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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Using Summertime Wisely (Without Spoiling All the Fun)

Around April and May, people often start talking about summer “brain drain” and learning loss, losses that can be as great as—at least the popular measure tends to be—2 to 3 months of school-learning. However, this isn’t something that students are powerless to prevent, change, or reverse. We’ve all experienced it for ourselves before, whether there was that one summer that seemed to simply disappear without ever having existed at all or that summer where mishap after mishap seemed to just keep tugging away at our every best intention to read, learn a new language, and so forth and so forth.

For many, summer “brain drain” can also be exacerbated by tough financial and domestic circumstances. According to some recent research conducted by Johns Hopkins sociology Professor Karl Alexander, losses in academic achievement due to a lack of summer learning “often breaks down along social lines.” More specifically, this “summer learning loss accounts for about two-thirds of the difference in likelihood of pursuing a college preparatory path in high school.”

ImageBut summer learning loss doesn’t only impact students—it also carries consequences for their teachers and their peers. Regardless of what many teachers try to do during the April/May school months, they’ll often find themselves wasting time in August/September re-teaching students all of the things they’ve forgotten during the summer months.

According to a survey of 500 teachers conducted by the National Summer Learning Association, “when kids enter the classroom months behind in learning each fall, teachers are forced to waste time backtracking. Sixty-six percent of teachers polled reported that it takes them at least three to four weeks to re-teach the previous years’ skills at the beginning of a new school year,” and as much as “24 percent said it takes them 5 weeks or more.” (Go here to read the full press release.)

No matter the reasons or a person’s circumstances, however, the infamous summer “brain drain” can often be prevented or reversed with the adoption of a few proactive (and often cost-free) habits and actions.

Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

For Parents:

  • Meet with your children’s teachers to discuss ideas and options with them regarding how to help prevent summer learning loss
  • Have a formal sit-down with your family to brainstorm ideas on fun ways to keep active and learning throughout the summer

o   Try taking your kids and some friends to your local library; demystify the library’s resources for them and show them just how useful and fun a library can be—providing not only books (which are awesome!) but also events, student extracurricular groups and activities, computer resources, textbook resources, and DVDs

o   Try serving as an example for your kids by reading in front of them and to them regularly (this can be supported by local libraries, but you can also show your kids that it’s not just novels that are important—you can improve your reading comprehension skills by also reading magazines, newspapers, and other publications (whether online or in print))

o   If you have the time and resources, try also planning an educational vacation together, such as to meet and learn about new peoples and cultures (like the Amish in Pennsylvania or the Gullah in the Carolinas)

o   If you have the time and resources, try visiting new museums, zoos, and aquariums, and then see who learned or can remember the most new facts by the end of the visit (maybe the winner gets to decide what the next family outing will be?)

  • What’s more, if you have the time and resources, investigate local options regarding summer learning, tutoring, and camp programs—many often have substantial price tags, but there are also those that run on scholarship programs (especially school-run summer camps; many of these have special options for students who require financial support in order to participate). Bear in mind, however, that while athletic camps are important and valuable, they are not the same as engaging in regular academic/educational activities such as reading

o   Some Texas Options:

For Teachers:

  • Organize a variety of meetings and opportunities for discussion with both students and parents (perhaps together and separately) wherein you brainstorm and provide ideas regarding summer learning and preparation
  • Prepare your students for the year ahead by teaming up with their future teachers to create summer reading lists and assignments aimed at keeping students engaged while giving them a leg up for the year ahead
  • Engage yourself in summer camps and learning programs that you can then advertise and help make more available to your current and future students
  • Advocate at your own school for more summer programming opportunities

For Students:

  • Talk with your parents, friends, and teachers about what groups, activities, camps, and tutoring you might be able to engage in for the upcoming summer
  • Think about what skills you most want to work on and develop for yourself over the summer (Art? Sports? Science? Spanish?)
  • Start your own group activity such as a Writing or Poetry Group, Book Club, Math Club, Art Club, etc.
  • Visit your local library often and set reading goals for yourself—try to find at least two new books (that you love!) per month
  • Try emailing or meeting with your teachers for the upcoming year and discussing with them what you might be able to do to keep on track and prepared for their coursework

 

Further Reading/Tips/Advice/Ideas:

  • Philip Elliott, “Summertime brain drain? Not for these kids, teachers,” The Seattle Times — Learn more about what some schools and teachers are doing during the summer to keep kids on-course for the coming school year while exploring new and innovative lesson plans and teaching tools
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Reading and Writing Across the Disciplines

“…writing is tangible evidence of critical thinking — or the lack of it – and is a helpful indicator of how students construct knowledge out of information.”

