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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.

The Changing Face of Higher Ed

Recently, The Atlantic published Derek Newton’s “Higher Education Is Not a Mixtape,” in which he argues that – contrary to many popular arguments and articles – higher education is not going the way of the music industry (i.e. people won’t begin shopping for individual professors instead of for universities the way they now shop for individual songs instead of for entire albums). Along the way, Newton makes some compelling points:

Though many universities have not done a great job of keeping up with technological advancements or at keeping costs down, many of the people making arguments for the tech future of higher ed are also personally and financially invested in the companies and technologies necessary to make this future possible. Moreover, the arguments for increased technology and the “unbundling” of higher ed also seem to be missing a basic truth: Unlike music – which listeners buy because of the artist, not the artist’s record label – students “shop for schools, not professors” knowing that their future career success is often tied, at least initially and in part, to the reputation of their university.

However, a simple (and obvious) response to many of Newton’s arguments is: Yes…for now.

As a more recent graduate of an MA program, I well remember just what “distance learning” and “online learning” courses can look like – and it wasn’t pretty. This gets back to Newton’s concession that many schools and degree programs haven’t done a great job of keeping up with the technological times, so that if they do offer online courses and learning opportunities, many of them aren’t yet all that they could be (which means that many students either elect not to use them or view them as a last resort). But this isn’t something that’s likely to last for much longer, and improved distance learning tech could very well lead to an “unbundling” of universities, to a marketplace for professors and courses over entire schools.

Given the constraints of rising tuition rates coupled with the increased number of non-traditional students (e.g. middle-aged and older adults coming back to school for degrees, training, certifications, and so forth), online learning opportunities and distance courses are likely to only increase in number and quality over the next few years. These increases will undoubtedly change the way people view online opportunities and, in turn, how they shop within the industry of higher education generally.

What’s more, many institutions, like Ft. Worth’s TCU for example, now offer comparatively cheap, non-degree opportunities (both online and in-person) to students (traditional and non-traditional alike) who are interested in auditing particular courses rather than in pursuing a full degree. This trend may be evidence that certain demographics are in fact interested in shopping for higher ed opportunities on a professor or course-basis rather than on a university-basis, similar to the trend of buying a $0.99 song rather than a full album.

In my opinion, Newton throws his best possible argument for the traditional college experience under the bus by only barely mentioning it in his final paragraph:

In the current system, it may not be efficient to maintain fine-arts programs, but most people think it’s important to have them. It has long been part of colleges’ mission to expose students to new ideas and disciplines. On campus, even business students, for example, are typically required to study literature and other topics in the humanities. Some may call that inefficient; others call it essential.

As a liberal arts student myself with three degrees, including English and American Studies, I appreciate better than most the difficulties and benefits of pursuing an education that doesn’t directly lead to an obvious, lucrative career path. And there certainly are difficulties – jokes bashing the putative usefulness or wisdom of liberal arts degrees are classic and many professors within these fields do an amazingly poor job of discussing with students just how many career opportunities are (or will be, could be) available to them. Thus, many students either prematurely cross liberal arts programs off their list or graduate from them without a full appreciation of just how flexible and useful they can truly be.

To me, the bashing or general rejection of liberal arts degrees only shows a lack of creativity on part of all involved. A degree in English, after all, doesn’t limit a person to Writer, Teacher, or Unemployed. As Walt Whitman once wrote, “I am Large. I contain Multitudes.” There is more to a student than their degree just as there is more to a degree than its acronym. Education, like life, will – in large part – be what you make of it. Similarly, there are more jobs out there, more possibilities and opportunities than you can ever account for, because they – like the higher ed industry itself – are always changing. And that’s part of what a liberal arts degree is great for: teaching students how to think (for more on this particular point, see David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech) and how to grow with changing times.

Ultimately, I think the future of higher ed falls somewhere in the middle here, in a combination of distance/online and in-person learning, of professor-shopping and university-shopping. As our student bodies change and grow more diverse, so must our learning opportunities. This isn’t a time to throw away all we’ve built in higher ed, but neither is it a time to try stalling change and growth.

