Many high-schoolers picture big lecture halls and pulling all-nighters with a pile of books in the library when the term college academics comes up. The fact of the matter is that few high schoolers have any idea what to expect from college, and end up pretty shocked for most of the first semester.Read More
Improving Academic Performance
The most typical way people study for a standardized test — be that the SAT in high school or the GMAT long after — consists of solving practice problems, solving more practice problems, and then taking a practice test.Read More
Gamification is one way teachers are getting students to pay attention. Because no one student is exactly the same, a number of different teaching styles and methods have been developed – this includes applying game dynamics, mechanics, and frameworks into the classroom.
Although there have been a number of studies on how gamifying non-game settings impacts students, one result is clear: gamification can make learning more fun and memorable. The three main points of gamification have been identified as motivational ‘affordances’ (the opportunities the actual activities give the subject or the mechanics of the game), the psychological outcome (the resultant change in feeling about an activity during and after the activity), and the behavioral outcome (the change in behavior following the gamified activity). Lee Sheldon, an Assistant Professor at Indiana University at Bloomington reported that his application of gamification in the classroom was a success. He renamed student presentations “quests,” taking tests were “fighting monsters,” writing papers were “crafting,” and letter grades were “experience points.” As a result, Sheldon found that his students’ average grade improved one full letter grade.
One analysis on gamification found that the four dynamics and concepts found in game design that were most successful in motivating students to learn were -
- Freedom to Fail: Rather than focusing on an irreversible final grade, students are encouraged to experiment and take academic risks through the concept of having multiple “lives” or allowing them to start over from their most recent “checkpoint.” This gives students to opportunity to take chances with decision-making and be exposed to consequences. Students can then focus on the process of learning, instead of just their final grade.
- Rapid Feedback: Similarly to a game, continual feedback to learners can also motivate students. Battling a boss in a game using the many skills acquired provides immediate feedback to the player on whether or not they qualify for the next level. This can be achieved in the classroom through self-paced exercises, visual cues, frequent question-and-answer activities, a progress bar, or carefully placed comments by non-player characters.
- Progression: Categorizing information to improve student focus mirrors the ‘levels’ found in game design. Additionally, creating high low points to grab attention also mimics the interest curve students may experience when playing a game. Progression also includes requiring students to incorporate lower order thinking skills into the first stages of a class and then progressing to require higher order thinking skills as they ‘level’ up. This helps students realize they need the knowledge acquired from past stages in order to arrive at the highest order thinking skills.
- Storytelling: There have been numerous studies on how using storytelling elements can increase student attention and retention of information. Storytelling elements include the use of characters, emotion, and other descriptors to help students visualize a lesson. By creating moments of surprise or humor, for example, students are more likely to be captivated and remember the lecture.
Several successful cases of gamifying the classroom have been reported in recent years.
One case is of Clifford Lampe, an Assistant Professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan. He applies gamification to his 200-student lecture class by providing students with choices, rapid feedback, collaborative processes, and competition. Students also have the option to “choose their own adventure” by selecting assignments, although higher level assignments are not available until they have been ‘unlocked’ by completing lower level assignments. Lampe has concluded that gamification has improved his student’s motivation and retention. Another Assistant Professor, Dr. Carman Neustaedter from the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University found that creating a scoreboard with students’ class ranking in real-time provided the rapid feedback he needed. Each student also earned a rank title, such as “Artistic Intern” or “Grand Master Speculative Designer.” Neustaedter found that the scoreboard has increased students’ motivation and sparks healthy competition.
Beyond the classroom, gamification has also been incorporated in other non-game settings.
Road contractors in 2014 implemented musical grooves on Route 66 to encourage drivers to obey the speed limit. The language-learning app DuoLingo also uses gaming techniques to make what could be a mundane lesson fun.
Despite the many case studies that demonstrate gamification in the classroom can be successful, it must be noted that not all elements of a game are equally motivating to each student. Providing differentiated instruction for students not only means gamification, but also includes other methods of teaching.
