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As the school year ramps up again, I wanted to put out a modified version of a Memo of Understanding http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memo_of_understanding for parents and students. It seems each year in the rush to get through the first weeks of school parents and students forget the basic first good steps and then the spiral downwards occurs and then the need for obtaining a tutor and then the ‘wish for promises’ from a tutor. Pay attention to your child’s folder or agenda book. A student is generally not able to self regulate until well into high school. Some people never quite figure it out. Be the best person you can be by helping your child check for due dates, completeness, work turned in on time. Not only will this help your child learn to create and regulate a schedule, it prevents the following types of conversations I always disliked as a teacher ("Can you just give my child one big assignment to make up for the D/F so they can pass"; "I am going to talk to... read more

There are two "tricks" I have found to make history much simpler to learn. The first is to realize that time is always in motion and to track the cause/effect relationships throughout time (see "Time is a Flow"). The second is to apply emotions to history, and by that I mean to put yourself in the shoes of those before you. For example, I am tutoring two students in American history, currently at the events leading up to and including the Declaration of Independence. So, put yourself in the colonists' shoes. WHY were the set of acts setup by Britain so awful? WHY did the colonists have no choice but to rebel? Well, if you pretend that you are a colonist, the answers start making sense: You are being ruled by a monarchy across an entire ocean. At this point, you were probably born in America, so you have never even been to Britain. Yet, this king decides all of the laws for you and places taxes on items you use everyday... for what? To send more troops... read more

My emerging tutoring passion is assisting ESL college students with their coursework. Most of them must also hold full-time jobs to support themselves and often their families as well. Many require online courses to get college educations. They could not earn a college degree any other way. Do textbook publishing companies realize how much cultural bias is written into their online ancillary (supplemental) materials? Do teachers of online college courses realize how hopeless these students feel about merely passing a class when their grades depend on online multiple-choice exams consisting of 60 items to be completed in 60 minutes (60 in 60), for example? This may be a subtle form of cultural bias, but bias it is. Frankly, as a native speaker of American English with a master’s degree in journalism from University of Wisconsin—Madison, I’m not sure I could pass a 60 in 60 exam. I would like to challenge the instructors who teach these online courses and college administrators... read more

As you know, all teachers (and tutors!) were once students. So they know all the pitfalls that can cause a student to not get their homework done. The reason can be social - maybe the student wants to get his or her work done but the distraction of all the social media is too much to resist. The reason can also be academic - maybe the subject is difficult, such as challenging concepts or perhaps they're faced with an assignment that didn't get explained well enough to be done independently. Or sometimes it's the dreaded PROCRASTINATION. That can be the worst of all reasons to not get work done because the longer you procrastinate, the more the work piles up and then the student becomes "paralyzed", overwhelmed by the mountain of work that has accumulated. When procrastination has gotten the better of you, the important thing is to not let yourself be so overwhelmed that you don't do the work at all. Here's what you do: PRIORITIZE AND GET STARTED! It is a simple phrase... read more

Should I get a tutor? Will it help my child? These are some of the most common questions posed to tutors by parents of students struggling in school. Tutoring can be expensive and difficult to schedule so parents must decide whether the time and money will be well spent. Instead of relying on a crystal ball, use these factors to help make the decision. 1. Does the student spend an appropriate amount of time on homework and studies? While it can help with study skills, organization, and motivation, tutoring cannot be expected to keep the student on track unless you plan on having a session every night. If you can make sure the student puts in effort outside of tutoring, she will be more likely benefit from it. 2. Does the student have difficulty learning from the textbook? If this is the case, the student will probably respond to one-on-one instruction that is more personalized. A tutor will help bring the subject to life and engage the student. A good tutor will explain... read more

As a literature teacher, my favorite activity ever (bonus that it's educational) is reading in a setting that lends itself well to the book you are reading. In the case of literature, the possibilities are only limited to what's available. One of my favorite memories from last summer was reading Dracula on a back lit Kindle at twilight in my front yard, while bats swooped around above me and the moon rose. Some other fantastic matches?              1. Secret Garden in a botanical garden, or sitting in the middle of your own garden at home or a friend's              2. Paradise Lost in the same setting, but maybe around eight or nine o'clock, in that last hour of readable light, when the light starts to fade and shadows grow longer and take over the landscape              3. Inferno (by Dante... read more

