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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


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.”

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)


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.

NPR’s 2015 Education Predictions

Check out the full article from NPR by clicking here for yet more predictions and details related to those provided below.

A few of the highlights:

  1. Blending on-site (classroom) learning with distance (technology-based) learning.
  2. Greater scrutiny of and concern related to student data.
  3. © Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationThe renewal of or substantive departure from No Child Left Behind.
  4. More online and game-based teaching practices.
  5. The introduction of Kindergarten Entry Assessments (KEAs).

In 2015, education systems will cut through the clutter and invest the needed resources to develop and administer developmentally appropriate KEAs and thus improve instruction for young children.

— Rhian Evans Allvin, Executive Director, National Association for the Education of Young Children

Further/Related Reading Suggestions

Education News Update: Are Standardized Tests Getting the Axe?


Close your eyes for a minute and daydream about a world without bubble tests. Education Week recently reported that some Republican Senate aides are doing more than dreaming — they’re drafting a bill that would eliminate the federal mandate on standardized testing.

– Anya Kamenetz, NPR

(To read the full Education Week article by Alyson Klein, please see: “GOP Senate Aides Working on Draft ESEA Bill That Could Ditch Annual Testing”)

Ever since the passing of No Child Left Behind,  teachers, administrators, parents, students, and policy experts have been working to understand—to definitively know—whether or not it’s done more harm than good (or vice versa). Well, when the issue recently came back before Congress for renewal, Senate Republicans released their new vision for U.S. public education in 2015: Instead of renewing the federal mandate for annual, standardized testing, they “would leave decisions about testing schedules up to states.

And while The Council of Chief State School Officers, national teachers unions, many traditionally Democratic groups, and many of the country’s largest school districts have come out in favor of reducing or doing away with standardized tests—as NPR’s Anya Kamenetz explains in “What Schools Could Use Instead of Standardized Tests”—what’s still missing from this conversation is what might replace annual standardized tests.  To this end, Kamenetz suggests four possible options:

  1. Sampling: Keep standardized tests, but just reduce the number of them.
  2. Stealth Assessment: Use software provided by major textbook publishers in order to invisibly monitor and assess children’s learning.
  3. Multiple Measures: Rather than just test scores, data on everything from graduation rates to demographics to workforce outcomes ought to be collected and considered. Schools could even begin issuing surveys to consider elements like “grit” and “optimism,” or games to help assess a student’s creativity and other higher-order skills.
  4. Inspections: Perhaps in addition to some or all of the above measures, the government could also create a team of inspectors who function for schools almost the same way that health inspectors function for restaurants. These officials might observe classrooms, examine syllabi, evaluate student projects, and interview students, staff members, and faculty.

(To read Anya Kamenetz’s full article, visit: “What Schools Could Use Instead of Standardized Tests”)

What are your opinions on standardized testing? Do you think we should keep annual exams? If not, what might you suggest in substitute?

SAMPLE: Lesson Plan and Why it works :)

Thank you for sharing this, Learning with Alison!

For teachers, professors, and tutors, learning to change tactics when a lesson isn’t working out as planned is an incredibly important skill. This is a challenge that many teachers face in their efforts to best reach and support students.

Having the ability to take extra time to consider a teacher’s points and ask questions in an environment safe from humiliation and fears of shame, is vital for yet often denied many students. Such freedoms not only enable students to better explore a concept and commit said concept to memory, but can also empower students to become more involved in their own learning process and to feel more comfortable actively engaging with future lessons.

Another example of teachers taking such challenges in stride can be found at Georgetown, TX’s Southwestern University. Right now at Southwestern, professors like Dr. Emily Niemeyer (Chemistry) are engaging in what’s known as “Flipping the Classroom”. While Southwestern’s professors still often utilize and appreciate the traditional lecture format, “Flipping the Classroom” is a teaching method founded on learning through practice rather than learning through listening. According to the Southwestern Newsroom,

“While there are many variations of the flipped classroom, the most common one is one in which what used to be classwork (i.e. lectures) is done before students come to class by means of teacher-created videos. And what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class − either with the professor or among the students themselves.”

I am thrilled to see such innovations coming to Southwestern’s classrooms, and can’t wait to hear about their resulting challenges and successes!


Learning with Alison (ali)

What is “Higher Order Thinking” that is all the rage to chat about and to “enforce” (word chosen deliberately) but that many parents and students question is actually taking place?

As educators we read a lot about “asking open-ended questions” – HR personnel would be given the same advice. What then might it mean to truly encourage a student to move beyond the basics and to begin the process of not merely placing an opinion into an essay in the right spot (close to the end of paragraph 1- so the directions tell) but to actually have an opinion beyond -“it was good” or  “I didn’t like it”?

Thinking is work- even when the thoughts are pleasurable.  Our brains require a form of question response stimulus to actively be engaged, curious and participatory.  Long a proponent of enrichment for everyone I was recently asked about how enrichment and gifted education…

View original post 735 more words

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.


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!)