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Pomona College (Mathematics)
Illinois Institute Of Technology (Master's)
First, I enjoy teaching and tutoring, measuring success by feedback from colleagues, students, and parents. I hold degrees, credentials, and certificates for mathematics, social studies [economics, history, et al], computer science, Spanish, and English. I have taught them all, in the US and abroad, as well as Swimming, a lifelong pastime. The following remarks focus on English, but the approach is common to all my teaching and tutoring.
For English, I favor a cultural approach that references films, music, popular culture, and literature as well as grammar, pronunciation, and word choice. I stress reading aloud, to synchronize listening, speaking, reading, writing, and editing vocabularies. This synchronization brings quick benefits to students who previously had been unable to match spoken words with their written equivalents.
Next, having worked in many countries around the world, I have studied many languages, and appreciate the differences as well as the commonalities of language. As a writer on both technical and non-technical topics - including my "Fables to Read Aloud" and "Dissimilar Dragons, A Short Interpretation of English for Native Speakers of Chinese." I am especially conscious of the interplay of narrative and dialog.
Finally, as one who has studied and taught in many colleges and universities in the US and abroad, I can provide insights into what they expect and how they screen applicants through tests and written personal statements. Here following is an extended form of my personal teaching philosophy:
1. Every child deserves respect and encouragement from the students, staff, faculty, and management of the school he or she attends
2. Similarly, every teacher merits support as well as thoughtful criticism from faculty, colleagues, and - yes - parents. A teacher's views may not always be acted upon favorably, but a respectful administration - and parent - takes them into consideration.
3. In international schools, where English is often a second language, teachers bear the added responsibility of supporting development of English fluency - listening, speaking, reading, writing, and editing - while presenting and assessing a specific subject. My own practice is to mark all materials twice, first for grammar [ungraded] and second for subject matter content [graded]. I am gratified to observe that written skills - and vocabulary - improve along with subject matter knowledge. Indeed, one of the problems that I initially underestimated was that students do poorly on exams not just from ignorance of the subject material but from an ignorance of the ordinary vocabulary used in framing questions. As a practical matter, I require all students to bring their personal running glossaries to class, regardless of the source of the new words each student encounters.
4. Because foreign teachers have experience in foreign colleges and universities as students as well as teachers, they function as de facto advisors on such schools. In China, for example, far too many parents think that only a few schools in the US or the UK present competent programs. They fail to understand that the range of schools - particularly in the US - means that students need to do research and try to find the best fit, not just accommodate to the well-intended advice of family friends or business associates.
5. Inside the classroom - teaching from an American perspective - I expect the students to do the reading, raise questions on what they do not understand, and question what is unclear. As a lecturer, I do not expect to cover every point in the text, but rather to amplify what seems most relevant, based on my own experience as well as feedback from the students themselves.
6. Finally, I do not believe the classroom is a "zero-sum game." I encourage teamwork, both to make studying more efficient and to make the challenges more personal.
As for technology in the classroom, I am of two minds. On the one, I appreciate the use of PCs/MACs, Office Software [regardless of the brand], and the internet, to make assignments and responses unambiguous. On the other hand, I see the classroom as meriting a degree of spontaneity that can sometimes be restricted by over-heavy use of canned audio-video presentations.
As specific teaching experience, I taught many years part time while working as a global IT consultant. Most of that teaching was at the college or professional level. Full-time teaching includes: computer science teacher at Control Data Institute, [1973-1974]; visiting professor of computer science in South Korea [2003-2004]; English, mathematics, and computer-aided instruction in other subjects, Proviso [Illinois] West High School [2005-2007], CIE A-Level economics at the Nanjing Foreign Language School [2008-2010]; CIE A-Level economics, business studies, and English at the Qingdao Kaplan Centre [2011-2012]; and economics at the Shandong University of Science and Technology in Jinan [Spring, 2012].
Finally, my IT experience covers a wide spectrum including large system programming, global consulting, and applied software R&D.
