Tutoring 101

For School Admin: How to Identify & Address Cyberbullying

One of the most difficult aspects of cyberbullying from a school administrative perspective is simply that, by definition, it happens in a virtual world. Cyberbullying happens where bullies can often mask their crimes more easily and escape school-administered consequences by committing their offenses off-campus. As Katherine Cowan, communications director for the National Association of School Psychologists, explains for Scholastic,

One of the capacities of cyberbullying is that it goes from zero to 60 rapidly—it can go viral very quickly and can live permanently online … School administrators face the challenge of having to wrap their arms around a dynamic and incredibly complex social system with the students they serve. The Internet makes it that much more complicated.

However, there are some steps that school administrators can begin taking in order to better combat and prevent instances of cyberbullying.

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According to Emily Richmond’s Scholastic article, “Cyberbullying: What schools can do to stop it,” teachers and school administrators can…

“[1] Define cyberbullying clearly, and incorporate expectations into Internet and electronic communications for students and staff.

[2] Involve parents and the wider community as early as possible, whether it’s through a task force to review policy, or via workshops to help families understand and respond to how their children are using the Internet and electronic communications.

[3] Teach students to be cyber-savvy. In addition to understanding the risks involved in sharing personal information online, students need to understand how the ‘tone’ of their communications can be perceived much differently than they might have intended.

[4] Finally, report suspected cases of bullying to the supervisors, the parents of all involved students, and, when necessary, law enforcement. While the steps may seem simple, the reality is invariably complicated and changes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”

School administrators should also be careful not to conflate anti-cyberbullying efforts with simply more surveillance. Extra surveillance can not only fail to address the key issues at hand, but can also inadvertently punish students who haven’t done anything wrong. To avoid this conflation, your school can also try implementing hotlines or tip lines rather than more attempts at teacher surveillance of student technologies. As Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center argues,

…every school should have a system in place that allows students who experience or observe bullying or cyberbullying (or any inappropriate behavior) to report it in as confidential a manner as possible. It seems obvious that we should be using mediums that youth already prefer [i.e. via text/phone]. In addition, being able to broach the subject without being forced to reveal one’s identity or do it face-to-face may prove valuable in alerting faculty and staff to harmful student experiences, and help promote an informed response to bring positive change.

What’s more, school administrators should also work to set a rigorous standard in regards to all student cyber activity on school grounds—a standard that draws the line at inappropriate behavior rather than inappropriate content. For example, if a student posts a “harmless” video on their blog of a teacher or other student simply walking down the hall, but does so without that teacher or student’s knowledge or permission, that student should be quickly and sharply reprimanded. For though the content may seem innocuous, it is the behavior of video-taping, publishing, and taking liberties with another person’s life and image that is inappropriate and therefore punishable.

By cutting students off at inappropriate behavior rather than waiting for the content itself to become inappropriate, we can begin to teach students that it isn’t simply a matter of blatantly offensive material that’s the core issue here; it’s the use of technologies to inappropriately invade and disrespect the space and reputation of others that’s at the heart of the problem.

These sorts of anti-cyberbullying behavior-centered policies can stretch from anything like having home-room teachers confiscate all cellphones at the beginning of classes and returning them at the end of the day to simply punishing students if they’re caught using a cellphone during class. The severity of the measures will inevitably vary from community to community as the individual school’s climate and state’s laws demand.

For more information and ideas, check out the following resources:

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For Teachers: How to Identify Bullying

It is of the utmost importance that all teachers recognize that, in today’s classroom, there are two very distinct types of bullying: in-person bullying and cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can include everything from text messages to emails to Facebook to blogs to chatrooms. Understanding this difference as well as the ins-and-outs of bullying itself will better enable teachers to detect when bullying is taking place and who the perpetrators (and victims) are.

According to the National Education Association (NEA), bullying can be defined as the act of “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt and/or psychological distress on another.” According to StopBullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

Operating under these understandings of bullying (as well as the knowledge that cyberbullying is distinctive from in-person bullying), how then can teachers take the next step to recognizing where and when bullying is happening?

StopBullying.gov provides a good list of starting places when it comes to identifying signs of bullying in students, including: students suffering from unexplained injuries, lost or damaged belongings, frequent illness or feelings of illness, sudden changes in appetite, sudden negative changes in grades and/or academic interests/rigor, sudden negative change in school relationships, and a variety of self-inflicted wounds such as cutting or running away from home.

