Posted in Book, Child, children, Education, ELA, English Language Arts Tutoring, Parent, Reading, school, student, Studying, Uncategorized

How to Annotate – Close Reading

Is it enough for students to simply comprehend their school readings? While reading comprehension is necessary for doing well in school, in order to experience success in current and future schooling, students will be required to go beyond what they see on the surface and dig deeper into the text.

This is where the process of close reading can make all the difference.  Close reading is when we slow down and think about what we are reading.  An important step in close reading is to annotate, as this allows for greater focus and attention to detail. Keep reading to learn how to annotate when you are practicing the art of close reading.

Comprehension of Key Ideas and Details

Unfamiliar Vocabulary

To help yourself determine the meaning of the vocabulary word, find context clues.  If necessary use a dictionary.

Main Ideas

Take notes on the central themes, clues or details that back up the main idea and themes.

Confusing Parts

Find unfamiliar details that you might need to clarify through re-reading, summarizing, discussion or research.

Questions to Ask

Who are the main characters?

What is the setting?

What is the main conflict?

 

 

Analyze the Text for Craft and Structure

Repeated Themes or Ideas

Think about the genre of the work and the ideas, use of language, and any lesson or moral.

Character or Author’s Feelings

For fiction, take note of how the author uses dialogue, descriptions, things the character says, does, etc. to develop character.

When it comes to non-fiction, pay attention to how the author talks about the subject to determine his or her feelings about the topic.

Note the Narrator’s Point of View

Determine how the point of view contributes to the story.

Questions to Ask

Why do characters behave as they do?

How do their actions advance the plot?

How does the author’s word choice affect the story’s tone?

 

 

Integrate Your Knowledge

Connections

Compare and contrast this work with other works you have read, information you already know, and ways in which you can relate to the story.

Deeper Meaning

Find the important images and symbols to analyze their deeper meaning.

Effective Writing

Look for literary devices, figurative language, powerful sentences, etc.

 Questions to Ask

How has this work increased my knowledge of a subject or author?

What is surprising about the story’s outcome?

What did I appreciate about the author’s style?

 

 

Tools for Annotation

Make your annotation system your own, use colored pens, highlighters or symbols to annotate for the above list of items.

This process of annotation will help you read more closely and allow you to dig deeper to find more significance in the texts you are reading.  This will not only provide more depth to your schooling, but will also be an influence on your life. ­­­­­­

How to Annotate - Close Reading Icon.png

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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, English Language Arts Tutoring, Reading, Tutoring, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Tools

How to Truly Understand a Text – The Reading Process

by Justin L. – Tutor at Oxford Tutoring

Reading is one of the most deceptively challenging skills to master. Once you’ve learned how to sound out words, it can feel like riding a bike downhill. You coast on momentum until coming to a stop at the bottom. You push your line of vision across the page until coming to a stop at the end.

Except, there’s more to riding a bike than balancing and pedaling, and there’s more to reading than sounding out words and scanning pages. You have to know your destination and how and why you made it there.

To learn how to read properly, you must understand the goal, the tools, and the process.

 

Goals

The #1 mistake people make when reading is approaching a text with the wrong mindset. They are looking to react to or critique what is presented. Reactions and critiques are valuable, but they are an entirely different process that follows reading. In fact, they are dependent on it.

To understand the goal of reading, you have to understand the goal of writing. Every writer wants to change your mind. That desire is not as nefarious or complicated as it sounds. While a lawyer, politician, or philosophy may pen a composition to change your opinions or actions, a screenwriter, playwright, or novelist crafts a story to entertain you. Still, either end requires the same means–your mind has to change. How? By communicating new information to you.

Thus, your goal as a reader is to understand what is being communicated to you. How? By knowing the tools the writer has at his disposal.

 

Tools

The basic tool of the writer is the word. However, like the process of reading, the word is not as simple as it seems. It is more than a collection of sounds. It is a symbol. What does it symbolize?

Every word represents a concept you hold in your mind (or will hold if you’ve never heard the word before). Concepts are placeholders in your mind for either concretes or abstracts. A concrete is an observable (by the five senses) thing. An abstract is an idea or emotion.

For example, the word “tree” symbolizes the large amount of observable traits of trees in the world. When you read it, you think of all the important traits of trees summed up in one image or “concept.” Additionally, the word “love” symbolizes the idea or emotion that can only be believed or experienced. When you read it, you think of all of the different ways to understand or feel love in one “concept.”

Thus, a writer uses symbols to make you think of the world in a specific way in order to show you new parts of it, or information, that will change your concepts.