About the Author
Rachael Tom is the Marketing Communications Manager at ThinkFun, an award-winning global company and the leading developer of logic and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) games that make learning fun!
In our previous two articles, we discussed what to expect from a private tutor before and during tutoring sessions. We covered communication, logistics, planning, and specific tutoring strategies and techniques. In this article we’ll finish our series of 25 rules by covering rules 21-25 by exploring what to expect after a tutoring session.
After the Session
The tutoring experience doesn’t end when the clock turns off on the session itself. How you interact with the tutor after the session is important and can help make for a positive or negative experience.
- Immediately following the session, the tutor should summarize quickly the key learnings and takeaways from the session and how it fits into the broader “study plan” being followed. This helps reinforce the material in real-time and can take various forms. If the tutoring session was about preparing for the GMAT, as an example, and this was the first diagnostic session with the tutor, the student may not have decided whether or not to continue with the tutor. Still, the tutor should be able to offer some real-time thoughts on, if this relationship were to continue, and even if it doesn’t, what the student should be focused on. If the tutoring session was related to a specific subject, like geometry, then the tutor should have some thoughts about what topics are likely to be coming next, how what they discussed today relates to those topics, and how to prepare.
- An important best practice is for the tutor to send a written summary of the session to the student (and perhaps parent) summarizing what was covered and how it fits into the broader study plan. If this was the first tutoring session, then the written summary could and perhaps should be an actual written study plan documenting how the tutoring relationship will be approached. It is very important to document in written form the plan being followed so a student can reference it and orient themselves to where they are in the tutoring process. In some cases, the tutor may need to do a little research to find online tools or practice problems (i.e., reviewing certain elements of Kahn Academy) to help build a student’s skills in a given area.
- If appropriate, you might find a tutor spending some time to research online tools or practice problems to help a student build skills in weaker areas. This is sort of an “extra credit” best practice. If a student is really struggling with something, there are often web-site or additional materials that can help, and an expert tutor can help identify and direct a student towards those resources.
- The tutor should include in his or her summary email details on scheduling for the next month or so. Neither party should be surprised that someone’s schedule has changed or that someone is going on vacation. It is important to be highly structured around scheduling and logistics. At MyGuru, some of our best tutors were unfortunately not strong when it came to scheduling and organization more generally. We had students express that the tutoring sessions themselves were excellent, but getting confirmation of times and dates for future sessions was like pulling teeth. We’ve worked hard to address this.
- The tutor should be available to respond to simple, easy questions via text or email as part of an effective long-term tutoring relationship. Obviously, “off-line” interaction needs to be kept to a minimum and be within reason. The tutor isn’t being paid for this time, after all, so his or her time needs to be respected. That said, the tutoring relationship should not just exist within the confines of the 1-2 hour tutoring sessions. In some cases, more extensive off-line Q&A sessions via email or text can be a productive part of a tutoring relationship, and something for which we’ve charged students at discounted rates.
Working with a private tutor is a significant investment. And at the end of the day, it’s on the student and/or parent to “own” the process and put in the work to extract value out of the experience. At the same time, it is right to expect a lot from your tutor in terms of communication, planning, and, of course, instruction. Hopefully these 25 rules have you thinking about how to get the most out of a tutoring relationship.
What are you selling?
When you are preparing to submit your college applications, keep in mind that what you’re selling is YOU. Figuratively speaking, of course. Think of the college app process in the same way as applying for a job. You want to make a great first impression, don’t you? That means taking the time to carefully read about the application process for each school to which you apply. (No. They are not all the same.) Having the required test scores and GPA are the first hurdles. The next hurdle? Choosing a prompt and writing an essay. Or writing several essays. So, how and where do you begin? And how do you know if you’ve written a fresh, unique essay? You need an editor.
A good editor makes corrections on your draft.
A great editor personally invests in you, understands the college application process and the nuances of it, works with you from concept to conclusion, and can guide you through the writing process, capitalizing on your strengths and transforming your challenges.
