In a previous article, we scanned the distance learning landscape and explained how online tutoring can help parents and students navigate it.Read More
Improving Academic Performance
As a result of Covid-19, we're all living in a strange and unsettling new reality, and none of us knows exactly how long things are going to continue like this. While all of us are experiencing and dealing with the situation in our own ways, students across the country and around the globe have a particularly new set of circumstances with which to contend, and they, as well as schools, teachers, parents, administrators, tutors—every single one of us involved in education—need to learn ways to adapt.
The world today is not the same as the world we lived in two months or even two weeks ago. The global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (aka COVID-19) has completely disrupted all economic and social life, and its true effects are only just beginning to be felt. We are all entering a time of uncertainty such as none of us have faced before, as individuals or as a collective. As the virus infects more and more of the global population, greater numbers of people are going to be forced into isolation within their homes, having their work-lives transformed or completely shut down. What are we going to do? How should we be spending all the extra energy and time many of us will now have, but which none of us asked for?
If you’re applying to private high schools soon, you need to plan the months you’ve got ahead of you. The admissions process is very competitive, and you have to make sure you’re on top of your game every step of the way. While there are definite protocols to follow such as reading the application instructions carefully and going through multiple drafts of your essays, there are also some don’ts to keep in mind. Take a look at 5 mistakes to stray away from throughout your private high school application journey.Read More
No matter how confident you may feel, final exams can still cause a great deal of anxiety. For many students, the pressure builds even if the understanding of the material is thorough. In more extreme cases, you might begin to doubt yourself, lose sleep and fail to remember the information you studied so hard to learn.Read More
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
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.