Finally, my most valued credentials are the friendship and respect of former colleagues, students, and parents. I frequently receive email from former students now happily and successfully studying in the US, the UK, or Canada. Sometimes, they talk of personal growth and change; other times, they request a letter of recommendation. Often, it is a request that I review a critical paper or letter. I welcome them all. From my perspective, such correspondence reflects both my enjoyment of - and success with - teaching. My grandparents and parents were teachers; my daughter represents a fourth generation of teachers. First, I enjoy teaching and tutoring, measuring success by feedback from colleagues, students, and parents. I hold degrees, credentials, and certificates for mathematics, social studies [… Read more
If the student comes to my home, there is a 15% discount. In general, there is no surcharge for small groups.
Jon Cristofer is approved to conduct lessons through WyzAnt Online. WyzAnt Online allows students and tutors to work remotely via video, audio, and collaborative whiteboard tools. For more information about how online tutoring works, check out WyzAnt Online.
If you’re interested in online lessons, message Jon Cristofer to get started.
In most cases, tutors gain approval in a subject by passing a proficiency exam. For some subject areas, like music and art, tutors submit written requests to demonstrate their proficiency to potential students. If a tutor is interested but not yet approved in a subject, the subject will appear in non-bold font. Tutors need to be approved in a subject prior to beginning lessons.
The ACT examination stresses precision in writing and in word choice. For example, 'discrimination' and 'distillation' both relate to 'separation,' but they are not interchangeable. Other aspects relate to agreement [tense, singular/plural, word order, and time sense]. The larger aspects, however, are in developing coherent text and in following relevant details of extended pieces. As always in such tests, time management is a key element. A perfect score on half a test is not as effective as a completed test with some mistakes.
American History is a grand experiment, not always polite or fair. One can look at it from the perspective of change-makers [for good or ill], like the explorers; "robber barons;" imperialist "manifest destiny", as well as "war" presidents, and suffragettes. One can also look at a series of corrections to prior mis-steps, e.g., public education, the end of slavery, women's suffrage, citizenship for Native Americans, civil rights, and foreign economic development aid. It is also a tale of modest people who made large differences: former slave George Washington Carver [Chemistry]; Native American leader Sequoia [language and education]; Mexican farm worker Cesar Chavez [workers' rights]; and civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
American History includes great leaders and tragic characters. It includes compromises that seemed necessary at the time, like the original US Constitution, that treated slaves as "three-fifths" persons, and prohibited any laws regarding slavery within 20 years of ratification of the constitution. [Two decades later, in 1809, such legislation began. After the Civil War, the "three-fifths" person rule was consitutionally amended out of existance.] The decision to use the atomic bomb to end the war with Japan is another complex compromise. Did it hasten the war's end? Did it save more Japanese - as well as Allied - lives than it cost? As stated in the opening remarks, History is complex and messy, but interesting and important, even in one's daily life.
Two of my graduate degrees are in Economics, and I have taught Economics and Business Studies. In addition, I have worked in - and consulted for - a range of businesses, e.g. banking, insurance, manufacturing, telecommunications, logistics, and government. Also, I have founded and run my own applied R&D businesses in the software industry. In other words, I offer business perspectives from inside and out.
COBOL [COmmon Business Oriented Language] has been around since the mid-1960s. It remains the dominant language of installed applications, currently about 65%, but down from its high of 85% in the 1980s. It has survive because it has adapted to emerging technologies, both by adopting new features and by the extensive use of pre- and post-processors. It is highly portable, but - unlike Java - often needs minor changes in code when changing platforms. It is fairly easy to write, and - sadly - to write badly. If you are interested in developing and multiplying [not just adding to] your COBOL programming skills, read on.