IMG_2506While these symptoms may sound obvious enough, they can actually be kept well-hidden by students (and often are) due to feelings of immense shame, fear, depression, and/or isolation. In order to detect and identify these symptoms, it is of paramount importance that teachers strive to develop a healthy rapport with their students, their students’ parents, and their fellow teachers. Without these clear lines and opportunities for honest communication, we won’t be able to recognize what’s normal for any given child and thus won’t be able to recognize significant changes (aka possible warning signs) either.

Developing and maintaining this many relationships, however, is far too much for any one teacher to undertake successfully by themselves. Knowing this, consider the following possibilities for fostering and opening up wider lines of communication, empathy, and observation:

  • Hold regular (mandatory) meetings/lunches/get-togethers with other teachers in order to catch up on how each other’s students are doing
  • Try creating an anti-bullying task force composed of teachers, administrative staff, and students
  • Discuss and share the Anti-Bullying “Seating Chart” from Glennon Doyle Melton’s article, “One Teacher’s Brilliant Strategy to Stop Bullying”***
  • Hold regular meetings with parents to discuss their children’ s home life, internet usage, phone usage, and any issues that might be cropping up in the classroom
  • Work with school administrative staff to craft and implement anti-bullying policies for your school
  • Make sure that all students understand that, should they come to you with information or concerns, they will not be immediately judged or punished, but listened to, considered, and respected

Further reading:

Why SAT/ACT Prep Remains Vital

The hard truth about the SAT and ACT exams is this: While some universities may be ceasing or phasing out the use of these test scores in their admission process now, this still leaves us with the majority of top and mid-level colleges that continue looking to these scores to help them make important admission and scholarship decisions. This means that, for better or for worse, SAT and ACT prep continues to be a necessary investment for most students.

essay writing photoThere is mounting evidence to show that these standardized exams favor not simply the wealthy, but specifically wealthy white males. In a recent report from William C. Hiss, former dean of admissions at Bates College, and Valerie W. Franks, a former Bates assistant dean of admissions, “they reviewed 33 colleges and universities that did not require SAT or ACT scores,” and found that “those who didn’t submit SATs were more likely to be minority students, women, Pell grant recipients or the first in their families to go to college” (Todd Balf, The New York Times, 2014). They also found that there was “no significant difference in college GPA or graduation rates between those who had submitted tests and those who did not” (Balf, NYT, 2014). This means that even for women, minority, and lower-income students who are every bit as intelligent, creative, and scholastically successful as their wealthier, white, male peers, they are still likely to find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to the SAT and ACT exams.

This is certainly evidence to suggest that our general college admission process is in need of a dramatic overall and fast. But so long as these exams are still administered across the country each year and their scores still looked to as a major admissions metric, this prejudice is also evidence of an increased need for affordable test-prep for all. As Todd Balf explains in “The Story Behind the SAT Overhaul” for the The New York Times,

While more colleges are choosing to opt out of standardized testing, an estimated 80 percent of four-year colleges still require either SAT or ACT scores, according to David Hawkins at Nacac, and admissions officers report feeling bound to the tests as a way to filter the overwhelming numbers of applicants” (2014).

In his Atlantic article “The SAT-Prep Industry Isn’t Going Anywhere,” James Murphy agrees with this assessment, explaining,

The problem, though, is not test prep but the test. It is not teachers and tutors who make students anxious; it is the SAT. … Although more schools than ever are making SAT scores optional for application, good test prep will remain important as long as high-stakes, time-constrained, multiple-choice exams are being used to determine who gets admitted to the most selective colleges and universities. … It is important not to confuse the medicine with the sickness.” (2014)

And this really is the keynote of this article: The SAT and ACT exams are flawed, yes; problematic, certainly; stress-inducing, definitely; but they are still here. They are still being used and looked to and depended upon. And for as long as they are, test-prep will continue to be necessary the same way that extra tutoring is often necessary for student success in everyday classwork.

Spanish as a Foreign Language

David Sedaris had it right when, in Me Talk Pretty One Day, he complained:

“I’d hoped the language might come on its own, the way it comes to babies, but people don’t talk to foreigners the way they talk to babies. They don’t hypnotize you with bright objects and repeat the same words over and over, handing out little treats when you finally say ‘potty’ or ‘wawa.’”

Learning a new language isn’t easy, but it’s a skill that’s valuable and special like none other. However, there are always some languages that are easier to learn than others depending on your own native language. In this post, we’ll be focusing on the comparative ease a native English speaker may have with learning Spanish than many other languages.

Spanish is incredibly similar to English in many ways and is thus one of the easiest for native English speakers to learn. What’s more, apart from English and Mandarin Chinese, Spanish is arguably one of the most useful languages for a person to learn today (the third most spoken in the world).

According to the University of Oregon’s Department of Romance Languages, “Spanish is the official language of over twenty countries in the world, and it is the de facto second language of the United States.