 

The Process

The challenge of reading, then, is to understand all of the information being presented to you and how it is both different and the same as the information you already have. To do so, you must use a process similar to the Scientific Method.

Every writer has one Overall piece of information he is trying to communicate to you–usually called the Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme. Once you figure it out, it becomes your Touchstone or Key to understanding everything else the writer shows you in that same piece of writing. The challenge is that you’re shown everything else first and can’t be sure of the Overall until you’ve read it all (and sometimes even after you’ve finished).

Ask a Question

Before you even consume a word, you have to decide which of the almost-infinite amount of books to pick up. If you’re completing an assignment for school or work, that decision is made for you, but your work on this step isn’t complete. You have to understand why you are reading what you’re reading. How does the text reflect your (or your teacher’s or company’s) values, interests, beliefs, tastes, and goals? Once you understand the context of your efforts, you can open the cover.

Research

With a book or essay in front of you, it can be easy to flip to page one or find the first paragraph and start pressing forward. If you do so, however, you’ll miss out on a lot of important information. Gather all the background information you can to have an idea what the text is about.

Ask yourself: What is the title? Who is the author? When did he write the text? What content does it contain? How long is it? What type of sections and how many, if any, is the text divided into? Also, make sure you didn’t miss gathering any general information about the book’s subject when completing the previous step. (Ex: If the book is about architecture, learn about the basic purposes, principles, and people of architecture). The answer to all of these questions provide you all the information you need to complete the next step.

Hypothesize

This step is where using the scientific method to read becomes really important. Based on all of your knowledge of the book and the subject, come up with a proposed Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme of the text. This proposed Overall piece of information will be the umbrella you try to fit every other piece of information you learn while reading into. It is the starting point that you will slowly craft into your end point over the course of your consumption of the text.

Experiment + Analyze

In sciences, this step is divided in two. Reading, however, has a much less clearly defined line between the physical task (experimentation) and the reflection on it (analysis). In fact, that experimentation and analysis often occur at the same time is what makes reading so challenging. In a science experiment, you set up the physical process, run it, and collect the data. It is only then, when the physical process is complete, that you analyze the data to determine its significance.

When reading, you are collecting data and analyzing it at the same time. As you consume each new word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter, you try to fit it into your hypothesis. If you can explain how it fits into your hypothesis, you can move on. If not, you must change your hypothesis or create a new one. Thus, there are two important guidelines to follow for this step:

  1. Your hypothesis is always in flux until you finish the text. Until you have all the data, you can’t have a complete conclusion. However, as you read more and more of the text, your hypothesis should change less and less.
  2. Set up checkpoints for yourself to stop consuming new data and think about the data you have. Typically these checkpoints are the ends of sections or chapters, as the author included those breaks to signal the information because it is a data subset.

Basically, once you read the first word of the text, you enter into a loop of Experiment + Analysis and Hypothesis until you read the last word of the text.

Conclusion

Now that you have all the data and have finished looping, you should have a hypothesis that explains why the author included everything in the text. The key here is being able to explain the hypothesis and how it explains everything. To do so, write a one sentence summary of what you think the Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme is. This sentence serves as your shorthand for the text. Any time anyone brings up anything about the text, you refer back to your conclusion and use it as the foundation of any thinking you do. (Keep in mind, if anyone presents you with new information you may have missed when you read the text or a new understanding you may have not thought of, you may have to re-enter the loop.)

The End.png

Right now you may feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the challenge that reading presents. You may not want to put in so much effort every time you read, especially if it is “just for enjoyment.” It’s important to remember that just as everyone who learns how to ride a bike isn’t going to become a professional BMXer and medal in the X-Games, not everyone who learns how to read is going to become a Shakespearean scholar and earn a PhD in Literature. Still, just as riding a bike well can add to your life immensely, so can reading.

Truly understanding the Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme of a book can greatly increase your enjoyment of it. By knowing why everything was included, the importance of each line of dialogue and event becomes clear and impacts you more. Likewise, comprehending what the author is showing you can improve your life by helping you to consider complexities of life that you may never have before. Or, if you’re assigned the book for school or work, it can help you earn a good grade or complete your project perfectly.

Understand?


About the Author:
Our Oxford Tutoring, Justin L., tutors Middle School through High School English Language Arts, as well as SAT and ACT English.  As a published writer and former college English teacher, Justin has extensive knowledge of the reading and writing process. He uses his knowledge to challenge his students to think critically, encouraging them to go deeper with the texts they read and the essays they write.