I have worked on all phases of large-scale COBOL systems development since 1964. Since 1984, I have promoted the use of PC-based COBOL compilers, e.g., CA-Realia, MicroFocus, AcuCOBOL,and Ryan-McFarland. All are generally compatible with IBM mainframe COBOL, and often have filters to generate fully compatible versions. I have taught COBOL in colleges, in-house training, and in my global seminars. My favorite activity, however, was developing - in COBOL, not assembler - STRUCTURED RETROFIT, the first commercial COBOL structuring engine. It translated undecipherable but working code into well-structured logically-equivalent code. That product was part of the shift from "throwaway" applications to orderly maintained ones, i.e., to treating application systems as corporate assets. I used COBOL as my development language because I knew that well designed code in a higher-level language would outperform badly designed applications in assembler... and be much easier to modify. Subsequently, I developed other software tools, including TRANSFIXXER, a fully automated regression testing tool for COBOL. I have also worked on tuning COBOL systems. In one case, a two-keystroke change resulted in a critical 6% reduction in run-time. In another case, an ineffective "standards" group had let a system's performance degrade by not understanding a change in a compiler option. It had cost the company an additional 10 million dollars in computing costs until I identified the cause. NOTE: It was not the cause I had expected.
To sum up, if you really want to understand COBOL and where it fits in a world stressing non-procedural language, I can help.
College counseling for American colleges and universities is not the same as for foreign institutions. This became quite clear to me, serving as de facto counselor to more than 100 of my students in China.
Start with common sense. There are two main aspects to consider: academics and campus environment. You must ask yourself whether you are academically prepared for the schools you - and your family - consider appropriate. You should also determine whether the school offers the program(s) that you want. A touted engineering college may have a limited arts program; Cooper Union is a notable exception. The second aspect is equally important, with a series of yes/no/maybe responses. Big/small? Urban/rural? Cold/warm? Religious/secular? [and more!]
Finally, you need to plan for your personal statement and to solicit letters of recommendation from one or more of your teachers. Both of these are tied to developing a resume. In an organized manner, the resume contains an efficient record of your academic preparation; work experience [paid, volunteer, and family]; hobbies and interests; and other skills [computer?]. Whether the college asks for it is not the question; you need it for yourself and for the person you ask to recommend you.
The personal statement has two aspects: telling an interesting story about yourself, and demonstrating that you can write reasonably well. It does not need to deal with cataclysmic events, but it should illustrate something about your character and your ability to learn outside the classroom.
NOTE: I am NOT a trained counselor, but my students produce personal statements that are truly personal and effective; they do not sound like "beauty pageant" speeches or like something copied from a "how to" book.
I have worked in IT since 1960, in all phases of computer programming, i.e. analysis, design, coding, testing, documentation, and system support. I also have an MS in Computer Science from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and have taught computing and conducted seminars internationally since 1966, mostly at the junior college and professional level. The easy part is that coding is something like communicating with a hyperactive two-year-old; it is direct and immediate. The hard part is understanding what people want [a communications skill] as opposed to what they are able to express imperfectly as "requirements" and "acceptance criteria."
I worked for over 30 years in all phases of computing and consulting in the US and abroad. My first employer considered a Math degree as adequate preparation. Late in my career, I earned an MS in Computer Science, both to calibrate what I had learned on the job with what academics deemed valuable.
Economics uses ordinary terms - like scarcity and utility - but gives them special definitions for economic discussion. Scarcity, as defined by economists, is independent of the absolute amount of it. If something is scarce relative to human desires [regardless of the absolute amount], there must be some mechanism for deciding who shall or shall not receive it, and how much of it each recipient shall receive. Utility is another basic notion. However, in Economics, it does not mean "usefulness" or "power company;" it means the personal satisfaction received with each additional unit of the product or service received. In general, after receiving the first few units of something, each additional unit provides ever less satisfaction. Think of ice cream cones. These two points are the basis for MicroEconomics, and carry forward as the basis for further studies.
I have a degree in mathematics, but teaching mathematics has changed a lot since my primary school days. The "number line" is new, but helpful. The old practical aspects of learning one-digit addition and one-digit multiplication remain important, although are taught earlier than in the past. The common thread is to help the children see practical use of arithmetic in everyday situations, like measuring ingredients for baking [multiplication and fractions], making change [a basic use of algebra], and planning mileage for a driving vacation. Learning when - and when NOT - to use fingers and then calculators is another issue. In other words, make mathematics part of - not apart from - the life of the student.
