We are a tutoring company, and as such parents and students tend to seek us out when they realize some extra 1-1 help is needed to perform well in an academic class or on a standardized test. However, using a private tutor is just one way to improve your academic performance. In this article, we’ll explore other, perhaps sometimes obvious yet too often ignored or neglected, strategies to try before investing in private tutoring.Read More
Improving Academic Performance
In this series of blog posts, we’ll explore how podcasts can help students improve their academic performance and prepare for successful careers. We all know effectively managing your time is a key component of performing well at work and in school, and podcasts are an excellent way to learn new things while you are exercising, walking to class, or on the bus. Podcasts obviously cover a wide range of topics. Apple’s “categories” of podcasts include: arts, business, comedy, education, games, government, health, kids and family, music, news and politics, religion, science and medicine, society and culture, sports, technology, and TV/film.Read More
Despite the sneers of those around you, you went to college to study film history. Or, maybe you got a degree in literature or Urdu. While it’s good that you followed your passion, after graduation, it might seem that your parents and friends had a point. You’re having a tough time getting a job (or perhaps you are still choosing a college major, and this is a fear you have). In fact, there is too much worry and generalizing when it comes to choosing a major. If you think strategically, you can follow your passions and launch a successful career.Read More
We all know that in order to acquire a new skill we have to practice. Anytime we want to learn something new in school, it requires practice as well. However, some methods of practice are far more effective than others. Often what separates great from average in school, sports, and other endeavors is not just natural talent but how they practice.
Both quantity and quality of practice are important.
It is apparent that people who love to practice often eventually outperform those who don’t. In general, the more you practice, the better the outcome will be. A student who studies every day for several months for the SAT is going to do better than a student who starts studying a few days before the test. However, there is a limit on how much practice a person can do, and you don’t want to practice so much that you start to feel burnt out.
Getting good at something also depends on the quality of practice that you do. If you practice without knowing your specific needs for improvement, you are often ingraining the same mistakes you always make. Conversely, great performers in all areas practice deliberately. This means that they are constantly analyzing their performance looking for areas that need improvement. Quality practice works to improve performance because it builds up myelin sheath which insulates the axons that carry information in your brain. This allows information to travel more efficiently. Quality practice should have several characteristics:
1. Target weaknesses at the edge of your ability.
Make sure that you are not just practicing skills that you already know. When you practice, it should be right at the cusp of what you are already able to do and what you are trying to learn but not currently able to do. Practice should feel challenging, and it is a good idea to practice mixed skills instead of always focusing on one skill at a time. Students who practice the current skill they are learning along with previous skills do better on future tests because they must pair each skill with the proper procedure.
Sometimes it is helpful to have the honest feedback of a coach in sports or a teacher or tutor in academics to help analyze your performance and target skills to work on. Deliberate practice means breaking down the big thing you are learning into its parts. So, if you are taking a test, do a practice test and see which skills you are struggling with the most. Focus on learning those skills before taking the whole test again.
2. Focus on the task at hand by minimizing distractions.
We are constantly distracted by our cellphones, Facebook, and other social media. Place all cell phones in a place where you cannot see or hear them while studying. If you need to use your device for studying, use an app like Offtime that blocks other programs and alerts for the time period that you are working.
3. Divide time into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.
Practice for short periods of time where you are completely focused, and then take a break. If you work for too long, you will start to feel fatigued and you won’t be able to retain as much. Practicing for long periods of time also leaves you much more prone to distractions.
4. Practice slowly and work up to the speed that you need.
Don’t worry about timing at first, worry about mastering the skill. Once you are able to perform the skill, then start practicing your timing.
5. Practice mentally between actual physical practice sessions.
When you are not practicing, think about what was challenging and mentally rehearse those skills. Chances are that the next time you attempt them, they will seem easier.
The old saying is that “practice makes perfect”. However, it is not just quantity of practice that makes a difference. People who become successful at any skill focus on strategies to make sure that their time is filled with high-quality practice.
About the Author
Nina Parrish is a former special education teacher and a licensed school counselor. She is the owner of Parrish Learning Zone a K-12 tutoring company in Virginia. Her blog The Learning Zone publishes content on education and parenting topics.
