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Favorite Educational websites

Two of my favorite websites to use in the classroom are for reading and Math Magician,,  for practicing math facts.  

The Benefits of Regular Tutoring

Tutoring with me on a regular basis is beneficial in several ways. First, the regular contact keeps me "in sync" with what you are learning and provides valuable insight to each session. Not only is it easier for me to know what to expect when I come to tutor, but also it allows me to work on deeper levels of learning. According to Benjaimin Bloom1, learning has six levels. The lowest level of learning (knowledge) is to simply recall what was immediately read or done. This level of learning can be forgotten within minutes or hours. On the other hand, the second highest level of learning developed is called "synthsis" where you can develop new types of scenarios and answer them in novel ways. When you have learned at this level it can last a lifetime! Second, our student-tutor relationship is maintained. As a tutor I value each and every student and their development. I like to know what your goals are and how I can help you achieve those goals. Without... read more

Summer Learning: Let the Sun Shine!

Summer learning can be fun!  With my tutoring clients, we make learning fun and interesting.     First, I always have something interesting or unusual going on in my office.  I have a cat who loves to play fetch, an experiment with seedlings, and caterpillars becoming butterflies.  These unusual items often inspire writing or reading interests.     Second, we make lemonade and sit outside to do our work!  Switching up our scenery is sometimes just the trick to get learning focused and interesting.  Cool lemonade and a nice shady spot on a hot day really help reluctant learners focus.   Third, I always make the last five to ten minutes of the lesson a game or fun time.  That could mean playing a quick game of chess, or just reading a book aloud for fun.  Sometimes, we draw pictures that coincide with our writing project.     Summer learning can certainly be a fun experience.  Don't... read more

Tutor Smart

What does Tutor Smart mean? It means that if students know that they are going to be struggling with their work in their classes, they always know to get a tutor ahead of time. Being tutor smart is the key to getting all of the help that is needed in order to achieve goals and accomplishments. Stu dents should want to be tutor smart because getting set up with a tutor ahead of time will result in better grades on assignments, a better understanding of what their assignments consist of, and what their teachers, and/or professors expect of their students. Tutor Smart also means that tutors always know how ot help when students ask for it, and it means that students should plan ahead if they know that they are starting to struggle with their work. This also goes for college students and adults who are taking classes for the first time, or if they are starting a new school semester. As a tutor, I know that students can do better in school if they just learn to get the help that... read more

The Habit Of Reading: Why It's Important And How To Develop It

Of all the important academic exercises, none are as critical to your success as routine reading. Throughout your education, teachers will assign mounds of textbook reading in social studies, English, the sciences, and beyond. While it is imperative that you take your assignments seriously and blast through your requisite reading, that is simply the bare minimum. Your eventual goal should be to read as a pastime. Reading shouldn’t solely be an activity guided by obligation, but one prompted by an organic desire. You all know what it’s like to be driven by desire. It’s all encompassing, automatic, and thoughtless. For example, some of you likely possess a powerful sweet tooth, causing you to gravitate towards cookies and chocolates whenever there is an opportunity to indulge. Others are might be fans of video games, eager to squeeze in playtime whenever and wherever possible. The interesting thing about these activities is that you don’t need to actively tell yourself... read more

Ellen's Choice: Teach the Concept, Not the Algorithm

I hear a lot about math teachers from my students, and while every teacher is unique, some comments are repeated over and over. By far the most common one I hear is that their teacher didn't really explain something, or was incapable of elaborating when questioned and simply repeated the same lecture again. As a tutor, my first priority is to make sure the student understands the material, and if they're still confused, to find another way to explain it so that it makes sense. In order to do that, I need to have a thorough understanding of the concepts myself, so that I am not simply reading from a textbook but actually explaining a concept. In my years of tutoring math, I've developed a point of view and approach to math that I refer to as “teaching the concept, not the algorithm.” An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure for calculation. The term is used in math and computer science, but the concept of an algorithm is universal. I could tell you that I have an algorithm... read more

The key to success in today's economy

The world is changing faster than ever before. This is both exciting and nerve racking. It's exciting for the people who have the skill set to take advantage of any environment. On the other hand, it's concerning for people who only focus on their major in school or their current industry and don't focus on building transferable skills. Many employers today would rather hire and work with someone who has very little industry knowledge, but is passionate, disciplined, organized, driven, and determined over someone who just has a good resume. Therefore it's just as important to working on transferable skills and attitudes as it is to be working on your specific area of expertise. So what skill or attitude will you develop or improve upon this week?

Learning to Read vs. Reading to Learn

Young children are taught to read in school, but by the 4th grade they are expected to "read tolearn". This is not formally taught! One of the things I do in my tutoring practice is to focus understanding what is read and how to "read to learn".