English is a very powerful language, shaped by popular culture as well as by grammarians. Understanding its primary but not exclusive sources - Romance and Germanic languages - helps to sort out its seeming inconsistencies. Of course, such a mix gives writers a rich mix of nuance and subtlety to draw from. It enables a very high precision with respect to time and condition. Understanding roots and modifiers gives a reader a head start in understanding the general meaning of words never previously seen; in context, the meaning is even clearer. Of course, no discussion of English would be complete without a cultural setting. Otherwise, popular expressions borrowed from sports, film, music, literature, and business would make no sense at all. "Toto, we're not in Kansas any more" only makes sense if one knows - or knows of - "The Wizard of OZ."
[This discussion applies to students who have already mastered their native language. For much younger students, the approach changes somewhat.]
Most of my students choose one-on-one sessions, which is OK with me. When appropriate, I can work with 2-4 students in a tutoring group, which improves performance while cutting average costs. My general approach to ESL/ESL is to have you build up reading [aloud], speaking, and listening skills first. As you speak more clearly - and recognize patterns in pronunciation and grammar -you will find that you already know more than you realized. Later, we critique actual writing, showing how NOT to use a dictionary. Most important of all, you will learn to improve your skills from your surroundings, with minimal use of teachers and tutors.
There is an expression, "History is written by the winners." Too often, it is also defined in terms of rulers and/or generals, and their wins and losses. Modern history tries to be more complete, in dealing with cultures, as well as the lives of both high and low born. European History - at least through an American perspective strongly influenced by our ties to the United Kingdom - has also dealt with the rise and fall of European dynasties. However, it also deals with parallel intertwined threads: religion, business/commerce, arts, technology, military, medicine, literature, agriculture, and more. However, one can not view European History as limited strictly to the boundaries of Europe. Militarily, early world conquerors joined Europe, Asia, and Africa. Later, colonial empires did the same. Some historians cite the "French and Indian War" of 1757 to 1763 as the first "World War," because of its farflung military involvements. Think of simple items that changed history in Europe: the horse collar doubled the weight that a plow horse could pull; tea and coffee drinking mean boiling water... and killing water born disease; spices from the orient allowed for food preservation in Europe, long before they became merely culinary decorations; and Arabs "discovered" the number "0," and provided a numbering system enabling simplified mathematics and accounting. As you study European History, it is fair to divide it into 'nationalistic' units; it is also necessary to study beyond those boundaries.
Film studies take many forms, focusing on style [directors, actors]; technology [color, sound, "single mike," overlapping dialogue, animation in all its forms, computer-graphics, colorization]; "foreign;" or genre [romance, tragedy, comedy, drama, adventure, biography, documentary, horror, propaganda, film noir, "adult," children's]. Given the large body of films and related printed materials, and their ready availability of them from the internet, it is possible to sample and study in depth in a way not possible in earlier years except in a university context.
My interest in films is as an avid fan, especially of those made prior to the 1960s. At that time, the end of the studio system as well as the advent of multiple microphones changed the focus from a writer's medium for clearly-speaking actors to an infatuation with big budgets and special effects.
Form a personal standpoint, my aunt was a minor starlet, whose time in the credits exceeded her time on-screen; my parents had friends in the film industry; and I watched films being made in Palos Verdes... because of its similarity to the English and the African coasts. I have a large personal collection of films on VHS, CD/DVDs, and - recently - downloads to my hard drive. If you seek someone to give depth to an academic film course, I am probably not the right person.
If you want a more eclectic treatment, I can help. Consider one phase of the evolution of film, the pioneering year 1932. "Dracula," [horror]"It Happened One Night," [adult comedy] "King Kong," [adventure] and "Flying Down to Rio" [musical]are astonishingly good films. The special effects experimented with in "The Lost World" and "Nosferatu" in the 1920s matured quickly, similar to the rapid transformations in the computing field in the early 1980s.
People mature and learn at different rates as well; they also have differing strengths and weaknesses. Individuals may have suffered personal and family crises that disrupted a 'normal' academic progression. GED programs allow students to re-focus their achievements, skills, and efforts to earn equivalency to a high school diploma. They do so because many jobs as well as institutions of higher education require them.