—Ellen Goldberger, “Everyone Should Teach Writing,” Inside Higher Ed, 2014

More and more, colleges are beginning to move the Teaching of Writing from strictly the English Department’s territory to school-wide efforts—efforts that necessitate contributions and collaboration with professors from every department and every level. Writing skills have always been of the utmost importance, and yet only now and only begrudgingly are some of our brightest teachers dedicating any significant time to ensuring that their students are able to well communicate thoughts and ideas through writing.

According to Goldberger’s “Everyone Should Teach Writing,”  “Conventional wisdom and practical experience tell us that students’ ability to secure jobs and advance in their careers depends, to a great extent, on their communication skills, including polished, professional writing,” and what’s more, “writing is not separate from content in our courses, but can be used as a practical tool to apply and reinforce learning.” These are things we can all agree on whether we’re parents, students, employers, grade school teachers, high school teachers, or college professors. The stickiness comes in, however, with the notion that the teachers and professors themselves should have to make the time and extra effort necessary to better embed this most foundational and complex of skill sets within their own syllabi as opposed to someone else’s.

And while I stand behind this concept of better spreading and reinforcing the teaching and learning of writing across all disciplines, I must say that the most compelling component of Goldberger’s argument for me was her concerns regarding student responsibility and reading habits. As she argues, “students do read, but what they spend their time reading is not helpful”—if not outright detrimental—“in learning how to write” and learning how to communicate in a variety of subtle, professional, personal, and academic styles.

As Goldberger explains,

How many hours are spent sending and reading tweets, texts and other messages in fractured language? It made me wonder: is it even possible to swim against this unstoppable tide of bad writing?

The key, as always, is to not simply stand around hoping that you land the best teacher or boss every time you enter a new class with new demands or a new job with new coworkers. The key is to take things into your own hands and expose yourself to as many different types of writing and writers as you possibly can. But more than simple exposure, more than simply enjoying your beach reads, you must be willing to take things a step further; you must be willing to spend time analyzing even the breeziest of novels all the way up to the most obscure and difficult. You must be willing to think critically about works you’d never given much thought to before, voice opinions and ideas to others regarding new works and interpretations, start book clubs, engage in book-related forums, and experiment with new styles of writing and new kinds of reading materials.

We must be willing to invest time in ourselves to reap the benefits of reading and writing. We must be willing to sit still a while apart from distractions and allow ourselves to become absorbed into another’s world before we can reap the benefits of improved communication skills, artistic expression, professionalism, progress, empathy, and socialization.

Whether you’re preparing for the SATs, a job interview, fiction writing, improved vocabulary, or any other number of possibilities, there’s one clear-cut road to take: Reading.

Read diversely. Read often. Read.

 

Further Reading:

Student Voices: Reading, Writing, and the Digital World

I recently came across Mission Viejo Library’s blog, Teen Voice, and was struck with a tutor’s inspiration!

But first, a bit on just what exactly MVL Teen Voice is:

Mission Viejo Library Teen Voice exists to promote teen literacy. When visiting this blog, you can expect to find book reviews, book lists, author interviews, book trailers, and event reports for author talks and other related events.” – Written by and for teens, under the guidance of MVL’s Teen Services Librarian, Allison Tran

In other words, MVL’s blog is a place where teens not only get to actively create content, practice a variety of writing styles and essays for a wide audience, conduct research, and discuss what they’re reading with others, but they also get to read and engage with the work and writing of their peers—illustrating just how valid, adult, and important teen writing, reading, and research skills can be.

