Posted in Child, children, Education, K-12 Tutoring, Learning Activties, Parent, Parent and Child, Parent Help, Parenting, school, student, Studying, Tutoring, Uncategorized

10 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed In School

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” – John Dewey

Education is a valuable tool that can set children up for a successful future.  As a result, children getting the best out of their education is vital.  So, how, as a parent, can you come alongside your children and support them in their education?  Here is a suggested list of ways to help your child succeed in school.

#1: Set Up a Morning Routine

Rushed mornings can carry over into your child’s day.  We all know that there are days when hurried mornings cannot be helped, but for the most part, establishing a morning routine will help your child’s day start off right.  Just like children benefit from a routine at school, so too can they benefit from a predictable morning.

#2: Get to Know Your Child’s Teacher

This may seem like an obvious step, but it can be easy to become preoccupied with other priorities.  However, taking the time to meet and get to know your child’s teacher will open up the lines of communication.   When concerns or questions arise, having already developed a rapport with your child’s teacher will make possibly difficult conversations a lot easier.

#3: Volunteer at School

Furthermore, getting involved at your child’s school can be helpful in your child’s success at school.  You will be directly engaged with your child’s education by volunteering for field trips, after school activities, or in class help. With your help, your child will benefit from a more meaningful school experience.

#4: Stay Positive about Education

School is hard work, and when your children are feeling overwhelmed they are going to feel like their school experience is a negative one.  What they need is an education advocate.  By focusing on the positives of education and continuing your education through schooling, reading, and other learning activities, you will show your children why education can help them go a long way in life.

#5: Read Together

Children need to be able to read fluently, comprehend what they are reading, and analyze the text in order to excel in school.  Reading together provides you with the opportunity to help develop these skills.  Read together and talk about what you are reading with your child in order to build these skills and aid him or her do well in school.

#6: Talk to Your Child

Talking to your children about their day and what is going on with them is an important step to helping your child succeed in school.  This way, you will know what is going on with their friends, schooling, and other activities.  Even if your child is in the stage where his or her answers to your questions are “fine” and “good”, at least they know that the lines of communication are open, and they can come to you when they are ready to talk.

#7: Provide a Study Space

It is extremely helpful for students to have a quite place to study and get their homework finished. This can be as simple as a desk with a few office supplies on it.  What this does is provide a focused learning environment that children can consistently go to to get their assignment done.

#8: Prioritize Study Time

Make sure that your children are studying and getting homework done before moving on to other activities like TV and video games.

#9: Continue Learning over the Summer

Ever heard of the summer slide?  This can really affect a child’s learning as studies show that children can lose a full month’s worth of school learning over the summer.  Combat this with continuing education over the summer through reading, classes, and tutoring.

#10: Hire a Tutor

This may be last on our list, but it most certainly should not be a last resort.  Tutoring is a great opportunity for your child to get ahead, catch up, build confidence, and even more.  Check out our latest blog to find out why tutoring can help your child.

Conclusion

These are just some of the many ways you can support your children in their school.  Can you think of any other ways to help your children with their education goals?

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Posted in Book, Child, children, Education, ELA, family, Homework Help, Parent and Child, Parent Help, Parenting, Reading, Uncategorized

4 Steps to Develop Comprehension and Analysis Skills at Home

The world of education centers on using new research and experience to identify what students need to learn and how teachers can present that information better.  While this system has been trusted to help students reach their academic goals in the classroom, what are students and parents supposed to do if they feel that more can be done to enable students to reach their goals?

Many parents have come to Oxford Tutoring with that very question, and there are times when instruction with our trained and knowledgeable tutors is warranted, if not necessary, especially since the Common Core has changed the way students’ skills are evaluated.  However, when it comes to improvement in English Language Arts, there are a number of activities that are effective, free, and fun which students and parents can work on at home.

The Challenge

The most common request our English Language Arts instructors encounter from students is help with comprehending and analyzing plots and arguments.  The interesting thing about most of these requests is that the real problem is that they are simply unfamiliar with explaining what they know.

Prior to the last couple years, students were only asked to summarize, or repeat back, what they read, but the new requirements ask them to explain themselves.  So, the problem isn’t that they don’t know how to comprehend or analyze, it’s that they aren’t being taught to explain their findings.

Given this revelation, let’s give students some credit for the skills they do have and help them learn to explain their ideas effectively.

The Usual Fix

Most of the time, when a student comes to us because his or her reading and writing scores are less than impressive, we begin by asking the student to read a passage and answer specific questions about what was read.  Then, to the tutor’s surprise, the student answers most, if not all, of the questions correctly.