Specifically, GED programs are tailored to fill in individual gaps in knowledge as well as study skills. They recognize applicable skills and knowledge gathered outside classrooms. At the base are math and English skills, followed by subject skills required by California law. Exams are sufficient for some students; a combination of classwork and exams works for others. Consequently, different programs take different amounts of time to complete.
English - unlike French, Spanish, German, and other European languages - has no national academy to set and maintain the rules. As a global language, it incorporates roots and whole words from other languages regularly, as well as accumulating jargon and slang from professional disciplines and common speech. There are also dialect issues that distinguish spelling, meaning, rules, and pronunciation with respect to British, American, Canadian, South African, Australian, and Indian "native" speakers. Those points aside, most of the grammar is identical despite national and cultural borders. Even better, most of the differences are systematic, and fairly easy to recognize, after a little practice. Even better, the bigger the words, the easier it is to know the pronunciation rules. A few hints - e.g., the "silent e" and the "double consonant" rules simplify pronunciation. Understanding the importance of time in verb structures is another key to effective and correct writing and speaking. Perhaps best of all, there is a practice that can help adults learn many grammar rules subconsciously, as happens with preliterate children. It is reading. Start with collections of short stories. Because they are short, one can finish most of them, not matter how boring they may appear to be at first. A good variation is to read jokes. Think of them as very short stories that require the reader to pay attention to what is said and to what is implied. Long ago, I heard the advice, "If you understand the jokes in a language, you truly understand the language... and the culture."
English is a powerful language, enriched by what it incorporates from other languages. While the core remains largely the same, the dialects of Americans, Canadians, Britons, Indians, South Africans, New Zealanders, and Australians - and regional differences within those areas - range broadly. Reading a detective story based in Scotland brings in one kind of local vocabulary; a similar story in Boston brings in quite another. The dilemma for the reader is how to use the color of local language to reinforce the setting, while not being bogged down looking up "every other" word in the dictionary... or on the internet. One must distinguish between narrative [standard English] and dialogue [realistic natural language]. In criticizing or critiquing a piece of fiction, one looks for realism - sometimes in the form of "suspended disbelief" - in the setting [narrative] and in communications [dialogue]. That requires the reader to accept characters - and characterizations - quite counter to the tastes and speech patterns of the reader. "Real" people are not always consistent; neither are fictional characters. The author's challenge is to make them believable. In that way, the author can make a moral point - as in "The Scarlet Letter" or "Huckleberry Finn" - while entertaining the reader, or simply allow escapism - as with many "romance" novels.
Phonics in English is quite tricky, in part because of the conflicting influences of their Romance and Germanic origins. Some consonants ["g," "k," and "p"] are silent on the front of some words. Other consonants have different pronunciations, depending on their position within a word and/or the letter they precede or follow. For example, sometimes, the letter "c" sound like an "s" and other times it sounds like a "k." There are similar problems with "s." Fortunately, learning a few simple rules [the silent "e," and the double consonant] reduces the confusion dramatically. Even so, the vowels present the worst problems, especially with short words.
I stress reading aloud - especially with ESL students - so that they learn words and pronunciation in context. Stated differently, they build up patterns in their subconscious mind, leaving more obscure pronunciations for the conscious mind to analyze. With small children just learning to read, the primary objective is to remove fear of making mistakes. They often become quite adept at phonics-based reading, because they can decipher possible pronunciations and then draw on their listening and speaking vocabularies to select the correct choice. By contrast, phonics-based writing - at first - may appear to be riddled with mistakes. Again, with more reading, the correct spellings begin to be accumulated by the subconscious mind, so writing skills improve.
In short, phonics is a powerful tool in building up vocabulary, but it should not be used exclusively, especially with short words. To illustrate the latter point, I wrote a limerick using the rhyming words "Newark," "jerk," "quirk," "work, and "lurk," to show that the same phoneme can be represented by the five common vowels. The key to effective use of phonics is to make use of both the conscious mind [with rules] and the subconscious mind [with patterns]. I have been effective showing students how to do this in a very short time.