However, though the value of a teenager’s reading and writing skills is well and widely understood by teachers and parents today, this understanding does not always extend to the teen in question nor, unfortunately, always to the actual practices of said teachers and parents. This failing is tragically evident in the state of the U.S.’s adult reader population. As Megan Rogers explains in her article (Oct. 2013) “Troubling Stats on Adult Literacy” for Inside Higher Ed,

“The Survey of Adult Skills by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that despite having higher than average levels of educational attainment, adults in the United States have below-average basic literacy and numeracy skills.

The U.S. ranked 16th out of 23 countries in literacy proficiency, 21st in numeracy proficiency, and 14th in problem solving in technology-rich environments, according to the OECD survey.”

In other words, despite how much lip-service we pay to the wonders and importance of strong reading and writing skills in the U.S., we’re doing a pretty terrible job of putting those words into action. Scholastic’s Ginny Wiehardt further elaborates on the vast importance and challenges of getting teens to read in the 2011 article, “Realistic Ideas to Get Teens Reading”:

“The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that students who said they read for fun almost every day had higher average reading scores in 2004 than those who said that they never or hardly ever read for fun.

Junior high school and high school students who [don’t spend time each day reading for fun] could face significant setbacks in later life. Even those who don’t plan to attend college will need strong vocabulary and comprehension skills. In fact, one school administrator consulting with Scholastic recently indicated that a mechanic’s manual requires better reading skills than a standard college text. And throughout adult life, they will likely need to decode complex information such as healthcare forms and insurance documents.”

So, we know it’s important for teens to be exercising their reading and writing skills regularly, but how can we help encourage these practices, especially given how busy our young students tend to be (or at least think themselves to be) these days? Well, this is where that “tutor’s inspiration” I mentioned before comes into play.

While there are many options and many avenues for getting teens more interested and involved in extracurricular/fun reading and writing, learning from MVL Teen Voice’s example isn’t a bad place to start.

Thanks to digital tools like blogs, students are now able to interact with written texts in a wide variety of new ways, such as in the creation, collaboration, and reading of works by and with their peers. According to the Pew Research Center, 96% of AP and NWP teachers surveyed “agree (including 52% who strongly agree) that digital technologies ‘allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience’”; “79% agree (23% strongly agree) that these tools ‘encourage greater collaboration among students’”; and “78% agree (26% strongly agree) that digital technologies ‘encourage student creativity and personal expression.’”

In other words, students given the opportunity (using digital technologies) to write for, read, and interact with the written works of their peers are those most likely to see improvements in their ability to collaborate with others as well as in their exercise of creativity and personal expression—all of which make for stronger readers with stronger reading comprehension skills. Speaking from personal experience, as one who once kept blogs as a part of college courses and who has also been published in larger academic conversations, I can certainly say that when one knows that their audience is composed of their friends, classmates, and the incredible vastness of anyone surfing around the internet, it has a way of making you think more carefully about your words, style, arguments, and opinions. It has a way of better personally investing young writers in their research and audience. And when you start writing with one eye toward the integrity of your research and one toward your audience, you likewise become a better, more empathetic, more critical, and more analytic reader.

What’s more, and perhaps what lends these collaborative/digital writing and reading opportunities their greatest advantage, is the simple fact that if you have access to a computer or public (or school) library, then keeping a blog or other online writing forum is typically free of charge and easy to set up for immediate use. Computers, however, are by no means a necessity to making these kinds of collaborative, peer-oriented writing and reading opportunities available to students. Many schools and local libraries also host various writing clubs, extracurricular groups, elective courses, and much more that can help make these experiences and opportunities more available to students, computer or no computer.

Want more? Just take a look at some of these other examples of student writing, reading, and collaboration:

  • Beyond the school yearbook, McKinney North High School (McKinney, TX) also offers its students extracurricular opportunities in Journalism as well as in a more generalized Writing Club (for both writers and visual artists!)

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  • Allen High School (Allen, TX) also offers student-oriented writing, reading, and collaborative opportunities through their school newspaper (The Eagle Angle) and their Poetry Society

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Bottom line? Get reading, get writing, and get moving!

