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Tutoring For Your Needs • Passion For Education

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Sep 282011

Mistaking Disengagement for Deficit

Keeping students motivated in today’s education environment can be difficult. And it’s not because kids are inherently lacking in either ambition or intelligence either. Children actually like learning. The problem is that we’ve created learning environment’s that often aren’t really conducive to learning. We’ve created the perfect conditions for boredom and inattention to occur and then act surprised when students are inattentive and bored. When grades begin to suffer, often the first assumption is that a child has some sort of intellectual deficit or learning disorder.

Don’t get me wrong. Learning disorders are real and should be addressed appropriately. But when ever-growing percentages of students are diagnosed as learning disabled, it should raise some serious questions about why. If learning requires engagement, we’ve created a perfect laboratory for fostering learning disabilities. All too frequently, students who are assumed to have problems processing information are actually bored to tears because they’re not being intellectually challenged enough to engage their interest.

Encouraging Creativity and Curiosity

Education should not be relegated only to the classroom. Learning should be encouraged in every facet of a child’s life. We’ve fallen into a kind of trap—especially in the United States—of treating public education as a sort of glorified baby-sitting service. It’s understandable in a way. In a developed society like ours, we’ve dumped the responsibility of education on public schools. That’s fine as long as schools aren’t the only place that education is happening.

This may seem an odd concept, but children in developing countries are learning in every area of their lives, not just five days a week from 8:00 in the morning until 3:15 in the afternoon. As Sugata Mitra succinctly says, “if children have interest, then education happens.” Keeping kids interested in the world around them ensures that education happens, whether they’re in a classroom or not. Education need not be considered a dull liturgy of memorization and dry academic discourse which is as intellectually stimulating as watching paint dry.

Incorporating Education into Everyday Life

Encouraging learning can be as easy as simple substitution. You don’t need to resort to draconian measures like taking away TV time or anything drastic. But what are your kids watching? There are incredibly well done TV shows that are entertaining and interesting while imparting huge amounts of knowledge. If your child begins to watch the Discovery channel and exciting PBS documentaries, they can pick up vast amounts of information which keep them engaged. Education should be interesting and fun. Give children the right environment and activities and learning can be enhanced dramatically.

Strategic Tutoring

If students encounter specific challenges with respect to concepts or particular subjects, targeted tutoring can be extremely helpful. I had serious issues with long division in elementary school. I was brilliant in nearly every other subject, but long division was indecipherable to me. I just didn’t get it. There was nothing intuitive about it for me. No amount of hard work on my part would have made it understandable. And a frustrated father glaring over my shoulder trying to force the knowledge into my brain as if raising his voice would somehow do the trick just made it worse.

But finally they gave up and did what they probably should have done in the first place—they found me a good tutor. And that made all the difference in the world. She made it interesting, and more importantly, she made it fun. We need to get back in the business of making education interesting and engaging again. If we can do that, we’ll rediscover the fact that students actually love to learn.

Jesse Langley lives near Chicago. He divides his time among work, writing and family life. He writes on behalf of Colorado Technical University and has a keen interest in blogging and social media. He also writes for www.professionalintern.com.

Sep 162011

They say, “practice makes perfect,” so let’s practice what they preach! Often the simple solution seems too obvious to be effective, but when it comes to reading comprehension usually that’s precisely the place to start. Read, re-read, then read it again! Many of us may avoid this approach because it’s boring. I get it! Most students are not thrilled by the idea of re-reading that sentence, paragraph, chapter, let alone being asked to read it three times. Nonetheless, it is often very effective. The first read through many students do comprehend what they’re reading, but they simply forget what they read in the beginning. The second reading will increase both comprehension and memory, and as they say “the third times the charm.”

Read, Re-Read, Then Read It Again

So how do I motivate kids to actually read something three times (or more)? Different methods are effective for different ages and different personalities. For older students, space it out. Have your student read something, then work on their math homework. Once math is done re-read the article and discuss it. Ask some questions to assess their level of comprehension, then give them a highlighter and have them read it again highlighting the most important points (or they can put stars in the margin, whatever makes it fun!).

Also don’t forget about reading aloud. You can read to your student or if your student isn’t embarrassed ask them to read to you. I suggest reading aloud for two reasons. First, different students learn best through different modalities. Auditory learners will comprehend the information better if they hear it. Also, having your student read aloud will allow you to assess their fluency. All too often comprehension problems are really just the result of fluency problems.

With younger children, I use all the previous advice and get goofy! I guess you can get goofy with the older ones too, if they don’t think you’re a total nerd. The first pass can be normal reading, then read it in a funny accent, act it out, make it into a song, draw pictures as you go along, take breaks to talk about the characters. Switch between having the student read aloud and reading to himself or herself. Once again, be aware that fluency may be the root of the problem.

