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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

Study Tips for Math & Science

kiddo in school

Study at least 3 times per week

  • You can pick whatever day and time works best for you, but you need at least 3 study dates per week in order to keep the information fresh, catch mistakes, and engrain your understanding of larger concepts and ideas

Always do your practice problems

  • As a student, “practice problems” may seem like nothing more than an annoyance or busy work. As a working adult, I can assure you that most of us would love it if our work came with “practice problems,” opportunities to rehearse what’s coming next and learn from our mistakes before said mistakes actually count against us. Don’t ever let the word “practice” make you feel like something is less important or valuable on your syllabus – the opportunity to practice and prepare/ask questions is a deeply valuable resource built to serve your best interests

Do your chapter reviews!!

  • Like “practice problems,” chapter reviews can seem annoying or uselessly busying. However, these are a key opportunity to not only establish a study routine, but to discover what components of each chapter you ought to focus said study routine on – making your study time all the more efficient, purposeful, and useful. Getting into the habit of reviewing new information soon after you’ve read or encountered it (whether through a lecture, presentation, or other such thing) will serve you well throughout the rest of your life. Nothing impresses more than a keen memory and eye for detail – skills that are flexed and bulked up when you dedicate time to reviewing new information as promptly as possible. Don’t wait till you’ve already forgotten information to review it. Instead, review new information while it’s still fresh in your mind. Keeping it fresh and regularly renewed will help seed it in your mind so that you can begin to puzzle-piece things together in new and more innovative ways later on.

Watch videos and read extracurricular books on the subject

  • Whether your teacher provides you with online materials or you happen upon some useful resources on your own, finding new ways of interacting with and reviewing your study assignments will not only help you learn new things about the materials, but will help you to take that next crucial step beyond memorization and into the realm of invention.

Study How You Study

First, let me thank Latinas Uprising for this terrific post about studying and the forming of strong study habits. And though this post is written from the perspective of a law student, the advice included here can be useful for students of virtually any age from middle school and up. There are two things in particular about this post — two ideas it presents — that, I think, set it a part from the many other posts on studying out there in the blogosphere:

1.
That studying is not a given skill and that studying, contrary to what is apparently popular belief, doesn’t look or work the same way for every student. As Latinas Uprising explains, “For me, it wasn’t until I was a 2L that I finally figured out a way to study where I would really understand the material. Before I found ‘my method’, I tried different things like flash cards and case briefings, but none of it seemed to really help the material stick. It wasn’t until I fell back on what I had done successfully in college and gave myself permission to stray from the way law students ‘should’ study, that I finally started to really comprehend my cases.” In other words, studying itself takes patience and practice — don’t let yourself be convinced that you simply aren’t good at a given subject. Instead, try exploring new styles and schedules for studying until you find what works for you.

And 2.
That studying requires more than simply the act of studying — studying requires creativity in scheduling and, above all, discipline. As Latinas Uprising explains of her newfound studying success: “Yes, it would take up all my weekend. Yes, it sucked. But I preferred having my weeknights free because my boyfriend (now husband) and I had started to live together, and I wanted to commit some time to the relationship (a life outside of law school? Crazy concept, right?!). Mostly, I ended up sticking to this ‘no weekend ever’ plan because I enjoyed not feeling as if I was just barely holding my head above water during the week.” Can you dig that wild news? Well, it’s true — to study successfully, you don’t always need to revisit the material on a daily basis. It all depends on the needs of your schedule and the unique ways that you learn best. This requires not only flexibility and discipline, but creativity as well — don’t let yourself get stuck on an idea of what studying is supposed to look like and when it is supposed to take place. If studying in the morning each day works best for you because you’d prefer to have your evenings free for a significant other, the advancement of a hobby, participation in an extracurricular activity, etc., then give it a try! If focusing the bulk of your homework time to the weekends might work best for you and your schedule, then give it a try!

The main takeaway is, learning to study takes time — don’t let a few stresses and bumps along the way discourage you from pushing forward.

Latinas Uprising

We previously discussed how to prep for 1L week and –surprise–the main focus was getting prepped for studying.  But it’s worthwhile to delve into “how to study” a little deeper.

I say this a lot, but it’s actually really important to realize that you will be most successful if you study how you study. Think back on all the college classes where you excelled and mimic those study habits.  Note that I wrote excelled, not: barely put in the work but somehow still passed–that won’t fly in law school.  The reason why this is important is because law school has the tendency to push people into doing the same thing.  According to them, if briefing cases works for one student then it should work for all of them.  The reality is that we all have different capacities and methods of understanding.  Definitely try case briefing, but if it’s not working–move…

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How to Support Your Kindergartener’s Education

Kindergarten is an exciting time for everyone – little kids are getting their first taste of Big Kid School and parents are getting their first taste of full days to themselves and their own work again. But even kindergarteners need support for them to keep up and keep interested in their budding educational lives.

kiddo in school

So, how do you support kids this young without overwhelming both them and yourself?