Posted in Book, Child, ELA, English Language Arts Tutoring, family, Reading, summer, Uncategorized

6 Reasons to Spend Your Summer Reading

For students, an ideal summer is made up of hanging out by the pool, trips to the beach, video games, shopping at the mall and most importantly, absolutely no school!  While we highly recommend students spending at least some of their summer  maintaining skills or preparing for the new school year with summer classes there is also another way to make sure you are not falling behind over the summer: summer reading.

Summer Reading

So why bother reading over the summer? What’s the point?  You spend the whole school year reading  book after book. Summer is the time for relaxing.  Well, before you completely abandon any thought of school, hear me out.  You might reconsider allocating at least some of your time to your next favorite book!

 

kids-summer-reading.jpg#1 – Avoid Summer Learning Loss

Think about it, you have just spent nine months of your life dedicated to learning.  Remember all those all-nighter’s, last minute, frantic papers, never-ending tests and hard work you have put into the pursuit of learning.  One of the greatest reasons for reading over the summer is to ensure all of that effort is not lost.  Studies show that over the summer “the average learning loss in math and reading for American students amounts to one month per year” (New York Times).

Reading keeps your mind active.  While spending lazy summer days by the pool sounds ideal, you are not doing yourself any favors for the upcoming school year.  We are not saying, don’t take some time off.  We are just suggesting that you need to keep learning over the summer to avoid losing some of your hard-earned education.  Reading is one way to do this!  And hey, you can even do it laying out by the pool!

reading-at-the-pool-2jmu8jh

 

#2 – Increase Vocabularydictionary.jpg

One of the biggest challenges for students who struggle to comprehend what they are reading is vocabulary.  Much of the texts you will encounter over the school year contains advanced vocabulary.  Reading exposes you to brand new words that will help you with future reading, but will also increase your vocabulary skills when it is time to write your essays.

Additionally, come test time, school tests but especially ACT and SAT tests, you will have a larger vocabulary arsenal at your disposal.  Also, when reading you learn how to use context clues in order to determine the rough definition of a new word.  Another crucial skill come test-taking time.

vocabulary.jpg

summer-reading-africa-studios-shuttersthock-e1436293933664#3- Obtain Analysis Skills

The ability to analyze, to find the deeper meaning, behind the words you read is a necessary skill for your high school education and beyond.  Practice makes perfect.  And the more time you take to read, the more naturally analysis will come to you when it is time to analyze those pesky classics during the school year.

Analysis also plays an important role in your everyday life.  Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal – body language and the tone in one’s voice. (Philip Yaffe).  Which means that what a person does facially, physically, and the inflection in their voice is far more telling that what they actually say.  We must be able to analyze in order to determine the deeper meaning behind the action’s of others and what is being said.  This will put you at a great advantage in your personal life, school life, and work life.

Lecture et coquillages

#4 – Improve WritingJournal-Photo.jpg

Famous American writer, William Faulkner once said, “Read, read, read. Read everything…just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master” (Shortlist). Writers need to read.  Why? Because that is how they learn to write.

Perhaps you struggle with writing description – read a writer who is a master of descriptive writing like Margaret Mitchell. Check out this excerpt from her well-known book, Gone with the Wind:

“Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills…The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink-tipped waves were breaking into surf.”Gone-with-the-Wind-Scarlett-in-front-of-Tara

Or maybe writing an argument is your biggest challenge – find a well-argued essay or speech like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.  Notice what he writes here:

“We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim… then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” (Source)

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Taking in excellent writing will most definitely improve yours.

 

#5 – Read What You Want

One of the irritating aspects of reading during the school year is that you are forced to read the assigned texts.  You have no say in what you will be spending hours studying and learning about.  Reading over the summer means you get to read about whatever you want!  You are in control, so go out and find your next favorite book.

#6 – Relax!relaxed-theta-brain-waves-reading.jpg

Summer is all about relaxing.  Reading seems like the opposite of relaxing.  But guess what? According to recent research, “Reading is the best way to relax and even six minutes can be enough to reduce stress levels by more than two-thirds” (Source).

Even just a little bit of reading can significantly reduce stress.  While school reading may be stressful, summer reading certainly is not.

So in between video games and the beach (or why not at the beach?) crack open a book.  Summer reading is calling!

 

Copyright Oxford Tutoring 2016

 

Posted in Book, Child, classes, Courses, Education, ELA, family, K-12 Tutoring, Learning Activties, Orange County, Orange County Events, Reading, summer, Uncategorized

Required Reading Summer Course at Oxford Tutoring

Don’t let your summer go to waste! Try our Required Reading Book Club course to study the novels you will be reading in the upcoming school year.