*For those who’re interested, here’s the audio of Wallace’s speech:

Further & Related Readings:

News Update: Sexism in the Classroom

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This past February, Danielle Kurtzleben’s article, “Grade-school teachers can push girls away from math, with huge consequences,” appeared in Vox, speaking to some very important and, tragically, very widespread misconceptions regarding the gender “math gap” in education. According to Kurtzleben:

“A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that something else might be at work here shaping the supposed ‘choices’ girls and women make. It shows that young girls’ teachers have biases that push girls away from math and science early on, which could be influencing where they go later in life.

Economists Victor Lavy from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and Edith Sand from Israel’s Tel Aviv University looked at Tel Aviv sixth graders’ test scores both on standardized tests and internal tests in Hebrew, English, and math.”

In this research, Lavy and Sand tested to see if there was any difference in test scores if the ones responsible for grading the tests knew or did not know the test-takers’ gender. Their results clearly suggest the existence of a “systematic bias against girls in the marking of math exams.” And as Lavy and Sand followed their sixth-graders through the eighth grade and high school, they found that “those early teacher biases led to significant improvements on the later math exams for boys and negative and significant effects in math for girls.”

Of course, as Kurtzleben also points out, “this is a working paper, meaning its results are preliminary, and it studied students in a different culture and school system, so we can’t assume US students would see the exact same magnitudes of effects” (emphasis added). However, what’s most important about this research now, as Kurtzleben explains, is that it shows how powerfully “socialization takes hold early on” as well as showcases

“the power of biases — discourage a child from pursuing a subject, and she will, years later, later perform worse on that subject (encourage her, meanwhile, and she’ll do better). So when you discourage a whole swath of the population from pursuing high-paying fields, all those people will be much more likely to have lower-paying jobs.”

What does this mean for us in the here and now? What does it mean for us as parents, teachers, and/or fellow students? It means constantly interrogating ourselves and our assumptions. It means asking ourselves hard questions before we hand back that test or agree with our daughters that Yeah, math really is boring or Yeah, math is super hard, when we might be telling our sons, Yeah, but you can do it or Yeah, but you want to be a marine biologist one day, don’t you? The insidious evil of sexism is that you can sometimes be adding to the problem and perpetuating old sins without ever realizing it or meaning to.

This is a trend and social failing that should both greatly concern and anger you, for your sake as well as for the rest of the world’s. After all, as Kurtzleben so well explains:

“This isn’t just a problem for women; it’s a problem for society. This study suggests that girls were just as capable as boys at math at the start of the observation period, but they were slowly pushed away from math. To diminish an entire demographic’s talent at once is to squander their potential productivity, and economic growth.”

If we want to one day live in a better, more just, more equitable, and more peaceful world, then there’s really no better or easier place to start than right at home with the editing, improving, and monitoring of our own attitudes, perspectives, and actions. The hard truth is, we will only have justice and equality for all when we begin treating others justly and equitably.

 

All quotes and facts here were drawn from Danielle Kurtzleben’s Vox article, “Grade-school teachers can push girls away from math, with huge consequences.”

How to Know if Your Kid Needs Tutoring

USNAccording to U.S. News, three good ways to know whether or not your child would benefit from tutoring are:

  1. Use Your Institution: You know your kids better than anyone.
  2. Get to the Root Cause: Are your kids struggling to pay attention or are the subjects themselves eluding them?
  3. Look Beyond the Score: Don’t settle for your kids’ grades and test scores as a barometer of how they’re really doing in school.

(Article by Kelsey Sheehy)


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According to Parents:

  1. Slipping Grades: If you believe that your child can do better than he did on his latest report card, or if you’ve noticed a gradual or sudden decline in his test scores, communicate with his teacher about your concerns. …”
  2. “Not Managing Time Well: If your child puts off projects and postpone homework, she may not be able to keep up as workloads increase. …”
  3. “Being Consistently Confused: Sometimes a child is underperforming because he simply doesn’t understand the homework. …”
  4. “Lacking Confidence: It is natural to be uncertain when learning a new concept, but it is not constructive when a child is told she isn’t smart enough to do well in school. …”
  5. “Decreasing Parental Supervision: When parents take on additional commitments outside of the family, it may be impossible to maintain the same level of homework help they had been providing their child. …”
  6. “Learning Disabilities: Tutoring sessions are also beneficial for children who have been diagnosed with a learning disorder, such as ADHD, dyslexia, or a visual processing problem. …

(Article by Mali Anderson)


 

CBS According to PBS Parents, there are several ways to know if your child may need a math tutor, including:

  1. “If your child is old enough to receive report cards, you can tell pretty quickly whether or not he might need help when you see his grades.”
  2. “Beyond slipping grades, look out for a lack of enthusiasm for math.”
  3. “That loss in interest could signal that your child needs help, but it also may mean that he or she is bored. That’s where a tutor can come in.”