I’ve been asked many times as an editor, Does the essay really matter?
The answer is a resounding, Yes! Especially to schools where the admissions selection is highly competitive. You must take writing your essay(s) very seriously. That means preparing to write early. As soon as the College Board releases the prompts. Many schools require supplemental essays tailored specifically to them. Don’t wait until the day submissions are due to start writing. You will not do your best work.
If you are only applying to schools that accept the Common App, you will have a choice of seven prompts from which to choose one. What if none of the prompts resonates with you? Part of what I do as an editor is work with students to guide them in selecting and narrowing a topic and get their creative juices flowing. This process is different for each person. Some of your peers can read the prompts and quickly realize that something speaks to them. Don’t get frustrated if this doesn’t happen for you. You will get there. Sometimes the route from point A to point B is direct and sometimes there are detours with scenery that need to be taken in. The common thread is that no matter your writing skills, you can benefit from a professional editor. Even AP English students and valedictorians need guidance from a professional.
Although I have worked with students at different stages in their writing processes, I encourage you to work with an editor before you have completed a first draft to ensure that you are on the right path.
I know it can be disappointing to finish a draft only to learn that you didn’t address the prompt. If you are considering working with an editor, start the conversation from the planning stage. I offer a 15-minute complimentary consultation, which is a great opportunity to share preliminary thoughts. I can also review a writing sample to assess your writing skills before I even start the clock! Shop around. There are lots of editors out there and, like many services these days, plenty of them can work remotely with you.
Your English teachers should be your best first resource, but you may need to reach out beyond them. Their free time is valuable (I know because I used to be one) and they may not have the luxury of giving your essay the time and attention it needs. Some students hope their guidance or college counselor can provide feedback, but you are probably better served by an editor. You wouldn’t go to a dentist to get an eye exam. Don’t go to a counselor to edit your essay. Same goes with relatives and family pets!
When applying to your dream school, remember that you are presenting the best version of yourself. Why not use the best resources?
About the Author
Maureen Adras is a freelance editor of everything, writer, and owner of The Essay Gal, specializing in assisting high school seniors write and polish their college essays. She lives in Temecula, California where she edits, paints furniture, knits, bakes, cooks, and loves on her family. Maureen has a BA in English Education and an MA in Creative Writing. She published a non-fiction book about her personal experience with endometriosis, infertility, and adoption. Maureen is passionate about teaching writing and feeding songbirds, and she is humbled by people with green thumbs. You can find her at www.TheEssayGal.com.
You may have heard it said before that applying to college is a “process,” and it really is. Additionally, every student’s process is different. However, there are some typical stages a student may go through to find their ideal college, and in this blog we outline them for you.
We recommend that students seriously begin the college process during their junior year. If students or families are college-focused, there are things freshman and sophomores can do, but they mostly revolve around earning strong grades and getting involved in activities. Toward the middle of junior year, students can kick- off the college process by determining what qualities they want in an ideal college. Students should consider size, location, major, and other factors to create an initial list of schools.
During the next stage of the process, students will research potential colleges online, in books, through campus visits and other ways. By learning more about colleges, students can determine which schools they really like and which ones they don’t. They can also determine which criteria are more important than others (ie, “It’s really important to me that the school has an equestrian program, so I’ll look at schools smaller than I initially wanted.”) During this stage, it’s important that students verbalize their goals and be realistic about their expectations. It’s also helpful when families plan college visits and attend college-sponsored information sessions.
When it comes time to apply to colleges, the stress level can be at an all-time high. Deadlines, essays, resumes, interviews... the list goes on and it can be a lot for a student to manage alone. Parents, school counselors, admission counselors and college counselors are all helpful resources to help students during this time.
At some point, hopefully earlier rather than later, families need to have a conversation about the cost of college and how to pay for it. Honesty is the best policy; parents should let students know what their realistic options are. Students may need to add less expensive colleges to the list, apply to schools where they are likely to receive a grant, and/or apply for scholarships.