Sign up for an Oxford Tutoring summer course today! (949) 681-0388

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http://www.oxfordtutoring.com/summer/irvine-schedule.pdf

 

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10 Study Tips to Study More Effectively in 2016

2016

The New Year is just days away.  For many, it’s a fresh start; a chance to re-evaluate decisions made in the past year and their results.  Was my money well spent?  Did I make exercise a priority?  And if the answers aren’t to the individuals liking, the New Year provides an opportunity to make some changes.  At Oxford Tutoring, we suggest, in the next few days before the New Year, students take the same action, focusing particularly on their studies.

Ask yourselves a few questions: Did I get the grades I wanted this last semester?  Did I put the effort into school that I wanted to?  Did I feel prepared for the tests I took?  If your answer to any or all of these questions is no, then most likely it is time to evaluate your study habits, then consider adopting some new ones so that you can start off 2016 academically strong.

Study

Here is a list that we at Oxford Tutoring have compiled of tips to study more effectively in 2016.  Even if you choose to use only one of the tools, you are already in a better place for 2016 then you were in 2015.

 

Planner Icon

#1: Get a Planner

PlannerIt seems simple enough and it is.  But planners are an often overlooked option for preparing to take exams.  And don’t just buy a planner, make sure that you actually use it!  There you can put down every upcoming test,
every project, every deadline.  You can even add checklists, use different color pens, utilize post-it notes or develop whatever system necessary to help you get organized.

Why does organization matter in becoming a more effective studier?  Keeping track of upcoming tests and events will help you be prepared.  If you know what is coming you can prepare for it.  And your grades will not suffer from those inevitablely forgotten assignments which can quickly add up if you aren’t paying attention.

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Furthermore, putting down everything on paper is an excellent way to clear your mind.  Worries about deadlines can often creep into our subconscious and nag at us even if we do not realize it.  With all your to do’s written down, your thoughts have room to breathe and focus on the task at hand.  It will be easier to study and easier to retain information with a clear mind.

 

Plan Ahead Icon

#2: Plan Ahead

Plan ahead

Now that you have purchased your planner and filled it up with tests and project dates, you have the chance to look down the road and see what lies ahead.  Which means, you can plan ahead.  Mark out time in your calendar to study.  Make it a priority, or set it up as a checklist that you make sure to complete before you move onto anything else.

Study all nightAdditionally, it is extremely helpful to study a little bit every day.  One of the biggest mistakes students make is that they prepare for their tests and write their papers the night before.  This works against you in several ways.  First of all, the stress level alone means you are not going to be as present while studying.  Secondly, trying to cram week’s worth of learning or writing into one evening is an excellent way not to learn.  Lastly, because you have jammed all that information into your brain just for one test, chances are once the test is over, all that information is going to fall away.  This will be detrimental come final’s time; and, even more harmful in classes like Math and Science, where concepts build upon one another, meaning that it is necessary to have a firm foundation of one formula before being able to understand another.

learning style

#3: Determine Your Learning StyleLearning style.jpg

In order to be able to study the most effectively, it is imperative that a student knows what study habits work for him or her and what study habits do not.  Many students do not take an assessment on their learning style until college, if then.  Meaning that they may have spent years struggling through studying simply because they did not know  there were other resources available to them based on how they learn.

There are three main learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.  A quick break down of these styles is that visual learners retain information through what they see.  These are usually the students that all of their friends are jealous of because they can remember facts just by viewing them.  Then, there are auditory learners.  These are the students that do best recalling knowledge if they have heard it out loud.  Lastly, kinesthetic learners are those that require touching and moving in order to best understand what it is that they are learning.

To figure out what learning style you are, take the quiz.

 

apply learning style

#4: Use Learning Style Study Methods

Once you determine youR learning style, you can use suggested study methods to better prepare for tests.

Check out the following lists to get some ideas.

Study Tips - Visual

Study Tips - Kinesthetic

Study Tips - Auditory

 

Take a break icon

#5: Set a Scheduled Break

There is only so much information you can remember in one sitting of studying.  And while some may think that taking break is counterproductive in reality, breaks give your mind a chance to rest.  Therefore, you can come back to your study table refreshed and ready to take on more reading.

So get to know your own mind.  Do you tend to stop remembering what you are studying after 30 minutes, an hour, or an hour and a half?  Whatever it is, set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to get up from your desk and let your brain breathe.