 

 

Also, just for fun, here are a few of the awards Lovejoy’s The Red Ledger has won so far…

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  • Gold Star in the Interscholastic League Press Conference contest – 2014
  • Best Website in the High School Journalism Day & Competition for the Dallas Morning News – 2014
  • Best Series or Project for 14 Days of Love in the High School Journalism Day & Competition for the Dallas Morning News – 2014
  • Gold Medalist in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association News Digital Critique – December 2013
  • First Class with two Marks of Distinction in the NSPA Publication Website Critique Service – 2012
  • Gold medal certificate from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association – 2008, 2009
  • Best of Show Award from the National Scholastic Press Association -2007
  • Many neighborhoods have neighborhood newsletters (some more formal and exclusive (insofar as the creation of material is concerned) than others), and there’s no reason why any one student, family, or club couldn’t band together to create and locally promote their own such newsletter

How to make essay writing not quite so scary

I recently came upon a blog post from H.E. History Hub (a terrific blog focused primarily upon issues related to students and teachers of history) titled, “Five things you need to think about when starting your dissertation.” As a student of American Studies with a master’s degree and a peer-reviewed academic book under my belt, I well understand both the more exciting and interesting elements of academic writing as well as just how terrifying, anxiety-riddled, and difficult it can be. Moreover, for many students (who are never taught time management skills but are instead all too often left to try and reinvent the wheel for themselves), learning how to organize oneself and give oneself the time necessary to read, take notes, research, and truly think over all the issues before ever putting pen to paper (or finger to key, I suppose), is the true bugaboo. True writing—academic or otherwise—must begin with hours, even days, (in some cases, even weeks) of reading and research before any actual writing takes place.

But I, like H.E. History Hub, am here to tell you that essays of any length—whether it’s a 5-pager for your freshman high school English teacher or a 10,000 word long dissertation for your PhD—are well within your reach and capability; it’s all a matter of:

1) Making your essay topic interesting to you;

2) Being diligent and creative about your research;

3) Reaching out to supervisors, teachers, and mentors;

and 4) Working hard and having faith in yourself.

Now, all of these things may seem either obvious or impossible, but I guarantee that neither is accurate. For college students, the freedom many professors offer regarding essay topic and style can be at once liberating (given the more restrictive nature of the models employed by most high school teachers) and yet overwhelming by the same token. For high school students, the number of restrictions and limitations imposed by teachers can be at once stifling as well as useful and helpful (as sometimes constraints are necessary to both hone basic skills and inspire true creativity).

There is a middle ground here, however, because no matter how wide or narrow your allotted scope, no matter your current writing skill level, you basically always have the room and abilities necessary to make the topic interesting to you—it just means that you’ll have to be willing to take the time to get creative with topics and assignments that may, at first, seem boring/irrelevant/useless/long/busywork/too hard/pointless/etc. Even those short 1 to 5 page assignments (those often frustrating ones that can seem disconnected from everything useful) can be used as stepping stones to bigger and better things if you give them the time and attention necessary. Think of these shorter assignments not as busywork but as opportunities to explore new ground and/or build up research for some future project(s).

And trust me, I understand that it’s super tough to dedicate extra time, resources, and feeling to projects that seem intended for you to fail or be bored out of your mind, but if you’re willing to make the leap, to pay the dues, and wear the Essay Writing Club t-shirt, then it’ll pay off—if not today, then tomorrow, but I promise: It Will Pay Off.

The first thing to know is that, while all rumor and chatter seems to suggest the contrary, high school and college are the places to take risks—to try research, arguments, and styles that may seem odd, that may get you a couple not-so-awesome grades in the short-run, but which might just also blossom into something original, strong, and lasting. Digest that. Let yourself get comfortable with the simple truth that a few bad grades won’t irreparably damage your career dreams but that being timid in your scholarly studies, explorations, and writings just might.

 

Image All digested? Ready to plow forward? Good.