To nearly everyone off the spectrum, autism is an utterly baffling disorder. Autism rewires how those affected see and understand the world around them, but the severity of the disorder varies widely. Sometimes, autism manifests as a bit of social awkwardness; sometimes, it prevents those afflicted from communicating, sensing the world around them, developing fine motor skills, and worse.
Autistic students typically require special attention in educational environments — but rarely are teachers or tutors equipped to manage an autistic student’s unique needs. In some cases, a psychologist or clinically trained learning expert is appropriate, but in other cases, students with autism just need and could benefit from the expertise of an academic tutor for a given subject who is sensitive to the needs of the autistic student.
Considering that cases of autism have increased in recent years – perhaps due to a greater familiarity with the disorder – tutors should strive to equip themselves with tools to help autistic students learn. This article addresses six unique things a tutor must keep in mind when working with a student who happens to be autistic.
Students with autism often have:
- Difficulty with Social Interaction
- Delays in Cognitive Development
- Differences in Sensory Perception
- Struggles with Motor Skills
- Trouble Focusing
- Fear of Change
Difficulty with Social Interaction
Some will say that this is the most obvious aspect of autism. There is a social disconnect for people with autism, and they are unable to read the social world as the rest of us are. The social cues and body language we take for granted on a daily basis are difficult, and sometimes impossible, for autistic students to interpret.
For a tutoring relationship to be truly successful, a personal connection must be established. The best tutors will take extra time to get to know their students and connect what they’re learning to the individual’s particular interests and learning style. This can become difficult when working with an autistic student.
- Be clear. Don’t rely on tone, sarcasm, or body language to convey your point.
- Don’t be offended. People with autism don’t necessarily recognize social norms or etiquette, and they can be very blunt.
- Use structure & routine. Create an outline that you’ll more or less stick to for every session.
- People with autism are typically visual thinkers. When learning vocabulary words, write them down. When teaching math problems, try to use concrete objects to represent numbers, percentages, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to get to know them. Usually, autistic students have specific, intense interests. When meeting them for the first time or taking breaks, figure out what they enjoy and try to connect the lesson to these things as often as possible.
Delays in Cognitive Development
Oftentimes, although areas of intellectual development are strong, autistic students will struggle on varying levels with certain topics or subjects.
When teaching an autistic student new or problematic content, play to their strengths. People with autism have unique patterns of development, and quickly adapt to using their stronger skills to supplement the areas where they may be lacking developmentally (be sure to evaluate whether they’re visual-spatial, nonverbal/kinetic, or auditory learners).
Differences in Sensory Perception
Most of us have heard the term ‘sensory overload’. Many people on the autism spectrum experience some form of over- or under-sensitivity (sight, touch, smell, etc.), and these sensitivities can lead to anxiety, withdrawal from the present situation, and even physical pain.
Of course, as the student’s tutor, you want to make the environment as comfortable and conducive to learning as possible. Always be on the lookout for any loud noises, lights, etc. that may become an issue. Make sure you’re doing all that you can to minimize the possibility that something may be disruptive (turning your cell phone to silent, for example).
Also have a game plan and escape plan in place for when disruptions do happen. Tell the student about possible stimuli they may experience if this is a different environment for them. Open communication here is key.
Struggles with Motor Skills
Children with autism often experience delays in acquiring motor skills such as writing, tying shoes, running, etc., which can lead to frustrating and negative day-to-day experiences at school and in the home.
As the tutor, make sure you check in with the student’s parents beforehand. They’ll be able to fill you in on any specific motor skill deficiencies the student may be struggling with and what strategies they use for combating them. For instance, if an individual has trouble writing, they may use speech recognition software instead. It’s important to know these things beforehand and to be prepared to adjust your usual teaching methods to accommodate these modifications.
If you’re working on developing motor skills, connect the activity to something the student is interested in and take breaks often.
As the tutor, you’re most likely only with a student for a limited amount of time every week; therefore, it’s important to maximize the time you have. When an autistic student is having trouble staying on task, here are a few strategies you can employ:
- Break content up into smaller chunks. This way, you can have the student complete one part, take a break, and then move on to the second, rather than spending 15 minutes on an entire problem.
- Remove distractions. Whether they’re visual, auditory, etc. remove everything that is taking away from the lesson at hand until breaktime.