Of course, for certain parts of the U.S., Spanish is more important than others (for example, learning Spanish will likely be much more valuable to a native English speaker who lives in Texas than one who lives in North Dakota).

But what does it mean for Spanish to be ranked as one of the languages most closely related to English and one of the easiest for English speakers to learn? Quite simply, it means that, by the measures created by The Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State, it should (supposedly) only take a student 23-24 weeks of study (for 2-3 hours per day) to achieve Speaking Level 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speech and Reading Level 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (amounting to a total of 575-600 hours of study). Now, I know that this may seem like a tremendous time commitment at first glance. But when you really think about it, when you really consider the awesomeness of achieving fluency in another language after not even half a year of study, those 600 hours might not seem quite so intimidating.

These are the keys to the study and learning of any foreign language:

  • constant practice,
  • an unwillingness to be beaten by the intimidating largeness of another language,
  • and an unwillingness to allow oneself to be embarrassed about sounding silly every once in a while.

It won’t be easy – but it’s within your reach! And it’s certainly well worth your time and efforts.

After all, learning a foreign language has more benefits than simply helping you pass a class or find your way to the bathroom in a foreign country. Learning a foreign language can help you “improve the functionality of your brain by challenging it to recognize, negotiate meaning, and communicate in different language systems”; improve your memory; help you strengthen your brain against diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia; improve your decision-making skills; and even improve your mastery of your English (assuming, of course, that you’re a native English speaker) and English grammar (Anne Merritt, “Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism,” The Telegraph).

Some Spanish Language Studying Tips:

  • Sign up with a Foreign Language Tutor! Though tutors don’t come free, they come with a ton of benefits that simply can’t be found elsewhere: individualized attention, another person dedicated to helping keep you accountable and focused, a safe and quiet space to study, a safe environment to practice speaking and reading skills with another person, and an expertise that often includes cultural tips and insights not found in many texts and workbooks
  • Have a set time every day for you to practice your foreign language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening)
  • Try a variety of different workbooks and systems out until you find that which best suits your needs (both learning and financial)
  • Try watching films in Spanish without subtitles and see how well your listening comprehension skills improve day-by-day; engaging with these kinds of arts are not only useful for boosting listening comprehension but also for learning about important slang and cultural mores

Tips for Beating the Rainy Day Drag

Spring rains got you down? Lack of spring rains got you down? Don’t let it keep you there! Now is the time to start anew! Here are a few places and creative ideas to get you started, whether you’re a parent, student, or teacher:

Creative artists keeps a sketchbook where it is filled with sketches, rough works and unfinished art whenever inspiration strikes and they have new ideas. Writers have journals for very similar purposes where they write random drafts, pen down their thoughts and record events.

… So why shouldn’t scientists practice likewise?essay writing photo

  • Take a look at Educational Technology & Mobile Learning’s “20 Apps and Tips to Help Students Study Better” (Disclaimer: Tutoring 101 cannot speak from personal experience regarding all of the apps discussed here)
  • Whether you’re a student, parent, or teacher, try taking up a new hobby or discipline this year. Don’t get outdoors much? Take up gardening or a sport, or start walking neighbors’ dogs for extra pocket money. Like working with your hands? Try woodworking, drawing, book-making, or sculpture. Pay that guitar you never play some attention! Try listening to those Spanish tapes you never even opened! Give yoga or meditation a go! Taking up something entirely new is a great way to keep your creative juices flowing while making your down-time more productive and rewarding.
  • Start a blog of your own! Blogs are terrific for connecting with others, whether you’re a mom or dad looking for new parenting ideas, a teacher looking to freshen up a lesson plan, or a student in need of a poetry outlet – blogs can be a great resource as well as a great tool for exercising those writing, reading, and research muscles
  • A Special Note for Teachers of Online Courses: Give Errol Craig Sull’s “Student Engagement in the Online Classroom” from The Chronicle of Higher Education a read if you’re looking for tips on how to keep your students interested and participating in distance/online courses.
  • Drop us a line, of course! At Tutoring 101, we have plenty of tutors who are ready and excited to help you have the best school year possible
  • Get down to business on SAT/ACT prep—spring is definitely a key time in getting ready for summer-scheduled exams. For more ideas on this end, visit here

Talking About Race: Part Two

I know that the idea of talking about race with your kids – for many parents – can be about as scary and uncertain a territory as talking about where babies come from (if not more so). Many parents are concerned, and rightly so, that to talk about race with kids is to risk the unintended implanting or reinforcing of stereotypes and issues that they themselves carry. We discussed this in some part in our previous post, “Talking About Race: Part One.” Whatever the reason, there’s no way to escape the fact that – thanks to the current state of our country, laws, and systems – race is a significant part of our culture, and ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make things better; it’ll only leave our kids unprepared.