Tutoring that Works

Engaging students in learning is one of the many goals that tutors face. We must adapt to meet changing learning needs, styles, interests and delivery formats. The sage on the stage paradigm, where the tutor provided all the knowledge to a passive student, is outdated. Today's students have more need for a guide on the side, who understands that the challenges they face, is willing to experiment with alternative tutoring methods, and acknowledge that engagement and feedback are crucial to a successful learning experience. One such tutoring methodology that has shown great promise both in the classroom and in structured tutoring sessions is problem-based learning (PBL). This concept has gained national recognition as a way for students to learn by confronting a problem related to the subject or the class material. This means that rather than the rigid and very traditional didactic approach, where a tutor simply “re-teaches” material covered in class through direction... read more

Before we begin, let's manage our expectations

I am absolutely sure that there are many studies which state that expectations are crucial when a student begins to study anything. If someone believes that they can succeed, they often will. Corny as this may sound, there are solid socio-linguistic studies which back this up.   And herein lies a problem. People are generally told that foreign languages are hard, and that Chinese is downright impossible. Whats odd is that there isn't really any basis for this to be said. Does Chinese have an excessive amount of detailed grammar, or maybe a syntax that would make your head spin? Does Chinese use sounds and morphemes that could potentially choke a non-native speaker? Is there some magical linguistic kung fu that only Chinese people know?   The answer to all of the above questions is no.   So, considering that Chinese is very learn-able (albeit a little tricky, there are a lot of words), how should we proceed? We manage expectations. We clearly... read more


Too many times students leave their papers until the last minute.  Haven't we all done this at some point in high school and college? Here is the best tip to ease the stress of that last minute essay writing.  Breathe!  Take a long breath and realize that you CAN do it!  Next, write a quick outline of the main topics you wish to cover in your essay.  The outline does not have to be long and involved.  A list of bullet points is the easiest way to organize your thoughts.  Do not forget that the first paragraph is your introduction and the last is your conclusion. Make the last sentence of your first paragraph your thesis statement ( the main topic of your paper).  Have at least three supporting ideas or paragraphs. Conclude with a circle ending where you go back to your first paragraph idea or end with a clincher!  That is something that "clinches" or closes the essay with a bang! Check off each bullet point as... read more

Amazing Apps for Struggling Readers!

Being a struggling reader can affect a child's entire school experience. Everyday functioning in the content areas as well as confidence levels and enthusiasm towards school take a big hit for many students who experience reading difficulties. Part of my practice as a special education teacher and tutor who works with struggling readers is to turn reading into something that can be fun and rewarding, rather than laborious and confidence-killing. I've found that one of the biggest motivators for my struggling readers is to incorporate technology into acquiring and practicing reading skills.   I've recently experienced great success through a new federally funded program for individual's with print disabilities called Book Share. Through this program, students can download hundreds of thousands of texts for free. I have all of my eligible students signed up for this program. Then we open the downloaded books on the iPad through an app called Voice Dream. There is... read more

Is accelerating mathematics a good idea?

Many students' self esteem is tied to "being ahead in math" because they have received praise in the past. Some parents, teachers and administrators put pressure on students to take more higher math courses, to take Algebra in elementary or middle school and even to skip geometry in the rushed march to AP Calculus.   I believe this is a mistake! More often than not, hyper-acceleration undermines student learning. In this post, I will present some examples of hyper-acceleration, and try to explain why they are counter-productive. While some algebra is a must before high school, moving the entire Algebra 1 course down the grades is a serious mistake. It shuts the door in the face of many students, and promotes superficial rote learning for the rest. I have worked with many, many kids who "did well" in a traditional Algebra 1 in middle school, but in fact learned nothing. When being interviewed to decide on what course they should take... read more

They Say, I Say

For students who wish to write better papers (and who doesn't?) you can check the following book out. We use it in first year composition classes to teach incoming freshmen but I believe the book is also good for those of you who have junior high or high school kiddos at home that want to improve their writing. The information on the book is:    They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing - 2nd edition by Gerald Graff ISBN13: 978-0393933611 ISBN10: 039393361X   A savvy shopper can find this online for under ten dollars!    Get reading! :)

Who is Beth Cof?

Many of my students second guess themselves or tend to speculate. So I devised the Beth Cof strategy to help students eliminate wrong answers.   There are five possible answer choices on the SAT; four on the ACT. Therefore, it's crucial to be comfortable when choosing the right answer.   B stands for too broad. E stands for extreme answers. T stands for true for the passage as a whole but not for the lines in question, and H stands for half-right, half-wrong.   C stands for could be true but not enough info. O is off-topic, and F is factually true but not stated in the passage.   Students who applied this strategy tended to get the answer right. The only downside is it can be time-consuming, so don't use it for every single Critical Reading question. Be selective - and be right!

My Teaching Philosophy

Over the many years I have been tutoring, I have time and again found myself hating the teachers that assign the homework and tests my students have to work on. Of course, this doesn't happen every time, or even most times, but it happens often enough that it prompted me to write this.   The reason I dislike these teachers so much is not related to how much work they create for me (I love my work!) or how much they make my students suffer (they don't), but rather to the fact that I consider some of the things they do to be the mark of a bad teacher. A lazy teacher. A complacent teacher. A teacher more intent on getting a grade from their students that on actually teaching them. A teacher, in short, who should not call themselves 'teacher'.   Naturally, this led me to think about my own teaching style. If I have things to complain about in others, surely I know exactly what I'm doing? A little bit in horror, I realized I had never truly thought about... read more

Student teaching

I'm currently student teaching at a high school in Chicago, which is why I cannot take new students for a while. For those of you unfamiliar with student teaching, it's a ten week bootcamp for beginning teachers. You take over a current teacher's full classload and teach as a fulltime teacher, with all the responsibilities that come with it such as attending meetings and meeting parents, all the while being supervised both by the current teacher and a state-mandated supervisor.   What's been especially tough for me is two areas. First is lesson planning. In my tutoring sessions I always spend looots of time trying to think of the best lesson apt for that student. Then I implement it and see if it works. But because everything is one on one, I get feedback easily. Not in a class of 35. Not only do you have to teach a lesson to 35 individuals, you need to master the dynamics of class management, something that is not easy because it always changes with each class.... read more

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