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This piece was originally written for a composition teaching journal in April 2015.    Considerable hullabaloo accompanies what some deem incorrect usage of language. Seriously, did he just write hullaballoo in an academic piece? Hopefully you see what I mean. Seriously, did he just use second person? Is he engaging in meta-discourse? Composition instructors, some of whom might have throated some deep consternation in the opening lines of this discussion, tend to face the expectation that they erect themselves on mountains among a network of so-called authorities on the English language, and from such heights, prescribe, as a doctor would medication, remedies for the “diseases” of the English language. For these administrators and “language mavens” alike, one of the principle concerns of the 21st century—the age of text messages and tweets—is the shortage of correct grammar, correct, of course, in terms of standards often set by the same group of people. This, I posit,... read more

Yes, there is a cure for dyslexia. However, the cure is unreachable for most students. Every child facing the dyslexia label needs an individual "toolbox" with unlimited learning supplies. Those "toolbox" supplies need to be (1) whatever teaching methods (even sometimes) make learning easier for that child, (2) unlimited access to educators whose primary concern is raising the student's self esteem, (3) a waiver from having to read aloud or do math problems in front of the entire class, (4) unlimited access to pictures, stories, and hands-on activities, (5) unlimited access to appropriate technology, (6) information broken into smaller parts and/or color-coded, (7) notes, formulas, word-banks, mnemonics, modified assignments, and (8) a total acceptance of outside the box (giving the student the benefit of the doubt) types of problem solving.   Educational challenges come in about as many shapes and sizes as there are children in schools. The "One... read more

While I, as a writer, very much enjoy the act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, more likely), I understand not everyone is as inclined. In fact, writing can be a very tedious task if you're not invested in your writing, whether an inbox full of emails that need responses or a 10-page paper. But I have a few quick tips that will hopefully make writing more fun for everyone! Write to a soundtrack. Now, this tip may not be for everyone, as some people find it very hard to focus with any kind of distraction. But I find that music playing softly in the background while I type away takes some of the pressure of what I'm doing, as I'm less likely to track the minutes I spend staring at the same sentence if I have a song giving my work flow and momentum. Pick whatever music you like, but I suggest nothing too catchy that you'll be tempted to stop writing and have a karaoke break. I have a playlist of music without words, which doesn't have to be all classical... read more

A friend of mine recently posed a question to me: "What exactly IS a career student? Is that the guy that has been in his senior year of high school since 2009?" No, young grasshopper, a career student is not that guy. That guy or girl is what we call a senior-senior, and he or she is usually a pretty awesome person that just really enjoys high school. I came up with the term "career student" (peep the tagline) in an effort to describe the types of high school and college students that might be interested in my services and/or what I hope students that use my services will become. A career student is a student that treats their academic life like a professional career. I know a lot of career students, and yes, you want to be one of them.  Career students have certain qualities that they have acquired with lots of effort and support. Anyone can be a career student (even people that HATE school). A lesson I learned after high school... read more

Hi all!   If you're reading this then you probably just got the same nasty surprise as I did earlier this month.  The ACT is changing the writing prompt starting in September, and students need to shift gears, A.S.A.P.!    What changed?   Let's start with timing. Students now get 40 minutes for the Writing Test.  They'll need the extra ten minutes, because the prompt, writing task, and planning stages have all been expanded.    remember the old prompt?  Sure, you've been teaching it up until a few hours, days, or maybe weeks ago.  It included 4-5 sentences on a subject having to do with education and schooling, subjects at the forefront of high school students' minds.  The first sentence introduced a problem faced by students or schools.  The second and third sentences introduced two sides of an argument, pro- and con-, and an argument supporting each side.  Finally, the prompt ended with a... read more

College application essays are one of my favorite assignments to work on with students. They are a chance for me to get to know my students better as we brainstorm topics for their personal essays. I get to hear about childhood memories, unique family traditions, and uncommon hobbies. I love helping students find their voice and tell their unique stories to colleges. My students do not share my enthusiasm for application essays. They feel immense pressure to produce their best pieces of writing to impress colleges. They have also probably heard vague tidbits of advice on how to accomplish this: stand out, don’t be cliché, and be interesting. It’s no wonder that a lot of students have trouble finding a place to start. Here are a few tips to make college application essays less scary: 1. Reading other essays: Read other well-written college application essays. Many colleges release strong application essays from previous years. Reading an array of these essays... read more

I recently published a new book - a collection of haiku.   A Good Day to Die is a collection of haiku in traditional form, written by acclaimed author Carl Weaver. The subjects of his works are traditional – nature, seasons, animal life, other people, changing emotional state – but also include some poems of passion and romance.   This was done all in Microsoft Word - a full-length book manuscript. Easy to do if you know how. Need help putting your project together? Let me know and I can help you out.