Proofreading operates at several levels. At the most basic, one looks for errors in grammar and spelling. "Grammar checkers" built into word processors help, but they are not free of their own errors. MS Word, for example, often mixes 'then' and 'than.' WhiteSmoke finds complex errors in grammar, but also wrongly identifies correct text as erroneous.
Next, one looks at word selection. For example, "segregation" and "distillation" both involve "separation," but they are not usually interchangeable.
At this stage, one also looks for cliches, e.g., "it is a known fact..." Use of jargon must be appropriate to the subject, e.g., "scarcity" and "utility" take on special meanings in Economics; slang should be eliminated, except in relevant quotations.
Most important is that the paper should be capable of being read "military style," i.e., backwards. Do the recommendations follow from the conclusions? Do the conclusions follow from the discussions? Do the discussions cover all - but only - the areas covered by the executive summary? Does the introduction provide a map for the organization of the paper? Along the way, are citations properly formed [footnotes or endnotes] and tied back to a properly formatted bibliography? Are there appendices for any discussions "out of scale" with the rest of the paper? Are changeable components [tables, lists, charts] in the appendices, if such changes do not affect the logic of the paper itself? In summary, there are many things to check. Fortunately, most are straightforward. Any others are important to find early.
First and foremost, reading is something to treasure, not to be seen as punishment or a burden. There are three main kinds: aloud [letting your subconscious mind gather grammar rules], silent [letting your conscious mind operate more efficiently], and speed [unpleasant, but sometimes necessary].
Reading opens up whole new worlds of adventure, information, challenges, and escape. Sometimes, readers are afraid to take chances, and wait for someone else to explain each new word or concept. Others jump immediately to the dictionary, without seeing if they can infer the meaning from context and other clues. Still others - with poor pronunciation and spelling skills - do not recognize words that they know in conversation... and vice versa.
One practical step to improving reading uses short stories as well as jokes [extremely short stories that depend on context and/or word ambiguity]. A long boring book is hard to continue; a short one is possible. Depending on age, one can also benefit by learning some tricks using roots and modifiers. Consider tracing the relationships between bicycle, tricycle, tricerotops, rhinoceros, rhinoplasty, and plasterboard.
Finally, as with most things, the more reading one does, the easier it is.
I hold a BA in Mathematics, California teaching credentials in Mathematics [K14], and an NCLB "Highly Qualified" rating. I have also tutored in various levels of Mathematics, and with helping high school students prepare for the SAT.
SAT Reading has several aspects. All focus on understanding the precision of grammar and of word choice. It is critical to read what is written, NOT just what appears to be intended. Vocabulary is typically drawn from literature of at least a half-century to a century and a half earlier. If you are not a reader, you will have real problems. If you do read, but only read recent writings targeting your age and gender, you will have almost the same difficulty... even if you are good at memorizing dictionary definitions. Take some time to study roots and modifiers, so that you can use known ones to determine meanings in unfamiliar words. Also, practice inferring meaning from context.
The SAT is one of several pathways to getting into the right college or universities. However, the vocabulary in it is based on literature of roughly 1750 to 1950. The best preparation involves an extensive reading program throughout high school. However, one must also have a firm grasp of roots and modifiers in order to make intelligent guesses of the meanings of unfamiliar words, based on embedded roots and modifiers.
Reading aloud from serious literature is also a means of reinforcing precision of speech and implicit rules. [One shouldn't have to "think about" whether to say "an mouthful" or "a eyesore."] Both writing and reading benefit from regularity as well as from recording newly encountered words. Such recording - and periodic review - can help the writer avoid sounding like he or she was obviously - and wrongly - trying to impress by mis-using words plucked from a dictionary.
I have learned "study skills" the hard way, while earning four college and graduate degrees; several teaching credentials; TEFL and TESOL certificates; and working in the rapidly changing IT field for several decades.
Some of the issues involve how - and when - to employ speed reading; creating test questions; anticipating test questions; and using test results as a basis for study focus. Boring as it may seem, one must keep a calendar - preferably online - of events [classes, holidays, exams, due dates, field trips] and non-academic commitments, so that there are no instances of forgetting or double-scheduling. In general, it is easier to keep a week ahead than it is to catch up.