Next step: Leap. Take that strange family tree/ancestry assignment and turn it on its seemingly-clichéd head. Conduct a full-scale oral history of all the extended family members you can get a hold of. While a handful of relatives might bore you, while learning to transcribe recordings to paper might drive you crazy, there will be a relative out there who fascinates and surprises; there will be a teacher so impressed with your efforts that they help you bring the project forward in a new way; there will be something new in the process of collection, interview, transcription, and analysis that arrests you and leads you down a new path of exploration and understanding—there will be something to reward you for your risks and efforts.

Of course, if you looked closely, taking that big leap required a great many smaller leaps pieced together:

  • Deciding to go above-and-beyond for a simplistic-seeming or clichéd-seeming project
  • Finding a way to make it happen: finding/borrowing/renting/buying the necessary equipment to record and conduct formal interviews (*cough*libraries are great for finding these kinds of supplies*cough*)
  • Getting outside of yourself and Starbucks to conduct some real primary research by finding and contacting all of those family members and getting signed agreements to have their stories recorded
  • Organizing your time and resources around the needs of others and restrictive research
  • Learning to be delicate and respectful while still clear and uncompromising in all elements and stages of your research and writing
  • Learning to take things that are close and personal to you and analyze them for the benefit of others and all involved
  • Learning that not all research can be utilized in a written work, even if it’s fascinating or on-point (especially when human subjects are involved)

The list goes on and on…

In other words, as Nate Kreuter of Inside Higher Ed so wisely said in his article, “Conquering Writing Anxiety,”

Sometimes [writing] anxiety can become so pronounced that it makes a meaningful cut into our productivity. But, like all anxieties, writing-related anxieties live in the mind, and can be overcome.”

Whether you’re approaching your dissertation or your first high school-level essay, writing anxieties and frustrations hit everyone, and the first step to overcoming such obstacles is to make the decision to do so.

How to Smooth Out a Rough Semester

We’ve all been there. Things aren’t going your way for one reason or another, and it’s been a weird/rough/bad two to three weeks, and then, to top it all off, your progress report (or your child’s progress report) arrives with only more tough news.

But a poor progress report or a less-than-great couple of weeks shouldn’t ever be enough to tank a person’s entire semester, the same way they shouldn’t be able to ruin someone’s entire spring or fall season. Just as there are ways to turn things around in the working (non-school) world, there are plenty of ways to redeem a semester that’s started out roughly.

Here are just a few ideas to keep you busy:

  1. Obviously, seeking out tutoring and additional help with one’s assignments and study habits is a great way to get a student’s motivations up and their work back on track. Tutoring centers can be especially beneficial as students not only see other classmates seeking help (and thus feel better about seeking it out for themselves), but also because students then have a place to go to that is entirely dedicated to their after-school academic needs and skills. Tutoring centers can provide much more than professionals and teachers. They can provide a quiet, safe space for students to ask questions; a space for students to get work completed without distractions; and a place for students to receive any extra encouragement they might need regarding the maintenance and development of useful study and time management skills.
  1. Have the student in question meet with their teacher(s) to discuss how they might improve their work. This not only shows the teacher(s) that the student is taking responsibility and looking to move forward, but can also get an incredibly useful and productive conversation going.
  1. Start identifying and working to break bad habits (which may range anywhere from studying in front of the television to not studying at all—we all have our own unique weaknesses and dragons to slay).
  1. Draw up (either with yourself, your teachers, your parents, or all three), a Positive Academic’s Contract, wherein you outline all of the things you’re going to do to improve your work ethic, grades, and general appreciation of school, along with all of the things you’re going to give up/sacrifice. Then sign the document with as much formality as you’ve got in you (maybe even draw a couple of blanks for your parents and/or teachers to sign as witnesses to the document). This may seem like a silly exercise, but a public declaration and written commitment can really feel and become more powerful a motivator than you’d think.
  1. And, finally, turn off your electronics and have your parents lock them up somewhere secret until you’ve finished what you need to finish each night. Really, for most things, you don’t actually need a computer. Claiming you need to do “research” often only ends up devolving into YouTube and Facebook time, doesn’t it? And if it’s not one of these classic time-pits, it’s probably something else equally unrelated to school. So, you can always start things off by researching the old-fashioned way (cough*reading books*cough*libraries*cough*interviews*cough), before moving on to the loud, shiny, wild world of the Internet. And if you don’t need to do any research right away but know you’ve got something you’ll need to type up, try doing as many other school-related tasks and activities as possible before breaking out the laptop. You’ll be stunned by how much more efficiently you can get work completed in this way and by how much more information you can retain when studying without the added distractions and demands of unnecessary technologies.

