Newsletter Library

Alexandra in Tutorland

In November, my husband and I welcomed a new member to our family and the question at the office has been when will our son start learning his SAT vocabulary words. Though I am a huge proponent of building a child’s language skills, I think we’ll hold off on flashcards for the time-being. Despite not having rigorous word drills around the house, I am seeing learning in action on a daily basis. What has been most exciting, and astounding, is that the learning I’m seeing is for the kinds of things that I previously didn’t consciously consider needed to be learned. Many tasks and actions that I don’t give much thought to are being learned and internalized on a daily basis. As I watch these new skills being formed, I am reminded that much of what we know as adults has to be learned at some point in our lives. However, once we have mastered a skill and put it into practice successfully, we often forget what it was like to not have that ability in our arsenal or how arduous a path it was to become fluent with that skill. What seems simple to an expert is often difficult to someone who is just learning: for an elementary school student, reading and putting letters together is an emerging ability; for a middle schooler, learning to organize time is a skill that’s just being learned; and for a high schooler crafting a sophisticated essay or optimizing her studying are still works in progress. As educators, we want our students to know that before you can perfect your processes, you first need to be taught the basics. It is a good reminder to have as we head into the final leg of the school year.

Much Ado About Learning:
Avoiding the winter school slump!

"The second half of the academic school year can be a great time to either hit the reset button and start fresh or identify what made the first half such a success. The best thing you can do to set yourself up for high academic achievement--and show initiative in your learning--is to ask your teachers what the final projects and essays of the new units will look like or ask of you; this allows you to plan ahead, know what to look for throughout the unit, and avoid feeling overwhelmed when finals pile up at the end of the term." -- Keegan S.

"Use your time wisely, make a list of what needs to be done and when. Then, divvy up your assignments in to time slots to be completed over the allotted days. Before you know it, all of your work will be complete and you'll be free!" -- Candyce Q.

"The second half of the year may feel like crunch time, but it is important to remember that no child reacts positively to stress. To prevent this, be sure to plan ahead and always make time to do something fun!" -- Victoria T.

"Heading back to school poses an unique chance to start over by incorporating new habits and good routines. This can begin with something as simple as eating a healthy breakfast to start your day off energized! Foods such as fruit, oatmeal, and whole grain cereals not only keep you full for longer periods of time but are actually proven to help you maintain focus and to keep a positive attitude. How can we expect a better output without maintaining a healthy input?" -- Nanci T.

"Before beginning your work, make a list of everything you have to do. Number the tasks from 1st priority, to last. Perhaps the task due tomorrow is the highest priority, or maybe the task that will take the longest or cause you the most stress. Then, make note of how long you estimate each task will take--be realistic and use your knowledge of last semester's assignments to help you guess. This strategy will allow you to organize your time, plan study breaks, and stay on top of your most important assignments." -- Rose H.

"Take this time to re-organize! It's easy to lose track of your organization system during the end-of-semester craze, so take a breather after your big deadlines to throw out what you no longer need, organize your computer files, and clean your favorite workspace. " -- Christina V.

"It's a little too easy to let long-term projects and papers get away from you. One way to approach this challenge is to write down everything you'd like to accomplish at the start of each month. Your list can contain things like "finally see Grand Budapest Hotel," but it should also items like "finalize a thesis statement for my English term paper." Then, at the start of each week, you make another list of everything you want to accomplish that week. And then at the start of each day, you make a goal list of everything you want to accomplish that day. This approach allows you to breakdown some of your more long-term goals into more manageable bite-sized pieces." -- Mary Kaye D.

"Coming out of the winter holidays, with breaks from school, and long days sleeping in, can make you dread going back to school; and this dread can cause you to fall back into bad old habits--like waiting until Monday morning to do the assignment you've had all weekend to tackle. Acknowledge that this will be a transition (much the same as it is when you go back to school after the summer break) and make a plan to stay organized and on top of it. Break out the highlighters, dust off the planner. You made it through the beginning of the school year and you can make it through this half too!" -- Asja P.

"Try your best to start on all projects, reports and assignments the day you are assigned. You won't have to worry about it until the day it is due if you already have it done, and hopefully you will have a less stressful semester." -- Zainab A.