This is surprising to us because the student asked for help with something they already know how to do.  So, the tutor ponders the situation for a moment and realizes that the student actually needs help explaining how he or she got those answers.

Thus begins the process of guiding the student through each step of his or her internal analysis process and making it an external process with spoken and written words.  The trick is helping the student realize that once they’re finished analyzing the passage, the hard part is over.

An Alternative Fix

I must admit, I love teaching students to comprehend and analyze texts.  But I also think that students can try to develop their own strategies and processes without my help.  Such an endeavor could even be entertaining and might even begin a lifelong fondness for thinking critically.

The entertaining aspect comes from the fact that students are not limited in their choices of practice materials.  One might think that we have to use the same texts provided in English and Social Studies classrooms, but that is just not the case.  A more effective option is to use a medium that truly engages the student, and this is easily accommodated when dealing with only one student.

Therefore, the first step in the process of developing comprehension and analysis skills is getting the student to identify the material that will be most engaging.  For example, because novels can take so long to get interesting, I like to begin by discussing the student’s favorite movie.  Yes, I know our goal is to improve our skills with texts, but, in the beginning, the most important task is getting started – just finding an idea the student finds worthy of putting forth effort to figure out.  Even if the student isn’t a movie/television aficionado, the initial and most engaging themes and plots are guaranteed to already be present in the student’s everyday life.

The Actual Practice   

So, you’ve decided to conduct some at-home practice, and you know what topic(s) your child is truly interested in.  Now, let’s talk about some activities that can help him or her learn to comprehend and analyze the content and then present his or her findings in an effective way.   If I write out the process in a list, you might get intimidated and shy away from this whole process, so I’ll start by explaining the core activities and then we’ll get into the process.

 

workplace-1245776_1920Step 1: Oral Exercises

The most entertaining activities are the oral activities in which you’ll just talk to the student about one of his or her interests.  That is, you’ll strike up a conversation with him or her about the thing that he or she really wants to talk to you about.  Let’s face it; we are talking about young people here.  If you give them an excuse, they’ll talk all day and night, and you are going to give them the perfect excuse.

For example, if your student is an avid Netflix user, strike up a conversation about what he or she is currently binge-watching.  The goal of this simple sounding activity is to get the student to think critically about what they’ve experienced and decide what is important enough to be included in the explanation and what is not.  Then they will have to analyze the content in order to explain how each of those “important” scenes/episodes fits together into the overall plot of the story.

I know; just reading all of this makes it feel like a college level activity, but the student will want to do it and will enjoy it immensely.  And you the “instructor” will have to do very little to make it work; just show interest in what the student finds interesting.  The only challenging aspect of this first activity is keeping the student on track – focused on the same topic throughout the entire conversation.

 

light-bulb-1246043_1920.jpgStep 2: The Socratic Method

The next activity in the process is applying the infamous Socratic Method.  You may be familiar with this form of questioning from your own educational experiences or from modern media’s distortion of it through the angry college professor’s lecture.

However, at heart, the Socratic Method and our main goal in this second type of activity is based on trying to truly understand what the student likes about the topic he or she has chosen to discuss.  What makes him or her so passionate about it?  Why is it worth talking about?  The difference between this activity and the previous is that you are more of a participant now.  In the first activity your goal was simply to keep them talking about the same thing.  Now, you want to understand that thing, game, sport, skateboarding trick, movie, whatever.  It’s kind of like the game children like to play with adults, where they ask you a question and then keep asking “why?”  It’s hilarious and frustrating when the kids do it because there’s no point except to keep you talking.

For us though, there is a point – deep and true understanding, not only of the thing itself, but of the student’s relationship with and to it.  You will probe for more and deeper understanding through a back and forth conversation that tests and then expands your and the student’s conception of the topic.  To make this work, you’ll want to channel one part: that annoying kid who asks “why” all the time, one part: wise person who says, “hmm” and “that’s interesting,” and one part devil’s advocate who challenges what is known by pushing the idea to the extreme and taking the idea and standing it on its head.  Doesn’t that sound fun?  I thought you’d think so.

Once you’ve completed these two oral activities a few times, the student will become accustomed to thinking critically about the things he or she cares about.  Then, the student will be ready to start writing about what he or she has been thinking about.

 

coffee-1128136_1920Step 3: Written Exercises

The first stage of getting comfortable with writing about what’s on our minds is based on the tried and true method called Journaling.  The great thing about Journaling is that there are no rules, so you can’t mess up.  For this to work, the student need only put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard.  Ask him or her to fill a page with text about a single topic.  These pages will not be subject to reading or critiquing, just ask the student for a quick glance so you can see that writing took place.