(Article by Laura Lewis Brown)


CBS News

 

 

 

 

 

According to CBS, a few key ways to recognize whether or not your kids might benefit from tutoring are:

  1. “Continued failing grades in school.”
  2. “Child is constantly making excuses as to why he or she is not doing homework. The student is unhappy in school or having problems in general that you are aware of.”
  3. “The teacher sends notes home to you and you have to go to school because there is disruptive behavior, a pattern that goes on for at least a full school year.”

(Article by Tatiana Morales)


And according to KSL News:KSL News

  1. “Does your child have continual bad grades that do not seem to improve?”
  2. “Does your child have behavior problems at school? Behavior problems at school do not always indicate a need for a tutor. Some students have behavior problems because they do not seem to understand what is being taught and some have behavior problems because they are simply bored with the subject material.”
  3. “Does your child regularly say they hate school?”
  4. “When working on homework assignments, does it seem to take your child longer to finish them than you would expect?”
  5. “When confronted about unfinished schoolwork, does your child makes excuses as to why it is not finished?”

(Article by Leann Mills)

Books That Make Us Cry (Part One) Collected by Donalyn Miller

Nerdy Book Club

Last spring, one of my fifth-graders, Heavenly, spent all of recess sitting under a tree finishing the final chapters of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys. Strolling around the playground, I gave Heavenly a wide berth when I walked near her reading spot. I knew where Heavenly was in the story and I didn’t want to intrude.

When Heavenly finished the book, she found me on the playground. I could see as she walked toward me that her eyes brimmed with tears. Remembering the ending and my own emotional response—and seeing Heavenly’s forlorn face—I began to sniffle a bit, too.

Heavenly wrapped me in a limp hug and cried. While I patted her shoulder, Heavenly and I whispered back and forth about the book’s conclusion and our hopes for the main character, Carley Conners’ future.

“Mrs. Miller, why do you always recommend sad books to me?” Heavenly asked.

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Cactus Canyon enriches with creative writing and digital storytelling

A special thank you to Pauline Harner of Cougar News Blog for posting this article on the value of Enrichment Courses in creative writing and digital literacy and storytelling. Perhaps in today’s world especially, it’s of the utmost importance that we all be able to communicate through a variety of means and perspectives. The ability to express oneself creatively is one of the best gifts we can give to our young students today, a gift that will prepare them to look the difficulties, hardships, and turmoils of the world square in the eye and tackle them head-on while also imagining new, better worlds free of such things.

Cougar News Blog

Photo by Hannah Wolfe Photo by Hannah Wolfe

By Pauline Harner
Cougar News Blog

Cactus Canyon has added some new enrichment classes for the second quarter. One of them is creative writing, which is taught by John Leal. The other teacher is Tammy Howard, who teaches digital storytelling.
Mr. Leal’s class allows students’ creativity to flow. Neither classes use pencil and paper. Creative writing and digital storytelling are similar because they both offer a fun and creative way to help students become better with writing.
Creative writing is basically a class to work on students’ writing skills. Much like the journalism elective, students get to write stories, but in creative writing they write poems as well, and the stories are usually fictional. Creative writing is where students can be themselves and write as much as students possibly can.
“I plan to help students in the enrichment class by offering a safe environment to feel…

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Is Multitasking Bad for the Brain?

Thank you to St. John’s for this great article on the potential negatives of multitasking. Multitasking is a great villain in many of our working, studying, and learning lives because it drapes itself in a cloak of usefulness, of productivity, when in fact it creates just the opposite: lowered efficiency, less productivity, poorer quality of work, and so on.

NPR has also recently come out with an article related to this issue: “We’re Not Taking Enough Lunch Breaks. Why That’s Bad For Business.” According to “We’re Not Taking…,” the pressure to not only multitask but to constantly be on-hand and on-the-clock is leading us as employees (and likely as students as well) to work longer yet less effective and less creative hours.

“Fewer American workers are taking time for lunch. Research shows that only 1 in 5 five people steps away for a midday meal. Most workers are simply eating at their desks.