If repetition isn’t working their maybe a larger underlying problem, but start simple. It is worth taking the time and effort to practice, practice, practice before diagnosing or labeling your student.




I am a student at Claremont Graduate University, studying positive developmental psychology. The psychology of what is right with people. My studies permeate her philosophy on education and my tutoring style. I believe a good education is the ticket the success and happiness, and the first step to receiving a quality education is desiring one. My goal as a tutor is to help make learning intrinsically rewarding.


Jul 132011

School on Wheels is very excited to have Zeb from the Tutoring Solution host a workshop for our volunteer tutors this Saturday in Long Beach. I’m also happy to have the opportunity through his Blog to talk a little bit more about School on Wheels and spread the message of what we are trying to achieve.

I thought it might be helpful to start with some statistics from our website to demonstrate the need surrounding our mission. Over 1.6 million children are homeless annually in the United States. Families with young children account for 40% of the homeless population. Lastly, over 35,000 homeless youth are enrolled in LA County Schools, 12,461 in LAUSD alone. It is hard for most of us to imagine the obstacles these students face. Constant moves create gaps and setbacks in their education. Students usually move several times during the year, and fall behind 3-4 months with each move. At some shelters, families have to be out by 7am each morning, are let back in at around 5pm for a meal, and sleep on cots in one big room after lights out at 9pm. One of the students in our program had to literally hide in closets after lights out to finish work for her AP classes.

School on Wheels is a non-profit organization founded in 1993 by Agnes Stevens, a retired school teacher. The mission of our organization is to enhance educational opportunities for homeless children from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Our goal is to shrink the gaps in their education and provide them with the highest level of education possible. We do this by offering:

· One‐on‐one weekly tutoring with a volunteer

· Backpacks, school supplies and school uniforms

· A toll‐free number for students to keep in touch with us

· Assistance in school enrollment and locating lost records

· Guidance for parents in educational matters for their children

· Two learning centers, one located in the heart of Skid Row and the other in South Los Angeles

· Tutoring in seven major regions in Southern California, including Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura counties

· Three annual scholarships and additional learning opportunities for all students

Our program serves as a consistent support system to homeless students and brings the message that they are cared about and important. We work with over 1500 homeless students during the course of the year, primarily through volunteer tutors. Tutors are matched one-on-one with a student and commit to working with that student for at least one hour each week.

I currently serve as the Education and Training Coordinator for School on Wheels, and am responsible for expanding resources for both tutors and students in the program. There is a great need to further educate our tutors to be more effective in their sessions, especially in the areas of motivating their students to take ownership of their education. It might be helpful to think about who motivated you as a child – your parents, or maybe your teachers or counselor. What if your parents were busy searching for housing, food, and a job. Maybe your teachers or counselor try to help, but they never really get to know your needs since you are only at the school for a few months. The further you fall behind, the more frustrated you get with school. Add these issues to the usual lack of motivation non-homeless students face, and you can see there are some big obstacles to overcome.

Our tutors are really looking forward to Zeb’s presentation which will address “Motivating the Unmotivated”. I know it will be a great help to them in working with their students. If you would like to know more about School on Wheels and how you can get involved, please email me at nbayus@schoolonwheels.org.

Jun 262011

Natasha Bayus from School on Wheels, a non-profit organization that provides volunteer tutoring to homeless children across Southern California has asked me to give a presentation on how to motivate students to their volunteer tutors.

Natasha found me through this blog and really enjoyed the tips I provided on motivating students in my blog and decided to ask for my help.  After looking at the organization and understanding the valuable service that they are providing to students across Southern California, I immediately jumped at the chance to offer my expertise to the excellent tutors who volunteer their time to improve the lives of students.

Since being asked to present I have been hard working to put together a dynamite presentation for the volunteer tutors and will have much more information about increasing motivation in students in the upcoming weeks.  Check back frequently for more information about School on Wheels, increasing motivation and my upcoming presentation.

The Importance of Praise

 Posted by at 3:30 pm
Apr 172011

“Praise is a powerful form of feedback.”  At the end of each tutoring session, the tutor should go over what the student has learned during the session and reward them with positive comments about the strides they made during that session.  Praise becomes even more powerful when it comes from someone whom the student has developed a positive relationship with. It is important for tutors to develop a strong relationship with not only the student, but the parent as well and provide praise when seeing that improvements have been made.  As a tutor, you should praise every opportunity you get.  For every success big or small, prasie the student, but be genuine in your praise.  Recognizing success is critical when attempting to increase motivation and develop good learning habits. At the end of each session, sit down with your student and praise them for everything they did well during the session.  The more positive encouragement they receive, the more likely it is that they will want to repeat those same behaviors in the future. *All information comes from Keith Topping’s article, Tutoring. Educational Practices — Series 5