 

Good luck! And remember, academic success begins and ends with you.

ADD & Education

DISCLAIMER: Tutoring 101 fully acknowledges that ADD and ADHD are real diseases that have real impacts and consequences on many people around the world. This post is meant in no way to insinuate that these diseases are “fake” or that people suffering from them should stop taking their medication. This post is intended to simply discuss the issues of over- and misdiagnosis; of understanding how to work with students who are entering the classroom at a variety of levels; and of recognizing the differences between creativity, teaching issues, and learning disabilities/dysfunctions.

 

A big question mark in many people’s minds today is the specter of ADD.

Students and teachers are coming together into a single classroom from a variety of backgrounds, from a variety of points in their lives, and with a variety of motives, goals, and assumptions. Because of this, it can be exceptionally difficult at times to adequately engage every student, to adequately appreciate and fulfill the needs of every teacher, and to accurately assess the performance of either party. Due to these difficulties, many have begun turning to things like ADD as a means of no longer having to accept blame or responsibility for said challenges or any resulting failures/issues.

Fellow blogger, Daryl Dominique, makes a particularly salient point regarding this in his post, “Attention Deficit Disorder & Education”:

“I very firmly believe that A.D.D and various other learning disorders are being used so education can blame its complete and utter inability to successfully educate to a variety of different learning styles on factors that they cannot control. Is there a student who can’t pay attention to the teacher reading from a textbook and is fidgeting or randomly doodling? Definitely A.D.D. How about a student who is always dismantling his/her pen or anything else near him/her instead of reading? Must be A.D.D right? The teacher is doing what they’re supposed to as a teacher, and the other students are learning, so therefore it’s his/her disability.

That drives me absolutely insane. A.D.D is an inability to pay attention, not an ability to selectively tone out their teachers. That ability to selectively tone them out is just because they’re not learning from what’s being done.”

In other words, as many teachers, parents, and students may agree, the expansiveness of the ADD epidemic in the U.S. is not simply due to a vast number of children being born with a new disease, but to a vast number of teachers, schools, and other social systems that are failing to educate larger and larger numbers of children across the country.

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Much of this problem can be avoided simply by parents having frank and honest conversations with their children, their children’s teachers, and their primary care doctors and pediatricians. After this, if it is determined that ADD is not the problem (if your students are even having problems/struggles in the first place), parents still have plenty of avenues for helping their students meet their creative and unique learning needs, whether through requesting new/different teachers, seeking out professional tutoring for their children, moving their children to a new school entirely, or so on, and so on, and so on. There are also plenty of cases wherein children simply need a change of habits or hobbies in order to help them improve their education and academic performance:

  • Exercising more can help burn off endorphins, and thus help children have an easier time of concentrating when they sit down to schoolwork
  • Work in smaller increments, and recognize that you (like everyone) have to work hard to make yourself concentrate—seeking out distractions is natural, and not always a sign of some larger problem (and, frankly, isn’t even always a bad or detrimental thing to begin with)
  • When sitting down to do homework, try removing distractions such as music, talkative friends or family, televisions, cellphones, and computers

Long story short? Don’t go jumping to conclusions one way or another, however tempting that may be. These issues, like the children and families they affect, are full of nuance, and the detailed, nit-picky nature of Nuance always requires a wide-open mind and a willingness to speak openly and honestly with others.

Want more?

-Talk with your child’s teachers

-Talk with parent-friends

-Talk with your child’s doctor

Also, check out Rafael Casal’s Slam Poem dedicated to the issues of over and/or wrongfully diagnosing children with ADD: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-2UnriOjVE

(Casal’s performance is definitely worth the time!)