Then, of course, there are personal styles. Some people prefer long stints with one subject; others require variety. It isn't someone else's choice, but yours, to be responsive to your strengths.
NOTE: One of my recent WyzAnt students made a dramatic improvement in his grades by applying the strategies outlines above.
For ESL students, there are additional devices, e.g., keeping a running list of ALL new words encountered, doing recreational reading of short stories and jokes, and "standing back" when hearing metaphorical references, in order to decipher meaning.
As a youngster, I learned to swim at the local "Y," and went on to take Boy Scout and Red Cross training in Swimming and Water Safety. In college, I was on four Swimming teams and one Water Polo team, three of which enjoyed championship seasons. During college, I also worked as a pool lifeguard. Subsequently, I taught my wife, daughters and granddaughters to swim. The "Y" views the water as a natural environment, the Boy Scouts see it as a competitive environment, and the Red Cross sees it as a safety environment. Thus, I see these as all connected.
Improving vocabulary has a few basic elements: synchronizing what one hears, speaks, reads, writes, and edits; deciphering truly new words from the roots and modifiers used in already known words; and narrowing the range of meaning from context. Especially for ESL students, it means reading: aloud, silently, and - yes - speed in English. Taking advantage of the subconscious mind - while reading - is a way to learn rules without memorizing them. One must also learn how to use a true dictionary, as opposed to a word list or a portable computer dictionary. Learning the "Silent e" and the "Double consonant" rules can bring quick improvements.
At Pomona College, I was on a championship Water Polo team. We won against many teams because we were better conditioned, even though we had a very small team. We had fun, and enjoyed playing against much stronger teams - like UCLA - to test our progress. Later, I encouraged my nephew to play Water Polo in High School, for both fun and discipline. They were important then, and remain so now.
History - like all subjects - should be used as a filter through which to view the world around us. In my case, sorting slides for my parents' Art History classes gave me a broad, cross-cultural, historical perspective. As a child, receiving "Red Cross" letters from my uncle while he was a WWII POW in Germany made that war personal and real. Reading both historical fiction and factual narratives broadened my perspective. Finally, studying Economics as a college minor and graduate major added the dimension of the behavior of populations, not just that of Kings, Generals, and Popes. Consequently, I received NCLB "Highly Qualified" ratings in the subject, even without a degree.
The challenge for students today is to "see" the Civil Wars Syria, Libya, and Ukraine through the filter of our own Civil War. Similarly, in watching foreign participation in "Revolutionary Wars," to ask what would have happened had French sailors and soldiers not aided the Americans against British recruits and Hessian mercenaries?
In other words, remember that History is always "in the making."
Term paper writing begins with organized research and orderly citation of materials reviewed, and specific quotations or summations from them. It continues with putting the referenced materials into the bibliography of a "shell" document. Before starting, identify the 'style' used by the target school or organization. In the old days, it was 'Campbell's;' now, it might be the MLA [Modern Language Association], the Woodward Academy, or some other.
NOTE: It is easiest if one extends the bibliography with each new source cited, instead of waiting 'til the end.
The overall process continues with the usual Introduction [a guide to the whole document]; a Statement of the Problem, on what the research intends to find; a Discussion [pros and cons]; Conclusions; and - sometimes - Recommendations.
During the writing, one uses footnotes [or endnotes] to tie specific quoted material or significant paraphrasing to the bibliography. The difference is that the footnotes/endnotes contain page numbers.
Sometimes, a discussion requires more detail than is appropriate to the limitations of the paper itself. In that case, a fuller explanation may included and referenced in an Appendix. Similarly, some materials may not be available elsewhere [e.g., a personal interview], and the full content might be included as another Appendix.
NOTE: In 'military writing,' one reads the paper backwards. If the author is reputable, the reader might stop with the recommendations. If there is any question on them, the reader reviews the conclusions, to see if the recommendations follow from them. If not, the reader moves to the discussion, to see if it really leads to the conclusions. Similarly, if the discussion seems unfocused, biased, or poorly done, the reader moves to the statement of the problem. If that is ill-defined, the paper is rejected. Even outside a military context, it seems to be a good check on overall quality.