"Use your grades as a guide. If you had a class that you want to do better in, use this second half to refocus your resources, whether that be time or study techniques, in order to achieve that goal. If you're taking new classes, find time to make for these new courses and adjust the time allotted to them after significant waypoints in the course such as tests or important assignments." -- Jeff T.

A Tale of One Tutor:
How real world experiences shape learning

By Linda Luu

We spend a great deal of our lives listening and learning. We observe, internalize, and take in cues that tell us what is right and wrong, what is considered “normal” and appropriate. I think we all have a set of rules for tackling the world.

My college experience thus far has been a strange and confusing journey of trying to find what I want to do with my life and how exactly to get there. I have many interests and goals. I want to do work in public health—addressing the mental health needs of immigrant populations. I want to do teach in a university. I want to use art and education to make the sciences more accessible. I am also interested in data visualization, graphic design, and the use of public spaces. But there were big questions about how to enter these fields and if I could ever touch on them all. So I began a great obsession with collecting rules. During my first year of college, I went to countless talks in New York City. I would sit in the audiences of writers, activists, scientists, politicians, and artists telling their tales. I went home and looked up their biographies and memorized the degrees they earned and the jobs they held. I recited pieces of advice they shared. But, all of this was quite overwhelming and did not ease my sense of uncertainty. It made the world seem daunting and very linear. I allowed this idea of a rulebook for the world to dominate my actions. I was scared to take certain classes in case they would not eventually be useful for what I wanted to do. I would not make the most of my internships because I would simply admire people from afar, rather than ask questions and engage in dialogue in fear of saying the wrong things. It has taken me several mistakes of holding back in college to realize that the world is more fluid than we think. There is less often an outlined path and more often an experience that leads to another or a total surprise turn. People are more uncertain than we think. There really are no stupid questions. The dynamic between people is much less that of a student and a teacher, but more of equals engaging in conversation. Sometimes you know more and sometimes I know more. Tutoring has certainly aided in this realization. I love the kids I tutor. They are curious, brilliant, and speak their minds with little hesitation. They have dreams and are not yet concerned with the path to getting there. I have forgotten that it is okay to have a dream and not know the path to getting there. They have taught me so much.

We need to unlearn some of the inhibitions we have brought onto ourselves. There are times when we must leave our rules behind.

Sense and Sensibility

A student asks: This year, my classes are very lecture heavy. My teachers spend the whole class period talking and I have a really hard time paying attention. I am not an auditory learner and I find myself dozing off or day dreaming in class. I really want to do well, but their teaching style is just not working for me! What can I do?

Answer: Thank you for this question, as it is a very common struggle. Many students have a hard time focusing during lectures that lack much visual or active involvement. Even adults struggle with this! The thing is, many college lectures are run this way. It is important to develop the skills to learn from this structure early on. So, what can you do?

Preview information: Something that can be very helpful is to read the chapter in your textbook before class. Even if you don't fully understand what you are reading, having some background information will make it easier to catch on to what your teacher is talking about. If you read all about The Cold War the night before class, your ears will naturally tune in when your teacher mentions Joseph McCarthy or the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Don’t have a textbook? Ask your teacher what will be covered the next day and do some research online. There are tons of great multimedia resources that will interest a more visual learner.

Take Notes: This is so important if you want to stay alert and tuned in to lectures. Without taking notes, it is easy to get sucked into watching the clouds or thinking about what you are having for lunch. If you are new to note taking, it can be hard to know what/how much to take down. It's okay to start small. You don't need to write down word for word what your teacher is saying. You might start by making sure you take at least one note every five minutes. Some other helpful teacher cues to look out for:

  1. Numerical terms "first, second, third" or "First this step, then this step"
  2. "You need to know this, this will be on the test" or "It is especially important" or "in contrast to"
  3. Anytime the teacher repeats themselves
  4. When the teacher pauses (this typically means that a new subtopic is going to be discussed)

Find a buddy: Is anyone else in your class struggling to pay attention? You can help keep each other accountable for taking notes. After each class, you should exchange notes with your buddy to see what you each picked up on and what you might have missed. You can even ask your buddy to give you a little nudge if they notice you losing focus!

Over time, you should find yourself more comfortable with this structure and your ability to stay focused and interested will improve with practice. As always, if you still find yourself struggling you should speak to your teacher about getting extra help.