But studies have also found that the longer you stay at work, the more important it is to get outside of the office, even if it’s just for a few minutes, because creativity can take a hit when you don’t change environments.”

Just a brief stroll around the block during the work day could give you that boost of energy and creativity you need to finish the day strongly.

Just a brief stroll around the block could give you that boost of energy and creativity you need to finish the day strongly.

This might not seem to affect students quite as much given that elementary, middle, and high school students all have mandatory lunch breaks, but if you think your example of constantly being on the clock, of using lunchtime, dinnertime, breakfast time (all the time) as work time isn’t being seen and absorbed by your children, then you’re sorely mistaken.

As parents and teachers, we are the ones who lay the groundwork for our children; we’re the ones creating the rules and norms to be inherited by our young thinkers and students. So, if not for the sake of your own health and creativity, take a break for the sake of your kids’–take a break for the sake of their future, for your own happiness as well as theirs.

SJES Student Support

With the internet in our pockets these days, multitasking seems to be at an all-time high. I’m a big multitasker myself, especially when I’m at home. After work, I move a million miles a minute: washing dishes, packing breakfast and lunch for the next day, prepping dinner, and picking up around the house – all while checking email each time my phone beeps. I race through these tasks, often dropping food on the floor, and I wonder if doing so many things at once is helping me be any more efficient?

multitasking cartoonAccording to countless research studies, it’s true that multitasking decreases your quality of work and slows you down. For example, writing an email and talking on the phone both use the same part of the brain. So, these competing tasks decrease the brain’s efficiency; you would be better off hanging up the phone and then taking the extra time…

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Read Like You Mean It

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Consistently Contradictory

Reblogged from Angelo State University’s Navigating Higher Ed blog:

Back when I was young and still played sports, a baseball coach told us our goal each day was to “practice like we mean it.” The idea, and it’s a cliché we’ve all heard before, is that championships might be won on the playing field but winning foundations are built in the weight room and at practice every day.

I’ve often thought we would be well-served to apply some athletic principles to academic activities.

Of course, it’s possible I just want to blow a whistle really loud during class and wear shorts to work.

The reality, though, is that hard work and intentionality transcend the activity in which you are engaged. There aren’t many jobs or hobbies where being lazy and haphazard helps you gain mastery. You might be the best athlete on the field or the smartest student in…

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Time-Management Advice & Other Tips for Academic Success

Entering a new grade or school, whether in elementary, high school, or college, can be absolutely nerve-wracking — from fears of not making friends to the basics of simply learning how to find your way to each physical classroom (I still have nightmares about not being able to find the right classroom). And each new level – transitioning from elementary to middle to high school to college – comes with its own unique stresses and concerns.

Elementary School: What if I fall behind? What if I don’t make friends?

High School: What if I bomb the SATs? What if I don’t get into college? What if I choose the wrong college?

College: What if I choose the wrong major? What if I drop-out? What if I don’t get into grad school? What if I don’t get a job? What if I can’t balance work and school and health/social life?

Well, the good news is that no one’s alone in these fears and anxieties. The even better news is that teachers at every level – teachers worth their salt, anyway – are well aware of these stresses and are eager to see their students push past them and into success. Below, we’ve compiled a short list of tips and advice for how to help overcome some of these fears for 2015.



Note: We draw from and reference the following sources, and highly encourage you to visit them and read the articles in full.

A Professor’s Pointers for Success in College: 21 Easy-to-Follow Tips” by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead, St. Lawrence University, with The Huffington Post

Top 12 Time-Management Tips” by Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, with US News