The final stage of the process is usually the favorite one, but it doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Once a student has (hopefully) a few acceptances to various colleges, the family needs to sit down and weigh the pros and cons of each school. Sometimes it’s an easy decision, but occasionally it’s really difficult. Families need to have these discussions and come up with a decision that everyone is happy with.
In our last article in this series, we discussed that while it’s important to take ownership of your investment in private tutoring, you should still expect specific behaviors from your tutor. We covered what is reasonable to expect before the actual session from a communications, logistics, and preparation perspective. In this article, we’ll explore what you should expect during the tutoring session.
During the Session
Environment, timing, and focus
- You should be very comfortable with the tutoring environment. When you are struggling in a class and have decided to invest in a private tutor, you need to focus on the learning process. If there is too much noise or other distraction, future sessions should occur at a different location. Now, this doesn’t mean that public coffee shops can’t be good places to conduct a tutoring session. In fact, many students are far more comfortable meeting a tutor in a public coffee shop than in their home. A private room in a library is typically an excellent venue for a tutoring session.
- There should be open communication about the starting and end times for the session. If the tutor is late, if you spend 10 minutes discussing the weather, politics (probably something to avoid) or sports, or if the tutor must step away for a private call, this time should not count against the hour(s) you’ve purchased. At the same time, if you are late, it’s fair to expect the tutor to “start the clock” when the session was supposed to start, although we encourage tutors to be flexible. Also, at MyGuru, we ask tutors to report time in 15 minute increments, rounding down. So, if the tutor has been working with you for 65 minutes, it would be very reasonable to discussion whether a) things should be wrapped up in the next 5 minutes so you are billed for an hour or b) you continue working together for 15 or more minutes, so you are billed for 75 or 90 minutes.
- You should feel and observe that the tutor is 100% focused on your learning during the sessions. If you feel the tutor is distracted (i.e., checking his or her phone, not listening to you, etc.) then you are not receiving the attention you deserve. Your tutor should be 100% focused on you.
Planning and organization
One of the keys to a successful tutoring relationship is the development of a customized study plan. If you are receiving tutoring in a specific class, this becomes quite a bit less important, as the syllabus for the class can be followed. But even then, your strengths and weaknesses might necessitate a different “path” to learning the material for the class.
- You should be aware of the plan being followed in the tutoring relationship overall. Generally, the first session is somewhat diagnostic. The tutor is identifying and confirming strengths and weaknesses and coming out of that session, creating a plan for you.
- You should be aware of the plan being followed in any session. The tutor should explain the key objectives of the session, and highlight the major topics and expected takeaways. A student should never feel as if they aren’t sure where a session is going or why something is being covered.
Every tutor has their own style, and there are different ways to connect with a student to help them understand difficult or new concepts and build new skills. That said, it is reasonable to expect the following from a tutor:
- Some upfront investment of time should be made in establishing a personal rapport with you. Tutors are generally well served by getting to know their clients/students a little bit. What are they motivated by? What do they like/dislike? This helps both parties get more comfortable with one another and can even be a source of useful analogies in explain the material. This article on edutopia.org lists the personal relationship first in a list of keys to a successful tutoring relationship.
- Students are far more likely to learn when they are asked to actively engage with the material. If the tutor is talking for most of the session, or simply working out problems while the student watches, then the learning that is occurring is likely to be passive. Instead, there should be a give and take of questions, answers, problems being completed in real-time by the student, etc. You should be an active participant in the session, not just an observer.
- You should be getting clear feedback associated with your mistakes. Whether it’s during real-time review of problems or as you are reviewing practice sets you completed on your own time, your tutor should be providing you with clear feedback around why you missed a certain problem and what to change moving forward to complete the problem correctly. Even if you feel the tutor explains things well, you are still not maximizing the value of the sessions if clear, targeted feedback isn’t provided. This is an excellent article about the importance of feedback in building study skills and learning new things.