Pearl Harbor Lesson Plan

 Posted by at 6:21 pm
Apr 102011

Below is a power point presentation of the events surrounding the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Students will be required to decide who was to blame for the attacks on Pearl Harbor based on the information given in the power point presentation.  The teacher should guide the students to discuss each character involved in the attacks on Pearl Harbor and provide evidence that supports and refutes each person as to why they should or should not be to blame for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor

Apr 072011

Why do we make the decision to educate our children?  What value does education have in our society?  What is the goal of education?  Schools originated thousands of years ago, and although they were different then the schooling that students receive today, it’s purpose was the same.  Historically, the purpose of education is to teach our children how to survive in the world.  As humans have always lived in groups, in order to sustain those groups, the elder members of society needed to teach the necessary skills for survival to the young . . . to keep the group going.  If we look at the purpose of schooling and it’s design then grades have no place in education.  Imposing grades on students not only goes against the initial needs for education, but it actually limits a student’s ability to reach their full potential.

Let me give you two examples that demonstrate the problems of using grades as a measuring tool for student achievement.

In elementary school, a student is struggling.  He is not reading at grade level and is having trouble understanding the concepts in math.  The student is evaluated on writing samples and math tests.  The student performs poorly on these tests and frequently receives F grades.  The teacher marks the problems the student did wrong on his math tests and makes grammatcial corrections to his homework.  The student sees his F grade, becomes discouraged, and never looks at the teacher’s remarks.  This pattern continues throughout his schooling.  His improvement never goes beyond minimal.  He is consistently labeled a “failure.”

A second student performs extremely well in school, the teacher praises the student constantly and tells the parent that their child is doing a great job.  Because the student outperforms other students the child frequently receives A’s and relatively low feedback on assignments other than GREAT JOB!  They do well, but these students have no more improvements to make, they know what it takes to earn an A and they do the required amount but never advance further in their learning.

The two examples take place in classrooms all over the country.  Grades deter student achievement.  It does have its benefits, but I truly feel that overall it is hurting our children.  I have worked with students of all ages as a tutor and found that academic achievement and the desire to learn occurs much more rapidly when students are not evaluated, but are encouraged to learn and improve.  By seeking improvement, no child is labeled a failure and no child stops learning.  As educators, we need to seriously think about using grades as a tool to evaluate student achievement, if we are to meet education’s true goals.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of Grades Hinder Achievement in an Upcoming Blog Post

Apr 052011

“The freedom of thought is a sacred right of every individual man, and diversity will continue to increase with the progress, refinement, and differentiation of the human intellect.”  – Felix Adler 

Yesterday I noticed that one of my Seniors was not involved in the non-fiction reading that I assigned. One of the reasons that I took notice of her was a pattern of frustration with reading that was developing for the last three weeks ago. She is a very bright and capable young learner who shuts down when given a non-fiction reading that requires any level of advanced reader organization strategies for comprehension.

Although I had already taught the students the “ODD” reading strategy, she was still not engaged in the process of reading. The “ODD” strategy is a composite of many other reading strategies that I have encountered over my fifteen- year-career. The students have to read and mark a minimum of five textual connections, three highlighted ‘bright spots,’ and one question.

Non-fiction literacy skills are the backbone of my Gold Seal Lessons. These lessons were designed with the Rigor/Relevance framework that is espoused by the Successful Practices Network. I quietly sat down with her, and we discussed her level of frustration. I could sense in her tone and body language that she was not just choosing to distance herself from reading but was being mentally blocked from comprehension by some unknown force.

It was then that I noticed the corner of her paper. She was drawing a very intricate pattern and design. Most of her papers had senseless doodles all over them. It was then that I had an idea to turn her into a reading illustrator. If her brain thinks in pictures, then it was time to let her turn her readings into “SenseFull” doodles that carry sequence and meaning. She attacked the article and began illustrating the main idea of each paragraph. My only rule was attaching a number for sequencing purposes.   

The type of differentiation explained in most professional development seminars appears to be so complex that it paralyzes the teacher from actual implementation. In the case of this hopeless Senior reader, it was just a matter of determining how her brain organizes the patterns of the world.

Please leave a comment on Small Acts of Differentiation within your own classroom.

Gregory M. McGough M.Ed. is a Secondary Language Arts Teacher and Successful Practices Network Blogger.  He moderates #SPNChat on Twitter every Tuesday night at 6 PM PST.

Apr 042011

A teacher’s time is valuable.  I remember treasuring my lunchtime as a much needed break from the day-to-day rigors of teaching. However, to make your classroom atmosphere a little stronger, I suggest you use your lunch period to talk with struggling students. To maintain your sanity you might want to try this just once a week. 