For parents  -- and tutors looking for tips -- I am interested in speaking with you about your tutoring needs, or plans. I live conveniently, in Newton Centre, and have worked with many high school students in the greater Boston area. My students (and their parents)  are very enthusiastic about my special technique. The methods I use include some of the following: reading for speed, reading for context, skimming, customized exercises, quizzes designed by me, alternative study styles, and more.    My students have shown dramatic improvement on the SAT and ACT, as well as in English class, and in their ability to communicate well in writing. This is a skill that will carry them through many college assignments, and I teach my students to edit their own writing.   After evaluating each student's reading and writing level, I adapt my curriculum to account for their weakest areas.  The topics we may cover include analytical writing, composition,... read more

For many students, last year in school was frustrating and there were needs that perhaps were not appropriately met.  Maybe it was accommodations needed that were not in place or it was study or organizational skills that are lacking and are not being supported in school.  Or, if your child is in high school, perhaps they're struggling with writing -- research papers, essays, or preparing for the writing portion of the college admissions exams.   Summer is the time to evaluate what has happened and where things need to improve for the upcoming school year.  Every school year matters and ensuring that your child is realizing success vs. struggles can make all the difference.  A few tips include: Ensuring that your child has a quiet area for school/homework.  TV, video games, and even texting cannot and should not compete with their ability to focus; Online calendars are great, yet many students do better with an actual calendar/day... read more

As a high school English teacher I am constantly asked the same question for writing assignments, “how many paragraphs does it need to be?” I hate this question. I hate that somewhere students were taught that the number paragraphs dictates the quality of the writing. That someone has quantified how many paragraphs make a good essay. I can name names, but for anyone who knows writing instruction and the theories behind it, you know who I am referring to and probably know the disciples of her method. Perhaps you are one of them, preaching the structure of one paragraph for your introduction, complete with hook and thesis. Three paragraphs for your body, full of topic sentences and transitions. Finally the concluding paragraph, I can’t wait to hear you restate your thesis! My question is a simple one. When do we see this method at work after high school?  When in a college class would a paragraph essay be sufficient for talking about the effects of over-expansion... read more

It does happen sometimes- you've met a new student once, or twice, and they don't return. There are many possible reasons for this; it could be the tutor's approach, the student's expectations, or other external factors. This happened to me recently, despite all my tutoring experience, and I'll explain why. This college student came to me two days before an essay was due, with a poor first draft full of grammatical issues along with a poor grasp of the topic and supporting readings for it. She was desperate, and I believe expected me to just fix her paper for her. When I asked her how she deals with her second-language grammar problems, she explained that she uses an online program that supposedly corrects her grammar on her submitted draft. That is, she isn't really learning the grammar herself, but depending on a software program. In addition, she didn't grasp the admittedly-hard readings assigned in her text, and was very vague on her thesis. I reviewed the essay and suggested that... read more

You have one hour with a college prep specialist who can help make your admissions/scholarship essays award winning.  How can you maximize your time?  Here are five tips to get the most out of your time:   Come Prepared. - Bring the essay prompts from each of your colleges.  Bring a sample personal statement and resume.  Be sure to have any information necessary to complete an admissions essay, to include your GPA, test scores, and any major accomplishments. Know Thyself - Always know your stats.  During this time, knowing your GPA and SAT score is as important as knowing your name and birthdate.  Also, know (and have a list of) your interests, hobbies, favorite subjects, etc.  Have an idea of at least 3 possible majors and careers you would like to explore. Be on Time - There is a lot to cover!  The better prepared and earlier you are, the more likely we are to get a lot done. Also, I tend to take my time... read more

Tonight I met with one of my students, who is in 6th grade, and we are working together to tackle proper essay structure.    This can be a tough issue for students, especially the really creative ones. These are the students that are FULL of ideas, and all of them are equally good, so why can't they just put them all into one essay or story? Trust me, it's not easy to kill your darlings, but it must be done (until you get a blog, of course).    In general, all essays, or even stories should be structured in a similar fashion: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Or, a beginning, a middle, and an end.    The introduction will include the visuals, the details to get the reader completely hooked into the story. If this is an analytical essay, the introduction will include the argument, or the point you're trying to prove.    Next comes the body, or the middle of the essay/story. This will typically be the longest... read more

Sometimes overcoming feeling stuck on a writing assignment can be as easy as expressing your thoughts out loud.  If a good friend (or perhaps someone else from your target audience) came to you, and you decided to share on this assignment topic, what would you say?  Express this out loud, and then before you forget, write it down.    

Hey everyone, I'm Joel! I'm just crazy about language and have spent the last ten years learning dialects from the clicking Xhosa to the gaffable Yiddish. I'm excited to help you out with your writing because its is something I have been passionate about for a long time. But, at the end of the day this is something new for me and I'm looking forward to getting to know you as we begin this adventure if creativity, clarity and self-expression. Tally-ho!

Here in New Jersey, all public school students in grades 3-11 will be taking the PARCC test in March, and there is considerable anxiety about what the results of this new and very different test will be. To address this concern, I have added new tools and curriculum to my tutoring tool-box. This new material is designed to complement the PARCC prep workbooks and to encourage students to read and write about texts that are slightly more difficult than they are accustomed to. The questions I provide mirror the PARCC, focusing on literary elements, content, theme, and tone.    Students in grades 1-3 have been reading fables, trickster tales, and tall tales. They are asked to compare and contrast these stories to each other and to compose written responses that are 5-7 sentences long. This is difficult for them, especially because I stress that they can only write each idea once. Quotes do not count for length!   My fourth and fifth grade students have been... read more

I received a draft of an essay from a student last week.  She asked me to proof it and give her feedback.  The essay was for a scholarship.  In short, it was a mess.  There was no introduction, no thesis, no clear points -- in other words, it was nearly a random collection of grammatically incorrect sentences. There was really no place to start editing/proofing.   I guess I could have said lots of comforting things about how the student had tried and how the thoughts were there but the format needed work.  However, both comments would have been lies.  Now that I am retired and out of the classroom, I have become more honest.  In the college classroom, it was drilled into me as a young teaching assistant that I needed to have something positive to say on every assignment.  As a retired professor, I do not feel that need - at least not as strongly.   Tearing students down is not the right thing to do.  However, telling... read more

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