When using the internet, it is important to make sure you have a quality source to site from. There are a varity of websites and blogs that are written with bias or an agenda, you always want to be confident you've sited a professional and not an ideologue. Colleges and libraries have a database you can access that have quality sources, and most everyone should have free access to them, but if you're like me, and you like to use something your professor hasn't seen or possibly is unaware of, then I suggest you look into the Library of Congress and the National Archives as a primary source. If you are looking for professional opinions, then I would suggest finding professors that have published works. They can be a great secondary source that can either confirm or dispute your thesis and theories. NEVER use blogs! Never use wikipedia, although some material on wiki is a good place to start your research; to gain some perspective on your subject, most professors will not accept wikipedia... read more

Many of my students have told me that Social Studies or History is their worst subject. When I ask why, they say they “just don’t get it”. I usually find out that they have a hard time connecting the dots. For example, they learn about the American Revolution but don’t understand how it connects to King George III and the Declaration of Independence. This article gives parents, tutors, and teachers some hints and tips for helping students connect the people, places, and events of history to improve their comprehension. 1. Use historical thinking skills. The National Center for History in the Schools (NCHS) is a UCLA - based organization dedicated to collaborating with schools and teachers to provide “engaging and exciting explorations of U.S. and World history.” (From the NCHS mission statement; use this link to visit their website: http://www.nchs.ucla.edu/.) One powerful tool they created is their list of five historical thinking skills teachers, parents, and tutors can use to... read more

One of the best ways to improve your study skills in remembering the details of a historical event is to make up a silly or ridiculous visual in your mind. For example, if you are trying to remember that the American Civil War was fought between 1861 to 1865 and that the Confederacy's President was Jefferson Davis, while the Union's President was Abraham Lincoln, you can create a silly image in your head of Jefferson Davis riding a surfboard wearing a shirt with a "C" on it while racing Abraham Lincoln on another surfboard wearing a black top hat with an "U" on it. Picture Davis's surfboard having a cool graphic of the numbers "1861," while Lincoln's surfboard has "1865" printed on it. If you need to know more details for an essay question, you could add to the picture. You could have Davis holding a paper in his hand, which says "secession," and Lincoln could be holding a copy of "The Emancipation Proclamation" in his hand... read more

Alex made my day today. He passed the Global History and Geography Regents Exam!! Let me tell you a little bit about Alex. When I first met him, he came to tutoring two hours late. The next day an 11/2 late. He was on time on the third day, but by the next week it was back to being Alex. He did not show up for tutoring nor did he call. He would do assignments if he felt like it. There was always an excuse for something, but he would never take responsibility for his actions. When I finally sat down with he and his mother and told them that at the rate Alex was going, he was not going to pass his Regents exams. He may have to repeat the grade or go to summer school. Alex became so angry and adamant. He kept saying repeatedly, that he was not going to repeat grade 10. So I looked at him and asked, "So what are you going to do about it?" "Because saying that you are not going to repeat and then you neither study nor do the assignments, is not saying much. I think that... read more

My first grade student blew me away today. He not only read the word, 'interesting,' all by himself -- but he also knew exactly how many syllables it has!  After a full year tutoring, we have a great connection and each weekly session has its surprises.  I find I learn from my students, just as they learn from me.  Age does not seem to matter, each individual has his or her own personality and interests.   We read a book about bats today.  With terms like hibernation and echolocation, it was inevitable that we discussed a few definitions during the reading.  First graders can be quite inquisitive, and we were pressed for time.  So, I continued reading and before we finished, I learned something I did not know.  Of course, I knew the early American settlers once lived in 'colonies.'  Somehow, though, it never occurred to me that large groups of bats also live in colonies!  I also never thought about how the closeup photos in... read more

I was excited on Tuesday, July 16th, 2013. This was my third meeting with this student and I finally had a breakthrough with him. On the first meeting it was clear that he saw Algebra I almost as a foreign language. I began with one of the test packet, and had him do 10 questions and reviewed the questions he had done wrong. So this continued for a while, and of course sometimes he would say that he understood, but it was clear that he did not. Anyway, after reviewing the entire packet I began a teach and learn session, in which I picked a variety of topics and had him practice various equations. After which I gave him a quiz. He failed the quiz miserably, so of course he still did not understand. Anyway, I gave him another packet for homework. When I saw the student again, I reviewed with him, but still not much improvement, but at least he tried. I did the teach and learn session again, of which some of the questions were from the previous session, and I gave him the same... read more

The Summer session has just begun. The stress has already begun to set in, but this week I had a break through with a few of the students. So this is my second week with a student who I am tutoring for both Algebra I and Earth Science. So far he seems stronger in Earth Science but still needs much practice, before I can be very confident about his ability to pass the Regents exam in August. After the first session of Algebra, I walked away thinking about how am I going to get him ready by August 13th. I recommended an additional session to the parents, but so far they have said no. I did several practice examples, and made the second session mainly a teaching and learning session. Then I ended the session with a quiz, but he failed :(. So when I had to meet him again for Earth Science, my mind was swirling as to how I can help him, and will I at least be successful with this subject. When I checked the homework, there was a slight improvement but not enough to celebrate. So I came... read more