- Your tutor should generally be able to explain most concepts in more than one way. One of the major benefits to 1-1 tutoring vs. reading a test prep book or taking a test prep class or sitting in any given math or English class is the high level of customization that is possible. If something isn’t clicking with you when explained this way, the tutor can approach the problem that way, etc.
- Concepts should be broken down into small pieces where possible and brought back to their more basic underlying components. A common issue teachers or tutors face in connecting with students is using language or concepts that seem basic to them, but which the student does not understand. There should be a constant drive to break things down to their more basic, foundational parts, and then build them back together. If a student is missing foundational conceptual knowledge, the tutor needs to identify that gap and find a way to fill it. This is an excellent article on the importance of creating increasingly larger “chunks” of information over time when learning new things (but by starting with very small ideas and concepts).
- Your tutor should be giving you “mini tests” during the session to check your understanding. Studying with heavy use of “mini” ‘quizzes is critical. Even if you are actively engaged in the session, asking questions, etc., it’s always possible that you aren’t truly understanding the material. Frequent “mini tests” can serve two purposes. First, research shows that “mini tests” are an excellent way to retain information because it is a highly “active” form of learning as described in this article. Second, “mini tests” help identify whether or not you truly are understanding a concept.
- Your tutor should be forcing you out of your comfort zone. To be getting the most of a tutoring session, there should be a certain level of discomfort. If the whole session is very comfortable and you completely understand everything that was discussed, then what really was the point of the session? If it seems like you are having no trouble at all in understanding the questions or concepts being reviewed, an excellent tutor will move on to more advanced material in the same area to push the student’s thinking.
In our next and last article, we’ll discuss what to expect after a tutoring session.
When it comes to education, reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, used to take center stage and were the standard menu of what was taught to students starting in elementary school. Over time subjects like social studies and history, the applied sciences, and arts and culture were added to the list. In today’s world of education, where students are exposed to seemingly endless cascades of information and are coming to terms with growing up in a world highly affected by globalization, such subjects as community outreach, service learning, and multicultural units are sought after, even in the lower grades.
Bottom line? Students are learning a lot.
All subject areas have their place and offer significant development and exploration for students of all ages; as education continues to develop and change and schools attempt to foster more community-focused and united environments, subjects like mindfulness and compassion have gained popularity. So what happens when we explore teaching students concepts like kindness, mindfulness, and compassion, as courses themselves? Let’s dive in.Read More
This is the first in a series of articles about what makes for an effective private tutoring experience. The series will be written such that we assume most of the onus is on the tutor to create a positive experience. And certainly, when a parent or student invests $60, $70, $80, $90 or more per hour for private tutoring, they should expect a mentor and guide throughout the tutoring process. The tutor should certainly be the expert telling the student / parent what to do and providing clear advice.
That said, always remember that working with a private tutor is not a silver bullet. You, the student, are still responsible for taking ownership over the relationship, buying into the approaches, strategies, and tactics, putting in the hard work, and ultimately performing well in the class or on the standardized test. At the end of the day, it really is on you, not on the tutor, to perform in the class or on the test. CEOs of huge companies hire high priced private consultants all the time to provide them with advice and ideas, but they are obviously responsible for the performance of the company. No investor, employee, or customer ever really gives credit or blame to a consultant. Similarly, you should expect a lot of focus, ideas, advice, and guidance from a tutor, but you should not plan on giving them much credit or blame if you succeed or fail. The tutoring process is driven by the student’s desire to work hard and improve.
So what should you expect when investing in a relationship with a private tutor?
Of course, a private tutor should be an expert in the academic area in which you are struggling. Or, at least, they should be an expert relative to your current level of understanding. If you are struggling in pre-calculus, they should have a clear mastery of pre-calculus. I hope this is obvious. But an effective private tutor should be much more than a master of the content, and there are a range of behaviors and actions a parent and/or a student should expect when working with a private tutor.
