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A wise man once told me: "You can continue to beat your head against that rock, but you will not chip the rock, your head (on the other hand) will be deformed." I guess I should have seen it coming, my being summarily fired from a tutoring job - The parent (in this case the mother) demanding extra "busy-work" for her son between sessions, the lack of discipline, on the student's part (especially his inability to do homework or speak to his subject teacher) and his continual lack of attention during sessions. The call came, "You are not coming here anymore, Billy Ben (not his real name) ONLY got an 81 on his Geometry test. We want top performance, 95 or better, YOU failed." Did I tell you that this student, previous to my seeing him, was working on a solid average of 40? So, it was over. Had I failed? I'm not so sure. First, I didn't take HIS test, and second, knowing the student as I did, I actually thought that an 81 was pretty good and we might... read more

Yesterday at the doughnut shop, I met my good friend, Aristotle (Tut) Jones. As usual, Tut was complaining about his latest tutoring session. It seems he was spending most of the hour doing “timed SAT practice tests” with his student and the student was showing no progress in getting the right answers. According to Tut, the student was beginning to get more and more anxious with each “failed test”. When pressed for details, it seems that Tut’s style was to come in, get out a kitchen timer, sit at the table and hand the student a timed practice test. Usually they had barely enough time for two timed tests before the hour was over and Tut had to leave the student – who by then was despondent with another round of missed answers. “There might be a better way to approach the SAT preparation”, I ventured. “I can’t see how”, Tut said gravely, “It’s all about practice tests, timing and practice tests, lots of practice tests.” “Practice tests are a useful part of SAT preparation... read more

One of my esteemed colleagues was bloviating how she, “Never talks during tutoring and lets the student do all the talking…” My question to her was, really? In all my dozens of years of dealing with adolescents, I have known many to be – silent. (Especially when it comes time to participate in schoolwork.) Silence is often a sign of shyness, embarrassment, anger, or anxiety. It usually occurs at the beginning of a tutoring session, when the student sits “exposed”, as failing in the eyes of their parents, to a stranger. Kids use this silent treatment as a way to freeze out the tutor, to get the tutor to leave them alone, or to “push a tutor’s buttons”. Under the surface, something else is going on: the silent treatment gives the child a feeling of power and control over the situation. For my part, that does not work on me, because I can humble myself to reach the student by talking about everything and anything – until they either smile or respond. In other words, just like... read more

My top three tips for starting the school year are guaranteed to work for students of ALL ages: Number 3: Take care of your mind and body! This means eating right, getting enough sleep, outdoor exercising and "quiet time" reading. Reduce the TV/Video/Music time to a bare minimum. If you MUST watch TV, watch the news everyday to keep yourself informed. (Even grade schoolers should know about the News & Weather). Number 2: Use your computer as a "learningtool resource" - if you don't have a computer discover the public Library. Your focus during the school year is on education and you need to apply maximum resources to that end. Number 1: Make a PERSONAL CALENDAR and SCHEDULE everything, including time for sleep, relaxation, and outdoor activities. Merge your calendar with the family calendar ("Sync" them every month - this will prevent you from discovering that the day you intended to write your report is ALSO the day Aunt Jenny is... read more

Occasionally, parents demand “worksheets”. I have a tepid reaction to that request. First, I personally believe that a tutor is not meant to be a “worksheet provider”. Sometimes parents want their child to be “drilled” into learning. Those parents may feel that the only way to acquire skills and/or knowledge is to force it into their child’s psyche by repetitious action – worksheets. Most parents do recognize that a tutor has excelled in a particular area of study, but some still trust education to the worksheet. A thesaurus lists as synonyms for “tutor” the words: coach, educator, guide, mentor, and instructor. (Nothing about “worksheet provider”!) Nevertheless, parents still get “hung-up” on worksheets, and demand “lots of them”. From a purely educational stance, worksheets can be used only one way. Worksheets are generally considered to be convergent materials by professional educators.Worksheets lead students to believe that there is only a single correct way to use them,... read more