Recently, I went to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates – a writer, activist, and Atlantic senior editor – speak on “The Case for Reparations” at Loyola University in Baltimore. And while I learned many fascinating and deeply important things regarding the issue of reparations (you can read his article on this topic by clicking here), what I’d like to share with you is this (paraphrasing): If you want to consider yourself a part of a community or family – e.g. an American – then you can’t simply come out on holidays and celebrate everything the community’s done well. You have to embrace the burdens of your community, the problems and debts it owes, along with the benefits and victories.

In other words, part of being an American now is understanding what America has done well as well as what crimes it’s committed/committing. Being thoughtful, critical, and honest about our country as it is and as it has been isn’t being unpatriotic or un-American – it’s being constructive; it’s being useful; it’s being the voice of real love in the family when the family’s in trouble. We can’t sweep race and its many related issues under our collective rug. We can’t come out on MLK Day and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy only to then dishonor and stomp all over it by pretending that the struggles are over and done with.

I know that race is a contentious topic for many people, but that’s why it’s so vital that we continue to educate ourselves and talk with our kids about it. In addition to the tips we mentioned in Part One, here are a few other ideas to consider:

  • Make it clear that the celebration and importance of learning about Black History doesn’t end on March 1st. Learning about new cultures and peoples different from ourselves—no matter our race, religion, gender, or background—is important all year round.
  • Experiment with reading new voices (both alone and with your kids) like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, and Clarissa Pinkola Estés
  • Try talking with your kids’ teachers to see how the school is handling (or not handling) the subject of race
  • Try blog-surfing with your kids to find and read works from other young people (and maybe even kids their own age) related to the subject of race (make sure the blogs are critical and thoughtful, though, and not just spouting negative, prejudicial nonsense). This can show your kids that they can be a part of the conversation as well, that they can have some power and speak up for what’s right. As a starting place, try out the Nerds of Color blog:

We are a community of fans who love superheroes, sci-fi, fantasy and video games but are not afraid to look at nerd/geek fandom with a culturally critical eye.

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Helping Your Kids Handle the Boogeyman: Anxiety

When I was a kid in middle school, I got some of my first experiences with the monsters Anxiety and Depression—and I got them close-up and personal, as my younger brother began showing symptoms of the latter. Anxiety and depression can often be difficult things to recognize (many kids go without necessary medications because of lack of medical care/diagnosis while others become over-medicated and over-diagnosed), as they are often disguised by or confused for things like anger, defiance, lack of confidence, mischief, and shyness. As Holly Robinson explains for Parents Magazine,

Unfortunately, many parents and teachers perceive symptoms of anxiety—like refusing to go to school or use a public restroom—as defiance. Anxiety may also be mistaken for (or even mask) other developmental disorders, such as ADHD, depression, or learning disabilities, so it’s important to identify anxiety early and help your child learn to manage it.

I know that, for my brother, his depression often reared its head in anger, in bursts of fathomless aggravation, temper, and self-loathing. —Things his teachers often misunderstood, things that often left him feeling isolated from others kids at school, things that I rarely understood myself as a kid; and all of these only worked to exacerbate his fears and symptoms. Fortunately for us, our mother was proactive, able to do her research, get us out of schools with willfully ignorant teachers, and get us all the help we needed.

In Jane E. Brody’s “Helping Children Gain Control Over an Anxiety Disorder” (New York Times), she references Dr. Golda S. Ginsburg, a Johns Hopkins University expert in childhood anxiety, saying, “childhood anxiety disorders typically result from an interaction between biology and environment. For some … there is [also] a strong hereditary component” (qtd. in Brody). What’s more, parenting styles and behavior can also have an impact, perhaps especially in cases of “parents who are overprotective or overly controlling, who constantly identify dangers in the child’s world” (Ginsburg in Brody).

Similarly, psychotherapist Tamar E. Chansky suggests that, for parents trying to help their children deal with anxiety issues, the goal should not be “to put down children’s fears but to help them see that their fears are unwarranted and that they can overcome them” (qtd. in Brody). Brody outlines some of Chanksy’s “‘master plan’” for helping kids deal with anxiety:

The key takeaway? Don’t blame your child or yourself for their anxiety and/or depression. These are boogeymen that feed on things like blame, stress, and insecurities. Be sure to talk with your children openly, your doctor, as well as your partner and friends—you can’t help your children handle their anxieties, depression, and so forth if you aren’t getting the help you need to handle it all as well.

Further Readings:

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