makes our program of excellent value compared to alternatives.  Examples include:

Keeping Parents in the Loop

Our Vancouver Orton-Gillingham tutors are scheduled to spend 5 minutes after every lesson with the parent to describe what took place in the lesson, discuss progress and explain any work to be reinforced at home.  We also email brief lesson summaries of every lesson to parents.  Parents can opt to add additional people (for instance, a classroom teacher, resource teacher or therapist) to the lesson summary emails.  Our online system also emails parents reminders of their upcoming appointments, helping to reduce the chance of missing a lesson.

Progress Reports

Monthly progress reports are issued to parents by email.  The progress reports describe the material covered in the past month, describe what will be covered in the following month, and provide general comments on overall progress.  The section describing plans for the following month is of particular importance, as it causes our tutors to reflect on each student’s progress and goals on a monthly basis, and holds us accountable to following through with the direction we have outlined for the student.

Free Consultations with our Director of Education

Are the post-lesson chats, emailed lesson summaries and monthly progress reports not answering all of your questions?  Or do you just want to sit down with somebody face-to-face to discuss your child’s progress?  We offer our students’ parents up to 2 free consultations per year with our Director of Education, who will review your child’s records and meet with your child’s tutor prior to the consultation.  These consultations can take place in person in the learning center or over the phone, and can be scheduled at parent request.  We’re also happy to answer any specific questions you may have at any time throughout the year by email or over the phone.

Lesson Planning Incentive

Lesson planning is critical to delivering effective lessons.  Time needs to be spent considering the direction each student should take in their next lesson (based on diagnostic results and previous lessons), pulling together the relevant materials, and deciding how new content should be delivered to a particular student (taking their learning style and personal interests into account).  It takes time to prepare a truly individualized lesson that is not simply pulled directly from a bookstore workbook.  Hastily-planned lessons are substantially less effective.  Unlike independent tutors and many other learning centers we are aware of, our tutors are paid not just by the lesson, but also for time spent planning and preparing for lessons.  We have established the guideline for our tutors of 30 minutes of lesson prep time for each 60 minute lesson, and because our tutors are paid for that time they gladly use it to our students’ benefit.

Our Tutors

All of our tutors are:

  • Post-secondary educated (holding an undergraduate degree at a minimum)
  • Criminal record checked
  • Friendly and passionate about helping children
  • Experienced in working with children
  • Fully trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach through either our own comprehensive training program, CATT or the AOGPE.

Symbols’ training program was developed in close consultation with a former CATT Director who also served as their main OG training instructor for several years. Kimberley Wahl, our Director of Education, developed and instructs our course.  The intensive training program is conducted 1-to-1 or in small groups and includes a supervised practicum and a series of written, verbal and practical tests that must be passed prior to working independently with students.  While we receive many outside inquiries requesting enrolment in our training program, it is available exclusively to Symbols employees.

While our tutors must all meet certain technical requirements (such as an undergraduate degree), we have found through our extensive experience in working with a wide range of tutors and students that one of the most important characteristics of an excellent tutor is personality.  An excellent OG tutor is warm, engaging, able to develop a great rapport with students ranging in age, background and ability, and able to communicate effectively with parents.  In hiring our tutors we place great emphasis on personality.

Fun, Engaging Lessons

Most of our students truly enjoy coming for their Symbols lessons.  This is partly because of the emphasis we place on hiring tutors with great personalities, but it is also a natural benefit of true multisensory lessons.  Students have fun doing a ball toss with their tutor while they spell a new sight word, pretending their arm is a laser and tracing a letter onto the wall, or getting up to trace letters in different tactile trays like sand, beans and sawdust.  By keeping our students engaged and active, our tutoring is effective and fun!

Lesson Materials Library

All of our lessons are designed and delivered based on materials from our extensive lesson materials library, which includes various multisensory learning aids, games, phonogram exercises, mnemonics and sight words.. Our materials are continually carefully designed and developed to be both effective and fun, and their use by our tutors helps to ensure that the lessons we teach consistently meet our high quality standards.

Homework Packages

Each student is provided with their own Symbols homework book.  Homework is provided when appropriate, and is designed to promote the recall of taught concepts while being neither strenuous nor time consuming (never more than 5 or 10 minutes).  The homework packages include a ring of concept cards, with a new concept card being added each time a new concept is taught.  This provides an easy and effective way for parents to help reinforce learned concepts at home.

Incorporation of Student Interests

Our tutors often tailor various aspects of their lessons, such as games and mnemonics, to a student’s particular interests.  Different sports, hobbies and activities may be incorporated into our lessons.  This helps to keep students engaged and learning.

Focus on Student Self-Esteem

We know that many children labeled with a learning difference are also of above average intelligence, or even gifted in other academic areas, fine arts or sports. We believe that the title of a popular book on the topic, written by Ronald D. Davis, says it all: “The Gift of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read…and How They Can Learn”. Regardless, many children with dyslexia or other learning differences suffer from low self-esteem as a result. We address this in a number of ways, including:

  • supportive, encouraging tutors
  • Student of the Month recognition on our website’s blog
  • the Wall of Champions, where outstanding pieces of work are displayed for all to see

Our Cancellation and Termination Policies

We recognize that scheduling conflicts can arise, that people can get sick and that sometimes life just gets in the way.  With this in mind, we’ve designed a cancellation policy that we feel is more flexible and fair than what is typically found at learning centers.  While we still need to protect our tutors’ time and compensation, our policies provide parents with the flexibility to reschedule a number of appointments.  During the school year, in each of the two 5-month terms, families may reschedule up to 6 lessons provided they give us at least 24 hours notice (students who come just once per week may only reschedule 3 lessons).  When 24 hours notice can’t be provided, but at least 3 hours notice can be provided, the tutor can spend the entire 60-minute lesson time preparing a Specialized Work Package for the student to use at home.  The Specialized Work Packages are fully individualized for the student, and are the family’s to keep for repeated use.

We don’t hold parents to long-term contracts either.  Parents may terminate tutoring at any time with 1 month’s notice.

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Rob Wahl