The reason this activity is so informal is that the goal is to get the student to put more than a single thought or sentence into the writing process.  His or her teachers are expecting more than a yes or no answer and more than just a sentence or two in response.  Asking a student to fill a page with text, even if it’s not the most eloquent text, helps him or her to get comfortable with putting ideas together and building on or expounding on an idea.  Just give the student some time and a comfortable place to work and watch the ideas trickle and then flood onto the page.

Once the student is able to fill a page with text, it’s time to move on to actual essay writing practice.

Instructional/Informational Essays

Before you get too excited and feel the need to remind me that I said this would be easy and fun or that you might not be an English teacher, let me assure you that my use of the term essay in this passage is rather loose.  I, and you, don’t want your student running for the hills at the very mentioning of these activities.  Given that, let’s think of essays as writing down thoughts in an organized fashion.  Just as with the prior activities, we are focusing on helping the student think critically and fully about an idea, not on the technical correctness of their expression.

When presenting this activity, remind the student that you are not asking him or her to think up anything new.  He or she will have already informed you about the basics in the first oral activity.  You both will have thought about the ins and outs and finer points of the idea through the Socratic Method.  He or she will have already written about it in the Journaling activity.  All you’ll be asking for now is an “organized” presentation of the information.  In the Journaling activity the student was asked to fill the page, so there was no organization, just thoughts recorded as quickly as they entered the brain.

Now we want to organize those thoughts into an intelligible sequence.  If the idea the student wants to express is about explaining how to drive a car, help him or her put the steps in the proper order.  Should he or she write about the finer points of shifting the car into fifth-gear before putting on the seatbelt and starting the ignition? No.  That’s the kind of organizational awareness we are going to be looking for.  If you knew nothing about the topic, was the information presented in a way that would make it possible for you to understand what the student was trying to explain?  That’s it.

Neither you nor the student need worry about effectiveness of the hook or if the imagery was descriptive enough for you to feel like you were there in the car hammering the gas pedal while simultaneously feathering the clutch and yanking the E-brake hard enough to make the car Drift through the S-curves like Vin Diesel in a “Fast and Furious” movie.  That’s my job.  You just need to help the student present all of the really important parts and put them in order so that you can follow along.  The same goes for an essay where the student is trying to present his or her opinion about something.

In these analytical or critical essays, ask yourself if you can identify the student’s position or feelings about the issue and why he or she feels that way.  Think of it like watching a story on the news or reading an article; don’t worry about how well it was presented as long as you get the important parts.

books-1605416_1920.jpgLevel 4: It’s the same, but different

At this level the student will make the transition from working with an idea that he or she is completely familiar with to an article or novel that is new to him or her.  This is the stage where you and your child can work together through each of the first three level’s activities.  You will work together to build the student’s comprehension and analysis skills as partners.

In the previous activities, the student was teaching you something only known to him or her.  Now, you will work together to build each other’s understanding through a genuine partnership.  You will read the text at a similar pace and you will think about and discuss the text with the same level of unfamiliarity and newness.  By completing each of the first three level’s activities with a new text, you will be able to operate from the perspective of a peer rather than a know-it-all teacher.  There will be no wrong answers, no errors, just two people’s unique perspectives on a singular topic.

Keeping It Real and Really Fun

The first thing the more pragmatic of you might think about is, “How long is this going to take?”  While it is a good question, the answer depends on how motivated you and the student are.  Ideally, you could complete one activity every other day, but I know that life and complicated schedules can get in the way.  So, in the end, this can be as formal and regulated as you desire.

You can work with a set schedule so that you and the student can be fully aware and accountable for completing the activities, or you can play it a bit looser and focus on the oral and journaling activities that can be done during car rides and lazy weekends.  You know your student best, so you will likely know how best to motivate him or her to start this process as well as what it will take to get you both to stick with it and keep practicing.

My most fervent hope and strenuous recommendation is to keep it fun at all costs.  Save the “work” aspects for the classroom teachers and us here at Oxford.

 

Meet the Author: Alex Claude is an SAT and ACT ELA Director and an ELA tutor at Oxford Tutoring.  He takes the time to get to know his students so he can learn and apply how to best teach them.  Alex teaches his students how to effectively communicate through writing, and how to analyze informational texts and novels.