In this article, we’ll share some “best practices” around the tutoring experience. These best practices should double as reasonable “expectations” for a student or parent investing their time and money in working with a private tutor. In my experience, most tutors do not follow each one of these guidelines. But, we try to ensure MyGuru tutors do, or at least try, to follow a clear majority of them.
Before the Session
Communication and logistics
- You should expect that the tutor (or tutoring company) gets back to you within 24 business hours of every email you send, text message you write, or phone call you make. In 2017, with the pace of most people’s lives and the ubiquity of smart phones and lap tops, you should not have to wait 48 or more hours in between email responses. If the tutor is unsure of his or her schedule or the company is still in the process of coordinating, you should be receiving an update every day or so.
- The tutor should be clear in his or her communications about his near and medium-term availability and travel limitations. It is fair to assume that the tutor should accommodate your schedule and, if you are seeking in-person tutoring, travel very close to you. That said, it’s also reasonable to expect that you might need to be flexible on timing and location as well. You shouldn’t be caught off guard that he’s on vacation for a week (as an example).
- You should be presented with the option to do the session in your home or in a public location. Unless the tutor is clear about travel or logistics limitations, the session should be in a location that’s convenient and comfortable to you.
- The tutor should initiate the exchange of cell phone numbers and be clear about the exact time, place, and location of the session, as well as his or her physical appearance so you can identify the tutor. You should not feel stress about figuring out where to meet or who to meet on the day of the session.
- If either party needs to cancel the session, at least 24 hours of notice should be provided. It wreaks havoc on everyone’s schedule when a session is cancelled on short notice. At MyGuru, we have a 24-hour cancellation policy. If the student cancels within that timeframe, they can be charged for the session. If the tutor cancels on very short notice, it’s often reasonable to expect a free session.
Preparation and objectives
- While the tutor should have clear mastery of the material, they should also ask about your assignments, materials, syllabus, and teacher’s approach etc. in advance such that they can familiarize themselves and prepare. Every teacher or professor is different, and reviewing the material, at least briefly, in advance is key to understanding it completely and delivering an effective lesson. It may even be appropriate, as the tutoring experience progresses, for some interaction between the tutor and the teacher to take place, even if indirectly through the student or parent, such that key concepts or approaches can be clarified and explained to the student by the tutor in line with the teacher’s perspective. This understood.org article addresses the importance of tutor, parent, and teacher interaction.
- The tutor should ask you about your expectations for the session, and proactively establish objectives in advance. You are probably paying by the hour. So, within reason, students shouldn’t spend an entire 1-2 hour tutoring session reviewing only 10% of the questions in their homework. At the same time, if you are missing core conceptual or foundational knowledge to excel in the class, the tutor should communicate this clearly and explain why he or she needs to go slowly. For standardized test prep, objectives can vary widely. Are we diagnosing strengths and weaknesses and focusing on exploring what you need to know for the test, such that we can write out a customized study plan? Or, do you have three specific concepts and a list of missed problems you want to review?
- Speaking of the development of customized study plans, they are almost always a critical component of a tutoring relationship and a very important objective to be met. Unfortunately, helping students develop customized study plans is a skill that few tutors have really mastered. We too often hear something along the lines of “the sessions were great. But I left without a clear understanding of what to do next on my own. There was no structured plan to follow.” Particularly when it comes to tutoring for standardized tests, a core objective should be to walk away from the session with a study plan. Here is an article that does a good job of discussing the importance of developing a quality study plan.
In our next article, we’ll cover what you should expect from a tutor during a session.
Note-taking, once the activity de rigueur of learning and memorizing facts and new information, and an activity that certainly appears, well, active, is fast becoming replaced with newer forms of active engagement. Taking notes has long been lauded as a tried and true approach to memory and retention, as well as the best option for having recorded documents with which to refer after an initial discussion, but note-taking in and of itself might not be the best strategy available and can often become its own mindless, passive, or even distracting activity. Instead, active listening with a more strategic approach to obtaining information allows the brain to stay focused on the lecture while still capturing highlights and overarching ideas.Read More