VUSD to offer additional tutoring services for students

Visalia Unified introduces tutoring software available to help students day and night through their chat-based communication system

VISALIA – Students who might have difficulty making time for a tutoring session because of extracurriculars and inconvenient times will be able to receive help at all hours with Paper, a tutoring software soon to be utilized by the Visalia Unified School District.

Paper is a tutoring system for students which offers unlimited academic support any time night or day. The system is an online, chat-based program that can be used on any district-issued devices, like tablets and laptops, and can even be downloaded on cell phones through a mobile app. Visalia Unified (VUSD) expects to introduce the program within the fall semester.

VUSD Superintendent Kirk Shrum talked about the tutoring system at the district board meeting on Aug. 23 as part of an update to his entry plan.

“Nothing will ever replace a phenomenal, exceptional teacher,” Shrum said. “But tools in the hands of exceptional teachers can really make a difference.”

Paper is a software that Shrum had experience with before he was hired as superintendent. While searching for someone to take over VUSD’s top job, the district conducted a survey in the community asking what they’d like to see in a superintendent. The results indicated that they would like to see a superintendent focus on academics among much else. Shrum brought knowledge of the tutoring system and incorporated it with his entry plan as a way to help students thrive in this area.

Whether a student needs assistance on a weekend afternoon, or on a Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. following a busy day of classes and sports, Paper can connect students with a tutor any time of the day in whatever subject they need. According to Rick Hamilton, administrator for instructional technologies with VUSD, Paper is a global organization based in Canada, with tutors employed all over the world, so no matter what time it is, students will always be able to access someone through the software. 

Shrum said he understands there are online programs out there that supply students with answers for their schoolwork, but Paper does not operate that way. He said students will continue to use that method if their objective is just looking for answers, but students willing to learn can use Paper. 

“If the objective is really learning how to solve the problem, then this provides that platform,” Shrum said.

Paper connects students with a tutor through their chat-based messaging system. Students can send in pictures of their problems and assignments to their tutor but tutors cannot return photos through the chat, only offer support through messages. They can also upload essays for corrections prior to English classes, so an English teacher can better focus on the essays’ subject material instead of focusing on grammar and punctuation. Students can also upload resumes and college applications for corrections and advice if they need that type of assistance. Paper is also a multilingual system, so students who need assistance in another language, like Spanish, can be connected with a Spanish-speaking tutor. 

Paper also keeps logs of all chat conversations, which can be requested by the school if there is a cause for concern in regards to a student or tutor.

With Paper, teachers can access an analytics dashboard for their classes as a way to keep tabs on student progress and observe areas where students are asking for the most assistance. According to Hamilton, the dashboard can help teachers examine how frequently the tutoring system is being used by students, how long students are using it, the amount of usage by grade level and determine which subjects are being accessed for the most help. 

“If there’s students that are logging in every night because they need help with every subject, that might be somebody we need to plug in with more one-on-one support,” Hamilton said.

Teachers can also use their observations from Paper to make adjustments in classroom activity, according to Hamilton. Teachers can group students based on their level of understanding on a subject and encourage them to work together in class and through Paper, which has chat rooms for students interested in doing group work. Additionally, if students get stuck while working in their groups, they will be able to access a tutor directly through Paper.

“This is an addition to, above and beyond, what we could ever do on our own as a system,” Shrum said.

This tutoring system will be used in addition with the district’s current assistance program, After-hours Academic Assistance (AAA). AAA offers student support after school hours through Zoom, free of charge for students grades K-12 four times a week. It’s a teacher-led program made to help students who have questions for any academic issue, offering support in mathematics, english language arts, history and social science, science and foreign language. 

AAA operates Monday through Thursday, with different times for different grades. Times for students in grades kindergarten to sixth are 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; grades seventh to eighth are 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; and grades ninth to 12th are 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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