- Use physical activity during breaks. Give the student something active & fun to do on short breaks, whether it’s bouncing on an exercise ball, playing with Play-Doh, going outdoors. This will help them stay more engaged when it’s time to get back to work.
- Provide rewards when tasks are completed.
Fear of Change
Change, especially unexpected change, causes stress and anxiety for individuals with autism. It is imperative that tutors introduce a sense of structure to sessions to provide consistency and stability. Providing a visual, written out schedule that is shown to the student at the beginning of every session will help keep things predictable.
As always, communication is necessary. Let the student know what is going to happen in this lesson and try your best not to stray from that plan. If you have an idea of what you’ll be working on in the next session (you should, by the way), tell them. For instance, if you’ll be focusing on their vocabulary skills next week, let them know that you’ll be reviewing words and their meanings for the first half of the next lesson. This way, the student knows what to expect and there are no surprises.
In recent years, the general public has become more familiar with autism and its meaning. However, there is still a lot to learn. As a tutor working with a student on the spectrum, it’s important to be prepared for their specific struggles and weaknesses, as well as to be aware of their strengths and interests. If you’re interested in pursuing a career working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a Graduate Certificate Program is a great option.
Keep in mind the six factors explained above, and you’re well on your way to a successful and positive student-tutor relationship.
Students who partake in a college English course (most college freshmen) are under pressure to comprehend a reading, interpret a related inquiry to that reading, and produce an individually written response in return for a grade. This alone may not seem sufficient cause for a mental block, but when we consider that students often have math, science, and other course requirements to deal with simultaneously, taking the time to read critically and write a thorough essay seems difficult, if not impossible.
On top of finding time to complete assignments, the reading is often obscure in both content and author. Another complexity is getting used to an instructor's individual teaching style. It's much more likely that time constraints, content difficulty, and issues with class structure or instruction are the obstacles to performing well in English courses than any sort of personal inadequacy.
One particular technique that, in practice, may resolve all matters is to confront the assignment on a closer level.
First, closely examine the question in its entirety. Then begin to read (or re-read) the text, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph until there is a mental connection between the question and reading material. Somewhere within the pages of text and the wording of the inquiry is one, if not more, corresponding themes upon which to form the basis of a thesis along with corresponding topics and subtopics. Then you can begin to write.
This phase of drafting is the necessary step in generating ideas and connections between the question and the reading that can be transferred directly into a standard outline. The outline serves as a mechanism for preserving the draft in all phases of composition and revision. The planning facilitated by an outline will save time, boost your grade/score, and will prove valuable in other disciplines. It is the instrument that propels the writing forward and keeps thoughts organized. In essence, the outline exists as a structure that lends itself to incorporating the writer's personal experience and understanding into a formal college essay. Here are a few good outline examples from Explorable.com.
After several iterations, the outline will stabilize to the point where external sources will be required in order to develop and expand the writing beyond the limitations of the course or the student. The first place to look for informational substance is in the course itself and the discussion that emanates from class. It is the main place where crucial judgments can be made regarding what to include and what not to include in the final draft. During this phase, make good use of your college library; it is replete with a variety of publications and librarians who can offer useful advice on how to navigate the seemingly endless supply of research articles, publications, and textbooks.
Reassessing the Writing
As a final step in the drafting process, it may be worthwhile to read the assigned text once again, followed by reading the written response to the text soon thereafter. Although tedious and time-consuming, it could serve a dual purpose. First, to realign the student’s work with the textual source, and, secondly, to initiate a proofreading phase which could provide further motivation to identify and eliminate any lingering syntactical, grammatical, or thematic inconsistencies. The greater the number of intermediary steps preceding the final draft, the stronger and more transparent the conveyance of argument will be.
In conclusion, it's important to examine the question closely and establish connections between it and the required reading while you are reading (and re-reading) the text. Next, it's necessary to build an outline to organize your ideas and keep yourself focused on the prompt. This is an especially important skill that will carry over into other undergraduate and graduate courses.
Research is another essential aspect of your writing, in all collegiate courses. Make use of the resources available to you (online databases, librarians) to make this a much less daunting experience. Always leave time for editing and redrafting, to make sure that the final result is polished and cohesive.
About the Author
Luis Freire has been an English and writing tutor for the past 10 years. For more information on tutoring, click here.
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.
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.