Hello Miss Gil, I received a 96% in Global History. I was so excited to hear these words from my student! At first she did not want to be tutored. Her father dropped her off at the Library. So I told her that if she did the practice test, and did well, she would never have to see me again. Well, she scored a 58%, and there were so many events and topics that she did not know. We scheduled 3 additional three hour sessions. By the last session, her essays had improved and her overall score was an 83%. I told her that I believe that she can score as much as a 95% on the Regents Exam. She laughed and said "Yeah right". Well she scored a 96% and I am very proud of her.

So you finished your first AP class, and you think you did pretty well. You're taking three of them next year in preparation for college admissions, so you're definitely going to relax over the summer, right? No! While the school year is still fresh in your brain you should consider the following: 1. How could I have been better organized? 2. Where did I struggle? 3. What are my goals for next year, and what do I have to change to achieve them? One of the very first things you can do is get an early start! And it doesn't have to feel like work, make it fun! But by taking a few simple steps over the summer you will be ten steps ahead in September! Are you taking AP Government & Politics? Watch a Sunday news show every week, and write down words, terms, things you don't understand and go look them up online. Watch The West Wing. Read Newsweek cover to cover. Are you taking AP American History? Pick a topic you really enjoyed in middle school social studies... read more

A great way to prepare for the SAT and life in general is by reviewing vocabulary daily. Consider purchasing a daily word calendar, or simply check College Board's Word of the Day at http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-question-of-the-day. If a student begins studying a a new word every day beginning with their freshman year of high school, they could learn up to one thousand words before they take the SAT! Increased vocabulary will not only increase SAT scores, but give students a much improved ability to construct essays and papers in college.

Everyone knows that demonstrating the ability to think critically on tests and assignments and in writing is the way to your teacher’s or professor’s heart. But how do you do that when you don’t even know what critical thinking is? Although “critical thinking” is a much debated term, I would simply call it your ability to analyze a given issue or problem. Okay, great, you say ... so what the heck does that mean? Well ... it depends. There’s all sorts of different types of analysis. A math problem, for example, requires a different type of analysis from say the analysis of a world history essay prompt. Trying to figure out ... or analyze ... , the different reasons why your dog threw up on your favorite pair of sneakers is a bit different from trying to figure out why the author of novel chose to kill off the main character of the book you were just assigned to read. Although, I can see where my description of analysis above might frustrate those expecting a straightforward... read more

The 2013 AP Exams will be administered over two weeks in May: May 6 through 10 and May 13 through 17. Click on the following link for more precise dates: http://professionals.collegeboard.com/testing/ap/about/dates For those taking the AP European History, AP US History, AP World History and AP English Language and Composition, the dreaded DBQ section is upon you! Are you ready? Rather than demonstrating extensive knowledge, a confident time management strategy is key to succeeding on this particular part of the test. Because there is so much to do in so little time, students without one may find frayed nerves and draw blanks in the examination room. Receiving a packet containing three-to-sixteen original document sources and an unfamiliar essay prompt question that requires those sources to be organized in response around a sound thesis is enough to make any high-school kid break into a cold sweat. But you don't have to worry, here are some quick tips for developing... read more

I worked with a really great student today. She was studying for her AP History exam and was nervous, but she had already worked very hard and just needed to be refreshed in some things. I was really impressed because she had been very proactive and gone out and found the hardest questions she could that might be on her upcoming exam, things that she hadn't learned in class. She spent a great deal of time asking me questions and we both got very excited by all the connections she was able to make after she learned the things she had missed before. I have so much confidence in her for the AP exam and I'm excited for all the things she learned on her own, with me, and in class.

One of my pet peeves is how history is often taught. First off, history is about people and what happened, which is often rather exciting, not about dates. If you don't believe me that history can be exciting, just look at the #1 source for inspiration for video games (at least #1 when it comes to school subjects). Most strategy games are based on history and most others include history in their games (even if not our history *nods at Final Fantasy*). My other gripe though is that history is broken into sections. While I certainly admit the world has gone through major events and that sections can be helpful, so often I see history learned entirely as those sections. Time is a flow. History flows one event into the next. If we do not teach our students the cause-and-effect relationships throughout history, how are we supposed to learn from our past mistakes (and successes)? For example, I have a student who I am helping with history. He is studying world history from... read more

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