  1. Keep careful stock of your course syllabi, assignments, and attendance policies. This may seem obvious but, in both high school and college, these rules/expectations can vary significantly from teacher to teacher. It’s vital to making a good impression and to maintaining your own schedule that you keep aware of deadlines, required readings, attendance, and so forth. (For more, see Halstead)
  2. Don’t keep your head down. Especially in a new grade, classroom, and/or school, it can often seem like the best policy to lay low for a while till you know the ropes. However, this can actually be counterproductive to your ultimate goals of making friends, having good student-teacher relationships, and keeping on top of your work. If, instead of keeping your head down, you take the time to introduce yourself to others (student and teacher), raise your hand to answer and/or ask the occasional question, and just generally approach others with your daily concerns and joys, then you’ll quickly find yourself with a terrific group of friends and an impressed passel of teachers (no matter how new or introverted you are). By establishing these relationships right off the bat, you also set yourself up with a stronger safety net for making mistakes – people will be more understanding of you running (very) occasionally late, for example, if they already know your name and have a favorable impression of you. (For more, see Halstead)
  3. Pump up your writing skills. Whether it’s an essay, short story, book report, or email, make sure your writing is always a clear, respectful, and positive reflection of yourself. This means using a teacher’s full title when contacting them via email (e.g. Ms. Ryan for [most] elementary teachers, Dean Ryan for a college dean, Professor Ryan for a professor [this is often better, actually, than saying “Dr.” Ryan as not all professors are full doctors yet], Assistant Principal Ryan for – you get the idea); not using ALL CAPS in written communication; using clear, proper grammar and spelling in all written works (as much for clarity’s sake as for professionalism); and always including courtesy details such as full headings on all papers, page numbers, and so forth. For help with improving your writing skills, be sure to talk to your teachers and librarians; meet with tutors; read a lot; take up writing-heavy hobbies such as creative writing, blogging, or letter writing; and take full advantage of any Writing Center services your school provides. (For more, see Halstead)
  4. Know Thyself – Are you a morning person or a night owl? And no, I don’t mean: Are you weirdly peppy in the morning or do you prefer to stay out late partying? I mean: Do you get more done if you block time in the morning to do your homework or review your notes, or do you have an easier time completing your work if you do it first thing after school, or perhaps even in the later evening after dinner? Everyone has a different personal schedule that works best for them. Knowing your preferences (and being honest with yourself about them), will be a great step in the right direction of getting your work done well and on time. (For more, see Jacobs & Hyman)
  5. Be patient and make sure you take the time you need. Today, kids and young adults are learning to read and interact with new information in very different ways than their parents did as students, whether by following blogs, Twitter, 24-hour TV news, or online hubs like Vox and The Huffington Post. However, while all of these have their time, place, and value, they aren’t the same as sitting down to read a book or other piece of long-form writing. Because of this, many students today don’t recognize until it’s too late just how much time is actually necessary to read and study and write intelligently about long-form works. Sure they’ve read plenty of novels in the past, but leisure-reading isn’t the same animal (and we all know it!).  So, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get into your academic reading-and-writing groove, and don’t let other seemingly-complementary items (like film documentaries or extra seminars) unnecessarily (or stressfully) clutter up your schedule. (For more, see Jacobs & Hyman)

 

U.S. Report Card: 2013

Our Nation’s Report Card for 2013 has been available online for months now, but many Americans don’t even know it exists. Here are the basics:

The Nation’s Report CardTM informs the public about the academic achievement of elementary and secondary students in the United States. Report cards communicate the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a continuing and nationally representative measure of achievement in various subjects over time.

If you haven’t already checked out our report card for 2013, go ahead and give it a whirl. This is a terrific tool for learning more about the U.S.’s complicated education system and all the ways it’s bettering and neglecting us. You can check out everything from achievement gaps to report cards specific to certain school subjects to report cards specific to your state (and a ton more!).

For an example, consider their “Results for 2013 NAEP Mathematics and Reading Assessments Are In”:

Nationally representative samples of more than 376,000 fourth-graders and 341,000 eighth-graders were assessed in either mathematics or reading in 2013. Results are reported for public and private school students in the nation, and for public school students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Department of Defense schools.

On top of this assessment, they provide both graphs and written explanation of the data to make the results as clear and understandable as possible.

Example graph (the images are much sharper on the official website):

(2013 NAEP assessments)

math

This data is useful not only for teachers, policymakers, and administrators, but can be useful for students and parents as well. Try using this as a tool to not only engage with your students/children about their personal education (strengths and weaknesses, concerns and goals, etc.), but about what they (your students/kids) might like to see change or improved in their own schools.

Have you or your kids or your teacher friends/colleagues been complaining about certain parts of their education or school system for a while now? Well, there might be some credence to the complaints—and educating yourself with data from the Nation’s Report Card can be a great way to begin making (or learning how to make) substantive change happen at the local level.

If you want to arm your kids with the best knowledge out there, then you ought to do the same for yourself.

Click here to download a copy of the U.S.’s 2013 Report Card.