Improving Academic Performance

What You Should Expect from a Private Tutor: 25 Rules (Part 1)

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Sat, Jan 20, 2018 @ 09:00 AM

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

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Tags: private tutors, 1-on-1 tutoring, tutoring, Hiring a tutor, preparing for the initial tutoring session

'How Children Succeed'  Book Summary: Part 1

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Wed, Dec 30, 2015 @ 10:28 AM

MyGuru is launching a new book summary program where we summarize and analyze books that discuss recent research on what drives academic performance and leads to success inside and outside the classroom.

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Tags: academic performance, tutoring, study help, study tips, personalized education, online educational resources

A New Perspective on Academic Success

Posted by mark sko on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 @ 04:23 PM

The average person probably believes that a critical key to success in life, particularly one’s academic life, is intrinsic intelligence as measured by IQ.

Yes, most of would say, hard work matters a lot too, but at least in many academic situations, no amount of hard work can really make up for a lower level of raw intelligence or aptitude for certain types of academic or cognitive skills.

Some of us are “math people” and some of us just aren’t, right? Not really.

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Tags: academic performance, tutoring, study help, study tips, personalized education, online educational resources

The Under-appreciated Power of Paying Attention: Part 1

Posted by mark sko on Fri, Nov 27, 2015 @ 01:21 PM

When a student is really struggling in school or on standardized tests, reversing the trend can seem like a truly daunting task. One of the first things a parent might say to student who comes home with a “C” or “D” on a report card might be, “are you paying attention in class?” This is indeed a very important question, because paying attention in class is critical to performing well in school. Paying attention while taking a standardized test is also critical, yet oddly it probably seems so obvious that you may have never actually thought about the fact that it’s important. In this article, we’ll discuss a seemingly obvious concept in a new light: paying attention.

The idea that “paying attention” is important seems simple, but it actually operates on a variety of different levels. In this article, we’ll address the following three questions:

  1. What does it really mean to focus on paying attention? What are the different dimensions of “paying attention” that a student or parent should be thinking about?
  2. Why is paying attention so important?
  3. What are some strategies for improving your ability to pay attention (follow up post)

1. What does it mean to pay attention?

Let’s start by thinking about your typical high school or college student sitting in class. I’d submit that there are three level of paying attention to consider:

  1. Just listening to the teacher vs. staring out the window or day dreaming about something else
  2. Actively listening to the teacher, and focusing on when she explicitly calls things important, not important, assigns things, asks questions, and perhaps most important, when you do vs. don’t understand what is being said
  3. Fully engaged listening to the teacher, in which you are really trying to understand and digest what she’s saying (which I recognize is not easy if you aren’t also very interested in what is being discussed) to challenge and enhance your understanding of it

You might call (A) the bare minimum and (C) the gold standard of paying attention. (A) is fundamentally about being committed to being a part of the situation at a high level. The first step in this direction is, of course, attending vs. skipping class altogether. But, once you’re there, you really have to focus on listening to what’s going on. If you are day dreaming, it’s almost as if you aren’t there at all. The next step is actively listening, where you focus on identifying when something important has been said. Finally, in C), when you are fully engaged in the lecture, you will naturally ask a question when you don’t understand or want to make a point.

As you move from A through B and toward C, you are essentially realizing that listening to words being said out loud is only the first step in understanding an idea. When you are really paying attention, you are constantly breaking down explanations and ideas, re-phrasing them, creating linkages to other ideas you understand to be true, and making sure you understand.

2. Why is paying attention so important?

Many students think that reading and homework assignments are substitutes for attending or really paying attention in class. But, they are wrong.

When it comes to a typical academic subject, the more obvious reason that paying attention is so important is that classes are typically structured such that you learn things in class, they are reinforced in assigned readings, applied through homework and projects, and your knowledge is then evaluated through quizzes and tests.

However, it’s a little messier than that. Many of us have probably found that, when explained in layman’s terms by a teacher, a given concept or idea is much more digestible than when described in a text book. In other cases, something might be covered in class that actually isn’t covered in a text book at all. So, you can’t skip class, or sleep through it, and think that you’re going to be well positioned to do well in the class. You will literally be missing information that you need to have.

The more subtle reason that paying attention is so important is that our brains and minds don’t just learn things upon hearing or reading them. They learn through the struggle of trying to understand what is being said. The process of trying to digest what is being said in real time, ask questions if necessary, and synthesize information together to form our own opinions and perspective. If you aren’t really paying attention, you won’t be able to identify what it is about a concept or idea that you don’t understand, and therefore won’t be able to struggle to understand it. You might, in fact, not realize that you don’t understand something.

Finally, many people don’t realize that standardized tests explicitly measure your ability to pay attention. When you read a question that says “which of the below answers is not correct?” You may need to know algebra to correctly answer the question, but if you aren’t paying close attention, you might pick A), because it is the answer to the equation. Unfortunately, you would be answering incorrectly, because the question is asking for what is NOT correct.

At the end of the day, if you compare the straight A student with a 4.0 GPA to the straight B student with a 3.0 GPA, or the high school student that scored a 31 on the ACT to his friend that scored a 27, you might just find that the ability and commitment to pay attention is the only real differentiator.

In our next post, we'll explore some strategies for improving your ability to pay attention.

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Tags: academic performance, tutoring, study help, study tips, personalized education, online educational resources

Boost Your Academic Success With These Three Study Habits

Posted by mark sko on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

A 1961 study entitled "Project Talent" found that college students in those times spent an average of 24 hours per week studying. Fast-forward 50 years to 2011, and students were studying only 14 hours per week on average, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.