 

Posted in Book, Child, children, Education, family, Parent, Parent and Child, Parent Help, Parenting, Reading, student, Uncategorized

Thank You, Jim Trelease! – The Power of Reading Aloud to Children

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My son, Matt, reading to my four grandchildren.

Reading aloud to my four children is one of the fondest memories I have of their growing up years.  They are all adults now with their own families and busy lives, but I have wonderful memories of cuddling on the couch with them, reading stories together, watching their eyes light up as we traveled to other lands and other times through story.

As a teacher, reading to my children seemed a natural part of the parenting process.  Even when they were babies, they would sit on my lap as we enjoyed books like Pat the Bunny.  As they grew older, we graduated to story books.  Some were fairy tales, some were Bible stories, but all were chances to bond together over printed word. They had their favorites that they asked to be read to them over and over and over. We went to our local library’s story time and listened to books read aloud that we would then books that we checked out to take home to enjoy again and again.

However, it’s a common belief that when a child begins reading on his or her own, there is no longer a need for parents to read aloud to their children.  I confess that I held that same view until I met Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook. He was advertised as a guest speaker at our local library.  The title of his book sounded intriguing, so I went to hear what he had to say.

I am so glad that I did.

Jim Trelease’s idea that reading aloud can and should continue long after a child is an independent reader powerfully impacted both my parenting approach to reading as well as my own teaching  philosophy.  His belief was that children will be excited about reading if we are excited about reading.  They will think it’s fun if we think it’s fun. That evening, Trelease read aloud to us, an adult audience, the Bernard Waber classic, Ira Sleeps Over. He read it with energy, enthusiasm and wonderful vocal animation.  That’s all it took.  I was hooked!

Read-alouds became a fixed part of our family routine.  We cried together through books like Where the Red Fern Grows, laughed together through books like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and experienced the  thrills and adventure of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.  I am happy to report that I have raised children who love to read.

Now, as a grandmother, I am enjoying reading some of those same familiar stories to my six grandchildren.  What is even more rewarding to me is that my children are reading to their children; the torch has been passed!

I have never forgotten the way Jim Trelease closed his evening talk, reading from a poem by Stickland Gillian, titled “The Reading Mother.”

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.

About the Author: Kathy H. is a tutor at Oxford Tutoring who enjoys tutors because she can make a difference in the lives of her students.  Her goal is to make learning fun by teaching to each student’s unique method of learning.  For fun, she likes to read, binge-watch TV shows on Netflix, serve at her church, and spend time with her grandchildren.

Posted in Education, Homework Help, Parent and Child, Parent Help, Parenting, Private Tutoring, student, Studying, teacher, Tutoring Sessions

A Teacher’s Advice: Managing the Classroom from Home

A mother is late for school and work while rushing with her children for a funny stress concept on a white isolated background. There are objects flying away from them.With schools settling into a hectic hum of activity, students and parents need to guard against the complacency that can take place when students get lulled into the mundane details of school, forgetting to keep up with its demands. Deadlines slip. Important papers are left unsigned. Projects get pushed to the last minute. Days become shorter and shorter. All the while, progress reports and grades loom. As a classroom teacher for over a decade, I had to worry about managing twenty-five students making sure they had what they needed to be successful. However, a student’s academic prosperity first depends on what happens at home. So, as a guard against the overwhelming big picture students and parents have to face, I’d like to offer a teacher’s perspective on helpful practices at home that will make a student’s time in the classroom more productive.

Backpack Check

School bag with books and equipment isolated on white background

This should happen every day! I have encountered countless assignments, office paperwork, flyers, food, and assorted classroom supplies stuck at the bottom of a backpack or trapped behind some internal zipper.  Every night, the student should completely empty out their backpack and go through any materials with a parent. Don’t forget to check between book pages and through pencil pouches. The daily backpack check will then set you up for a:

Homework Check

Parent asks, “Can I see your homework?” Student says “I did it already. At school.” The parent now has no way of knowing what their child has done at school and what to anticipate in terms of upcoming tests, school activities, etc. Make it a household rule: bring all work home. Even if it’s “finished.” A perusal will tell the parent what the child needs to do, and can praise accomplishments. Now, a parent does not (and should not) have to correct the homework, especially if the parent is not comfortable with the material. However, a parent should be aware of the homework, and make sure that it’s finished. A homework check will be followed by a:

Planner Check

Most schools provide and require a “binder reminder,” daily planners for students to write down their assignments. This planner should be coming home every day, and be found during the backpack check. A parent can see in the planner if the child has what they need for homework completion, plan for future assignments and activities, and help with organizational skills. This will then lead to a final check:

Website Check

All schools have a website that is updated daily. A parent and student together can look over the site (and its calendar) to be updated on the chaotic life of school activities and stay on top of what the student needs to anticipate, and engage in conversation.