There is still a segment of the population that has difficulty with computers or “How to Use”: a software program, the computer as a tool, or taming the beast they see on their desk at work. The first thing I say to comfort my students is that they are not going to break their computer by doing something “silly”. They may get a garbage (or unexpected) response from the program, but that is simply because computers are machines that need to be told what to do. True, computers are excellent at doing things, but computers do not have the level of understanding how to read our minds and do what we want the computer to do. This perceived “dumbness” on the part of the computer presents challenges to even the best tutor. Why, because humans all have different learning styles and: 1. Most students learn differently than you do. 2. Each student learns differently from other students. 3. No one teaching method will effectively reach all students. 4. A tutor cannot... read more

At some time or other, all tutors find themselves faced with difficult situations in a tutoring session. There are no magic answers and no "one technique fits all" strategies. As a tutor I am often asked “...Do you swear to give me the correct answer, the whole answer, and nothing but the answer, so help you God?"… Well, not exactly, I will not swear to that. I am a firm believer that it is vital to build a system that will actively encourage my students to wonder “why” and then provide them moments of amazement when they learn their own answers to their questions. For example, I try to create a framework that does not immediately give the correct answer to children who do not fully understand the mathematical concepts. (Before you tar and feather me, ask yourself what the “education thing” is really all about). When I taught in the public schools, I always felt sad for those of my colleagues who had to “ram” an “exact”, “perfect” answer on their students... read more

Good tutors asks questions as well as answers questions. Every student is different and every student faces unique learning challenges. That means that students require me to approach their learning in ways that best suit their needs. I must adapt my lessons and study materials to meet their requirements. The first time I meet a student I want to spend some of the time getting to know the circumstances that demanded a need for tutoring. After all, I doubt if the family just decided to “invite me over”. I always (Privately) ask the parent(s) some questions about the student. Do you want/need a report on progress? Does student have any diagnosed learning disabilities and how can I properly accommodate them. Is there specialized instructional support at school, such as a note taker? When I sit with the student, after proper introduction, I ask the Student: What are your favorite subjects/least favorite subjects and why? What are your least favorite subjects... read more

Students give many excuses for failing tests. Most excuses however, involve the generic, "I don't test well." This is not a specific enough reason, and is usually impossible to “fix”. (This is a case of asking a tutor for help and you have no idea of what type of help you need.) Most of the time students blame the test, or the practice tests they were given, were not given, or did not practice. Why don't you test well? Disabilities aside, did you skim the questions instead of reading them? Did you over-think questions? Did you over-think the answers? (The “Agony” of the Choices). If you don't test well, you'll need to fix any of these types of problems before you hit the retest. Some students do poorly on tests because they over – think the questions. They worry too much and convince themselves that the wrong answers could be correct. Here is a “free” piece of advice regarding multiple choices: If there are four answers, one is way off, a second is also wrong,... read more

Just today, I happened to be reviewing an old textbook for a course I took in college about learning styles. (Yes, tutors DO read). One chapter of the book intrigued me more than usual, it concerned the: Four Major Theories on Forgetting. Retrieval. According to the Retrieval Theory, a forgotten fact has not faded; it has been misplaced in the "file cabinets" of our mind. Whether the information has disappeared completely, or has been lost, the result is the same – it has been forgotten. The secret to avoiding retrieval problems is to label and file information correctly. We can assist our memory by studying in "meaningful chunks." Interference. The Interference theory is based on the principle of limited space in our short-term memory. As we keep adding new information, a conflict develops between the old and new information over the space available in our short-term memory. The key to avoiding this problem is to look for connections and relationships... read more

Sometimes, I answer a request for tutoring and I arrive at the student's home with the best intentions when I am greeted with: "Are we glad to see you, the SAT is Saturday and our child needs to know everything about SAT Math!" (Actually you could substitute ACT Math, or reading, or Science, or...you get the picture). I realize then I am about to fall into the "One Star" category. The reality is that I recommend a MINIMUM of 12 one hour lessons for SAT preparation based upon STUDENT test-taking ability. Dissect what I just wrote. Student test-taking ability is the key phrase. I am not going to be able to teach you math, or English or reading comprehension in 12 hours. You should be up to the challenge of the test and require only "fine tuning", "problem solving strategies" and building the testing skills necessary to do well. It may be that you need more (or less) prep time, but that is determined by your level of understanding... read more

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