The Focused Student: Other help is available for kids struggling with classwork

As both spring and the latter part of the school year come into view, there's a final chance to help a struggling student before finals. This time I'd like to discuss two programs designed to do that: Kumon and Khan Academy. Each is a little different and each makes certain assumptions. One is a commercial enterprise, the other is a free online resource.

The Kumon backstory is that the founder, himself a teacher, recognized that his son was lagging in math. He felt there was insufficient explication of "the how" in problem solving, and that intermediate steps were too often unclear or omitted. In his spare time, he developed a series of worksheets with examples that moved slowly from one concept to another after mastery of the previous one.


Over the years the Kumon Centers and their scope of instruction have grown. The stated goal for the now-international enterprise "is the development of independent and proactive individuals who know how to learn independently." After an initial assessment, a master teacher trained in the Kumon method develops a very specific plan for each student. The assessment is a skills assessment, not necessarily a "learning" assessment, although observation by the teacher may lead to some learning clues. The student then works through pages of worksheets, building his or her skills.

Kumon suggests 15 to 30 minutes daily working on the sheets at home and twice-weekly office visits. Kumon accepts students as young as 3. The discipline and commitment to doing the worksheets daily is essential. More information is available at

Khan Academy ( is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations. Developed by Salman Khan, the free online Khan Academy has taken off and now is offered all over the world. Khan Academy is an online tutorial that offers help in many subjects and languages through videos on YouTube or through the Khan website. While it started out as a helpful tutorial for math, today it is much more. It assists with SAT prep, and Khan has partnered with the College Board to help prepare students for advanced placement exams. Khan Academy features teacher tools that connect to Google classroom and supplements teacher demonstrations and work samples.

Khan Academy emphasizes a concept we've discussed before, the Growth MindSet, which exchanges, "I don't know how to do that" for, "I haven't learned this YET." Downsides to the Khan Academy are that it doesn't take into account students who may have a learning disability, it can be distracting for students with attention-deficit disorder, and students need to have some ability to connect and analyze what the demonstrator is explaining. Khan has recently partnered with the renowned animation company Pixar to bring more animation into many of the demonstrations. This may help many students, especially younger ones, understand what is being taught.

The concept is great: a free and accessible online tutoring aide to anyone with a desire for help. Depending on the student, Khan Academy can be very useful — and you can't beat the cost!

One last comment: The evidence on the educational benefits of technology is mixed. Whether we have expected too much from the merger of technology and education will be the topic for next month.

ROBERT FRANK is the executive director of the Hillside School and Learning Center in La Cañada. He holds a master's of science degree in special education and has more than 40 years of teaching experience. His column appears on the last Thursday of each month. He can be reached at