With very little practice, these daily checks will become secondhand and not take up much time at night. Anxieties will be mitigated, grades will go up, life will become less stressful at these helpful routines becomes of part of everyday life.

Happy family laying on the floor reading in the kids room

Meet the author: 

Brendan with his Masters in Education, a Math Credential, and a Bachelors in Psychology is a highly-qualified tutor at Oxford Tutoring with over a decade of teaching in the classroom.  As a curriculum and lesson planning expert who knows the Common Core State Standards inside and out, Brendan can ensures that his students understand the material they are being taught, by making certain they articulate and express their comprehension.

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Posted in Child, Education, English Language Arts Tutoring, Homework Help, Individualized Tutoring, K-12 Tutoring, Parent, Parent and Child, Parent Help, Parenting

Dear Parent: You Don’t Have to Do It All Yourself

“I only practice on the days I eat.”  The words of Dr. Suzuki, the father of the Suzuki music teaching method, ring through my head as I struggle to motivate my son to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on the piano.  How is that I, as an educator and pianist, struggle so much to teach my son to play such a simple melody?  It isn’t for lack of effort or creativity, nor even lack of patience.  The practice finishes with him asking, “Mommy, can I just practice the piano at the teacher’s house?  I like practicing with her better.”  I am crestfallen but manage a composed, “Honey, it’s important to practice every day or you will not be ready to see your teacher,” but the truth was, his words hurt.  The experience got me thinking… thinking back through the scores of students I have tutored over the past 15 years at Oxford Tutoring.  I remember the sophomore whose mother was a PhD in English, who brought her 16 year-old son to study English with me, and the 4th grader whose mother was a special education teacher who brought her daughter, a delightful child with severe dyslexia, to see me, a young woman in college at the time.  These mothers were highly-skilled, professional women who without a doubt were more skilled than I.  What value did they see in what I was doing, and what did they know that I have yet to learn for my own son’s sake?

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The question is difficult.  The most obvious answer is that the parent-child relationship is often complex and “high stakes.”  The parent brings a vision for his or her child’s future, a deep gut-wrenching desire for the child to be successful, a history of positive and negative interactions, and expectations that on a good day are high, and on a tough day perhaps insurmountable. Furthermore, parents and children bring their day with them into the room:  the child brings the exhaustion, excitement, and frustrations of school, peers and teachers; the parent brings the challenges of bosses and deadlines and all the pressures we put on ourselves.  It all leaks in.  It leaks into our tone of voice, our questions and answers, how constructive our criticism is, and how heartfelt our accolades are.  Furthermore, when the assignment is done, there’s no cheering.  The crowd doesn’t go wild because you gave it your all.  The book closes, the pencil rests, and no one is watching.  Everyone is just relieved.  The homework is done.

But in thinking about it further, there is more to the question than stressed parents and kids.  Dr. Suzuki described an exchange between himself and the parent of one of his students.  The parent asked, “Professor, will my boy amount to something?” and Dr. Suzuki jokingly replied, “No, he will not become ‘something’.”  Her shock forced him to continue seriously, “He will become a noble person through his violin playing.”  His words awakened my mind.   The mothers of my students didn’t come to me just because they were too tired or their children were too difficult.  They came because they were in the business of building a fine young man and a fine young woman of noble characters.  They understand that it takes a village, as some say, to raise a child, and that association with quality people builds beauty of character. It builds strength and resolve. It builds understanding and commitment.  And ultimately, it provides purpose.  Over these long years, I have been given the gift of an opportunity to participate in that effort, and now, as administrator and instructor at Oxford Tutoring, I have the opportunity through the wisdom and strength of our instructors, to further that effort: an effort I will need for my own child, and an effort we will nurture for yours.

Special thanks to the writings of Dr. Suzuki, founder of the Talent Education approach to teaching children music.   Story excerpted from his seminal text, Nurtured by Love:  The Classic Approach to Talent Education by Shinichi Suzuki.

RebekahMeet the author: Rebekah, an ELA/SAT/ACT instructor and administrator at Oxford Tutoring has over 15 years of tutoring experience.  As a parent, her passion for furthering her student’s education stems from a first-hand understanding of the importance of learning in the lives of students. Combining her years of experience as a tutor and parent, Rebekah reaches her students through encouragement, incorporating various learning styles, and an awareness of tutoring methods that makes the learning experience personal and relatable to her students.

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