Some have attributed this drop to the adoption of more pass-fail courses, so students need only do the bare minimum. Others have posited that foreign language requirements (and the long study hours associated with them) are being phased-out, while grades are becoming less important to job recruiters in lieu of extracurricular activities.

But grades don't necessarily have to suffer because you're studying less. Efficiency is more important than quantity when it comes to preparation. Here are a few ways to maximize the effectiveness of shorter study sessions.

Divide and Conquer

This phrase is a negative when referring to government strategies but is golden for college students trying to get the best grades possible. In courses that require a lot of reading, find a couple classmates who are dedicated and committed to getting good grades. The three of you can divide the reading assignments equally by three, take solid (yet brief) notes, then have a study session during which you all exchange the information. Each student can make copies of the other's notes after discussions about the main ideas. This method can literally cut your time spent reading by more than a third.

Variety Is King

A 2010 study by University of South Florida researchers examined a group of fourth-graders trying to learn new mathematical equations. Half of the group studied one type of equation at a time, calculating the solutions for several in a row, then moving on to the next type of equation. The other half studied a mixture of all four different types of equations simultaneously. When the students took a test the next day, the ones who studied the mixture of equations fared twice as well on the test than their counterparts.

An August 2011 study published in Psychology and Aging similarly tested adults using the same method. The first group viewed mixed collections of paintings by various artists, while the other group viewed a dozen paintings from each individual artist, then a dozen from another artist, etc. The previous group was better able to distinguish the styles of each artist upon testing.

What this means is that students should vary their studies as opposed to spending five hours on one subject on a given night. Do an hour of calculus, then read your literature assignment for an hour, then log onto your Lenovo and post your required discussion group response for your online history course.

Eat Blueberries

There is absolutely no better brain food than blueberries. Researchers at Reading University in the U.K. gave lab rats a steady diet of blueberries for three weeks. The blueberry-fed rats were not only able to improve memory by 83 percent when navigating through a maze vs. the control group, but also experienced a reversal in age-related declines in memory. College students and adults over 50 should eat a half-cup of blueberries per day to get the benefit of the flavonoids that regenerate nerve endings. Some doctors have even considered blueberries as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Blueberries are also tasty and rich in anti-oxidants.

About the Author

Neal Ortega - Neal is the co-founder of a student charity group at his university.

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Tags: academic performance, tutoring, study help, study tips, personalized education, online educational resources

Personalized Learning and its Benefits

Posted by mark sko on Fri, Aug 14, 2015 @ 11:33 AM

You can walk into any classroom today and see that different students struggle with different things.

Some students at the elementary school down the road might have a hard time doing fractions during math class while others might struggle with remembering the capitals of all 50 states.

Maybe a college student is in an Intermediate Accounting class, but her previous professor from Intro to Accounting only went over straight-line depreciation and never mentioned double-declining depreciation. She lacks that foundation she needs to succeed in her class. It is not her fault. Her previous professor just decided to emphasize a different topic of accounting instead.

Personalized learning is important because each student has his or her own individualized needs and focus areas to reinforce. Students learn in different ways. They come from different backgrounds. They even have varying academic foundations. When it comes to a student’s education, one-size does not fit all.

More effort will have to be put into identifying topics and subjects that each student individually struggles with. Maybe it is a teacher, a professor, or a tutor explaining it to them in a different way by using a visual graphic instead of writing it out on a white board. Maybe it means going over that biology material a few extra times to make sure the student understands it. Maybe it comes to a few extra hours of studying those GRE vocabulary words to guarantee you really have them down.

Thankfully there are many great opportunities, services, and tools out there to help personalize the learning of each student. Professors have office hours that students can attend and ask questions. Teachers are normally in their classrooms during lunch. Both of these options are both a) remarkably underutilized by students and b) completely free. These two options should be considered step one to improving your academic performance. Private tutoring is, in many ways, the gold standard of customized instruction, but it can be expensive.

However, there are also great online learning tools out there to help personalize the learning experience for each student. Kahn academy is perhaps the most popular. It’s free, and has a fast growing library of high quality, on demand video content in a wide variety of subjects. It allows a student to build their own study plan around the concepts they might be struggling with. Magoosh, ePrep, and Leanerator offer low cost, video-based, adaptive test prep environments for the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and many AP tests. Most of these solutions offer content and unique technology solutions to allow a student to customize their learning experience with varying degrees of structure.

Our Memory Science platform is a different type of online learning tool. It uses key tenants of neuroscience to deliver Byte-Sized chunks of information that help students learn and retain anything that they might struggle with. A student can create a supplement herself to help her remember the process of a reaction in O-Chem, or purchase premade content on macroeconomic theories. The Memory Science platform is a place for you to spend time on the topics and materials that matter to you.

 

 About the Author

Memory Science is a neuroscience-learning platform that utilizes Byte-Sized Learning to help students learn efficiently, retain more, and perform better. You can find us at https://marketplace.memoryscience.com/marketplace/

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Tags: academic performance, tutoring, study help, personalized education, online educational resources

6 Advantages of Online Tutoring for Students

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 @ 11:58 AM

Although online tutoring has been around for a while, many students (and their parents) haven’t yet caught on to the possibility of meeting with a tutor virtually, let alone come to recognize its benefits.  Once the idea moves from the realm of theory to the realm of actuality, however, attitudes generally change from skepticism and incredulity to enthusiasm and appreciation.

Much like telecommuting and virtual commerce for other businesses, online tutoring provides a number of distinct advantages that not only make it competitive with in-person tutoring, but actually superior in many cases.  Here are a few of them.

1.  Availability 

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Tags: online tutoring, 1-on-1 tutoring, tutoring