  • A great starting place is to get to know their teacher(s) as best you can. Understanding where their teacher(s) is coming from and what they’ll be assigning can give you a real leg-up when it comes to time management and helping your kids triumph over homework.
  • Be certain to know how your child is performing in comparison to the rest of his or her class. If your child is falling behind, don’t delay in getting them involved in some extra tutoring. There’s a lot for a kindergartener to handle at this age, learning not only new social skills and rules, but new academic knowledge and skills as well. It’s thus important for a child’s self-esteem and skills development that they generally keep pace with their classmates.
  • Another great starting place is to establish habits and patterns of homework/reading time with your kids (at the kindergarten level, of course, “homework” should really only take about ten solid minutes of concentration). Make it clear when it’s study time and when it’s not. When you’ve got that free half hour or hour to sit down with kids and talk with them about what they’re learning, make sure they know precisely what that time is for every single day. This way, homework/reading/discussion time isn’t something “extra” that they have to sit through each day; instead, it’s another scheduled, expected part of their day just like lunch, school, and recess.
  • Know when your child is struggling with something and keep in a friendly, open dialogue with their teachers regarding this and all related developments (though also be careful not to helicopter or overwhelm teachers as this can often shut down relationships before they’ve been built).
  • Nurture your child’s enthusiasm for learning outside of class. There are many terrific ways to do this. Kindergarten is only the very beginning of your child’s life of learning and discovery, so make sure they understand that education is more than just “work,” but that it can be fun, rewarding, exciting, and invigorating as well. So, start teaching by example!
    • Try reading with your kids regularly; playing educational games with them; taking them for walks where you introduce them to different road signs, colors, and conversations; playing board games; introducing them to new people; introducing them to scouts and other team activities; and/or taking them to museums, zoos, and aquariums.

And don’t forget to encourage your kids to take responsibility for themselves and to explore things for themselves, to ask questions, and to talk about new ideas. These kinds of conversations not only expose your children to more vocabulary words and ideas, but also help them develop important character traits such as curiosity, determination, and courage.

 

 

 

Summer Reading – Keep Reading Fun!

Unfortunately for many students, summer reading often sounds boring. Similarly, for many parents, it can sound like a distant dream—something they wish they had time for but believe they no longer do. The truth, though, is simply that we’ve stopped trying to teach our kids that reading can, in fact, be fun, and that we’ve simply stopped trying to make time for reading for ourselves. Reading isn’t something that just spontaneously happens; you have to make a choice. Do I watch this TV show or pick up a book/magazine/article/newspaper? And it’s high time we started thinking more about just these kinds of everyday choices and opportunities, because it’s you and your example that your kids will look to in order to learn what relaxation, fun, and learning can look like.

Tips for making Summer Reading happen:

• Set aside blocks of time each day for reading, such as a half hour in the morning with breakfast and a half hour at night before bed, and turn off all electronics during this time to reinforce the effort (yes, that means cellphones too).

• Pick out a variety of reading materials to choose from and have handy for each month—try a new novel, a new book of short stories, of poetry, and try a new magazine (Orion, The New Yorker, Harper’s—all of these and many like them are filled with long-form journalism, short fiction, book reviews, and often poetry as well). Having a variety of materials available in different genres and styles will help you to keep moving in case you find yourself bored or dissatisfied with your initial reading choice.

• Make sure that you set aside some reading times where you can be surrounded by other readers. This can often help motivate everyone involved to keep reading past any initial feelings of itchiness or wanting to give up. This also gives everyone an opportunity to share and discuss what they’re reading with each other. Discussing works as you read them can both help you to better retain the information you read as well as help make reading more fun and meaningful for all.

•If you pick up a novel, establish a set number of pages you must read before deciding to continue or give up on the text. After all, sometimes it takes a chapter or two before the plot and characters have a chance to whisk you away. (I’d recommend making 75-100 pages as your benchmark.)

books2

• Challenge yourself and your reading friends (whether they be friends or family) to step outside of comfort zones—try reading things that seem “too hard”; try exploring a new genre; try an author you’ve never heard of; try reading from a female author if you typically read books by male authors (and vice versa); and so forth

• Set up a Book Club with your friends and use it as a means of not only upping your game as a reader but also as a friend, educator, and host

• Get out and read somewhere unexpected! Reading doesn’t just have to be a home-bound activity. Go out and read in a coffee shop, library, restaurant, or park area. If you have a front stoop or porch, read out there and wave to your neighbors as they stroll by. If you haven’t been out on a date with your loved one in a while, why not propose a reading date to your favorite local hang-out or bar? Just you, your partner, a couple of books, desserts, coffee, and a lot of fascinating, engaged discussion–sounds like summertime to me!

 

Reading isn’t something to be afraid of, intimidated by, or to feel guilty about. Reading is a way to exercise your mind, give yourself a break, and reconnect with friends, family, self, and the world.

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

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.