As a High School teacher, I had many commitments before and after school and many students had similar commitments as well.  It was virtually impossible to meet with students at those times to discuss their grades.  Almost every student and myself could be available to meet during lunch.  Frequently, I would ask one struggling student per period to visit me at lunch one day a week.

The response that I received from inviting these students to have lunch with me was astounding.  I did not have them come in for disciplinary purposes, simply to talk to them and ask them why they thought they were under-performing.  We could then discuss and implement a plan together to increase achievement. The rest of the period was spent getting to know these students. We talked about sports, music, their interests, their other classes.  The students seemed to appreciate these sessions and I found that we identified with each other on another level.  These students began to see me as someone who was trying to help them succeed and not just as a teacher whose class they had to sit through for an hour every day.

The most important part of this plan took place after these lunch sessions, and that was the follow-up.  After setting goals with the students during my lunch period, I made every effort to follow through with them to make sure that they were accomplishing the goals that they set forth for themselves.

Although your time is limited and, as teachers, we need our breaks from students, I found that giving one lunch period a week to students had a profound impact on their success in my class.  I also noticed less discipline issues and increased motivation from all students as I was recognized as a teacher who cared and worked hard for them. The headaches that come from teaching can be minimized if your students respect you . . . an easy way to earn respect is to devote additional time to get to know your students.

Mar 272011

The Great Depression Bingo Review

Directions:  Make sure that each student has a wordbank of the words below.  Then have them create a BINGO game card using whichever 24 words in whatever order they would like to choose.  Each time the definition of a word that they have on their BINGO game sheet they cross it off.  The first student to create a line across wins.  This game can be played multiple ways and variety of times.  Tells students to use different colored pencils or crayons to make changes.

1. GNP – the total value of all goods and services produced in a country

2. 1920s – overall employment across the country remained low, avg. 5%

3. Farmers – The boom economy of the “Roaring 20s” did not apply to them

4. Organized Labor – the years between 1923 and 1929 were bad times for this group of people because benefits from employers kept workers satisfied, so they felt little need to join trade unions

5. Food – Unemployment, poverty and a decreased demand for this caused farm prices to sink

6. Stock Market – Americans behavior in regard to this changed in the early and mid 1900s because stock prices rose and credits eased so that even Americans of modest means became investors

7. Black Tuesday – This term refers to the collapse of the stock market

8. President Hoover – He believed that businesses and individuals should be able to cure the Depression without direct government aid

9. The News – In the months before the stock market crash, people who kept up with this in the financial world realized that sales were lagging and investors were pulling out of the stock market

10. The Economy – President Hoover downplayed the effects of the crash because he believed that this would soon recover

11. Industrialized Nations – In the aftermath of the crash, these countries took measures to protect themselves by passing high tariffs

12. Shacks – Americans knew they were in a Hooverville when they saw what?

13. Bank Failures – The collapse of the stock market let to this which led to the Great Depression

14. Buying on Margin – This was riskier than other ways of investing in the stock market because if the stock price dropped, brokers could force investors to repay their loans

15. Al Smith – He was outgoing, from the city, “wet” and Catholic

16. The Federal Reserve – Toward the end of the 1920s the main goal of this organization was to make it more difficult and more expensive to offer margin loans to investors

17. Families – In the earliest days of the Great Depression, most of these who lost jobs begged, became hoboes, or went without basic necessities

18. Hoover Dam – The construction of this illustrated a creative partnership between private business and the federal government

19. The Great Depression – During this, President Hoover came under attack because many Americans believed that he did not fully grasp or care about how desperate the American people were

20. Reconstruction Finance Corporation – The purpose of this was to provide government aid to struggling banks

21. Dust Bowl – what did the Great Plains drought of the 1930s help to create?

22. Government – President Hoover’s philosophy about the proper role of government was that this should play as little a role in the affairs of business as possible

23. Economic Weakness – In the 1920s the uneven distribution of wealth signaled this

24. Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act – This backfired because European nations responded with tariffs of their own

25. Foreclosures – This occurred in the 1930s and changed American life by the development of shanty neighborhoods in many areas

26. Quaker – Herbert Hoover was shy, from the country, “dry” and was a member of this type of religion

27. Associative State – This was Hoover’s vision of a partnership between private business associations and government

28. Hooverville – This was the nickname given to a settlement of homeless people during the Great Depression

29. Cooperative – This was an organization owned and controlled by its members, who work together for a common goal

30. Hobo – This was a person who rode the railroads from town to town in search of work

31. Okies – This was the nickname given to refugees from the dust storms of the early 1930s

32. Drought – This was a prolonged period of below-normal rainfall

33. Woody Guthrie – He was a singer who described the effects of the Dust Bowl

34. The Bonus Army – These were WWI veterans who demanded to be paid money promised to them