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High Impact Tutoring Case Study: Teacher-Student Bonding Improves Test Scores

February 28, 20245 min read

High Impact Tutoring Case Study: Teacher-student bonding improves vocalization, linked to decoding ability, in a low-verbal student, raises STAR test score.


By Linda Rumpf


Jackson is a typical 9th-grader in most ways. In grade school, he was on the swim team, played clarinet in the band, and liked building models of cars. But he was different, too, in that he could not functionally read. He demonstrated symptoms of severe dyslexia, undiagnosed because his mother did not want him to be “labeled.” Jackson languished in the IEP room from first through eighth grades, failing to progress past a pre-first-grade reading level. His mother tried several private tutors (both in-person and online) and an Orton Gillingham program, with no results, before locating the My High Impact Tutoring online tutoring agency.


Jackson is markedly non-verbal. He can talk but seems to be an exceedingly quiet person, by temperament. He exhibits a visual-verbal processing disorder in that he engages in letter-switching and “misspeaking” of letters, including in his own writing. When asked to read out how he spelled a word, for example, he may read the word “plan” as “plun.” Though his brain and hand may have written ”a” and he may be “thinking” of the letter as “a”, he might still read the letter aloud as “u.”

Handwriting (penmanship) instruction was administered within the first two months of tutoring to rule illegibility out as a cause of “misreading” his own handwriting. Jackson's letter formation, which was illegible prior to instruction, is now very good, yet this does not appear to have corrected the issue with occasionally misspeaking letters.


As reported by the NIH, the decoding that takes place during reading has been associated with vocalization ability (Durand et al., 2013).  As Jackson is not forthcoming with conversational speech, preferring to use one-word or a head nod in response rather than complete sentences, improving his ability to vocalize was considered important to Jackson progress with decoding.


Jackson needed to increase his vocalization in order to gain phonological awareness; he needed to “hear himself” in order to correct his reading. To do this, and so that the tutor could identify his exact miscues, he would need to practice both speaking and reading aloud.  It was assumed that for a tutor to draw Jackson into more profusive speech, there would need to be a level of trust with the tutor. Yet, based on his inhibited speaking ability, it was easy to see why previous tutors may have had difficulty bonding with Jackson. Miss Linda Rumpf, Jackson's high impact tutor, saw that the burden of establishing a trusting, conversational, two-way relationship would initially be carried completely by the tutor.


In every lesson, Miss Rumpf began by making a special effort to talk cheerily with Jackson about topics which matched his personal interests (a list of his interests was obtained from his mother) and his program included reading aloud for extended periods of time (as much as 30 minutes at a time, or half the lesson).


Miss Rumpf implemented research from the field of psychology to produce a strong teacher-student bond with Jackson. She used prolonged eye contact with positive affect, (making prolonged eye contact while smiling, laughing, and smiling when talking). Prolonged eye contact with positive affect has been researched as the behavior mothers exhibit with babies which patterns the hippocampus of the brain toward normal social behavior, such as mimicking the conversational speech patterns of others. Eye gazing has been shown to “induce positive feelings and feelings of social connectedness. Interestingly, these increases were stronger when making eye contact with unfamiliar others versus one's own child” (Wever et al., 2022).


The effects of Miss Rumpf’s purposeful use of prolonged eye contact with Jackson showed, as he ceased averting his own gaze, began to smile back at his tutor, and started showing up on time to his lessons. He read aloud willingly from texts. His mother remarked that she saw something “intrinsically” different in his attitude toward reading and he occasionally read to her and began to practice reading on his own outside tutoring lessons.


Motivation which may start as a desire to please a teacher to which the student feels very connected leads to self-directed learning (Koca, 2016), or self-motivation to improve for one’s own sake. Achieving self-motivation for reading outside of tutoring lessons caused dramatic gains in reading fluency for Jackson. After one independent reading session over a weekend, where Jackson timed his own reading and pushed himself to read ever faster, his wpm score at his next tutoring session was 30 wpm faster than at the previous lesson.  Jackson eventually began to communicate additional reading skills he wanted to work on and which he had been “thinking about” between tutoring sessions. An example of this was when he told Miss Rumpf he was ready to learn to decode “longer words” and he felt this would help him “in school.” This occurred at the eight-month mark in his tutoring trajectory. His motivation, therefore, had shifted beyond the tutoring space into a desire to leverage his learning across other life domains.


Jackson's gains with reading fluency were confirmed by state testing at school. His school’s STAR assessment showed a gain of 1.5 grade levels after only 2 months of tutoring, and his school test assessor’s report listed this as a “substantial gain” over the time since his previous assessment. Jackson achieved 2.5 grade levels total in reading fluency and decoding ability over the span of 8 months. This is on par with other less-severely dyslexic or non-dyslexic students enrolled in Miss Rumpf’s My High Impact Tutoring program. Her students routinely gain approximately one grade level per three months of tutoring.


When asked at his six month assessment what he thought was helping him the most with learning to read, Jackson replied “the reading out loud,” confirming that the student felt his increased phonological awareness was key to his newly-found success with decoding.


Diversity Awareness Note: Eye contact tolerance is regulated by social structure, and some cultures--notably Philipino and other East Asian culture groups--associate direct eye contact with aggression. Thus, a cultural assessment of the student should be undertaken before practicing the methods outlined in this case study.

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Linda Rumpf

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