For weekly tests, you probably do not want to take more than a ten minute break.  However, if you are preparing for a big test, such as a final or an SAT or ACT, taking longer breaks around 20 minutes is recommended.

Basketball break.jpgNo matter how long the break, do not, I repeat do not go on Instagram, play a video game or turn on the TV.  These activities are not actually giving your brain a rest.  Furthermore, you will most likely end up spending longer than your planned break and waste precious study time.  It is ideal to grab a healthy snack, get outside or go for a quick walk.  On your longer breaks, consider shooting hoops or playing a quick game of catch.  Exercise helps your brain in a number of ways, including fighting stress and improving your ability to focus.  (It’s true, really!)

If you are in a time crunch, instead of taking a break, switch subjects.  For example, if it is finals week, and you have a History final and Mathematics final on the same day, you may find it helpful to switch from History to Math after an hour and a half.

Take a break you earned it.jpg

So, schedule your break for a time that will be most helpful for you, and take that break you have earned it.  But do not, I repeat, do not go on Instagram.

 

study envionment

#6: Set up a Study Environment

Just as important as the way that you study is the environment in which you study.

Why?

Because much like your routine before you go bed, is the routine you Study deskestablish when studying.  For example, when you get ready for bed you might (hopefully) first brush your teeth, then wash your face, put on your pajamas, set your alarm, and finally hop into bed.  These steps, taken in the same order most nights, signal to your brain that it is time to sleep.  Forget one of your steps or add surfing the web while lying in bed to your routine, and you may find yourself tossing and turning.

take a tstThis is the same for when you study. If you listen to music while studying, your brain will associate the information you are learning with music.  So when you go to class and sit down to take a test, your brain will have a harder time recalling that information because it will be waiting for music that never actually plays.

Furthermore, the classroom environment is generally quiet, your desk is empty, and you’re sitting in a hardback chair.  So when studying try and mimic this layout and atmosphere.

 

Sleep icon

#7: Get Several Good Nights of Sleep

Speaking of sleep, getting several good night’s rest in a row is important.  When getting ready for a test, it is not enough to simpsleeply get in your eight hours of sleep the night before.  (And hey guys, it should be at least 8 hours.  Because, as an adolescent, your bodies and brains are working harder as they develop, studies  show that most teenager actually need closer to 9 1/2 hours to feel fully refreshed). Your body won’t feel the full effect of that rest until a couple of days later.  So, ideally, you want to be sleeping well for several nights in a row before a big test.

I can see many of you wondering, with all the studying I have to get done, how in the world am I going to get 9 1/2 hours of sleep, let alone 8?  Time management is key.  And if you take the steps mentioned above, you most certainly will have enough time to get the necessary sleep.

If, even after applying these study tips, you still do not have time to get enough sleep, you may want to look at the number of commitments you have made.  Between sports, school, extracurriculars and social activities, it is extremely easy to take on too much.  Many students think they have to do a lot in order to get into a good college.  But what will colleges appreciate more, a student who gets average grades because she has over-extended herself or a student who excels in the few activities she has committed herself to? Here’s a hint, it’s the latter.

Bottom line: go get some ZZZ’s.

 

Brain food icon

# 8: Eat Healthy Food

brain-food.jpgNot long ago a student was preparing for her finals, and her mother, knowing that she would have a lot of studying ahead of her, put together a care package of goodies to help her get everything finished.  This act was kind on her mother’s part, but the contents were cringe worthy.  Inside were salty pretzels, chocolate muffins, candy, soda and several other junk food items.  The irony here was that though her mother was trying to help her, this care package was not at all useful.  These foods would do nothing whatsoever to give her energy and the mental strength to get through finals, in fact these foods would work against her.

Eating “brain food” is another simple way to make your study time more effective.

Check out the chart below for suggested foods and their benefits.

Brain Foods.jpg

Read an article about brain food here.

 

study group

#9: Form a Study Group

study group funnyMany do not discover the power of a committed study group until after High School;  however, students as young as Jr. High can find study groups valuable.  We’re not talking about a group of friends who get together for an hour, talk for half of it, take selfies for another 15 minutes, and do not get around to studying until it’s almost time to leave.

What we are referring to is a study group with committed students whose goals really are to improve their grades and do well on tests. Kids who want to goof off, talk, or not do the work should not be invited.  And if you cannot get school work done with friends, then look for other serious students in your class.

This can be helpful for a number of reasons.  First of all, discussion is a powerful tool for learning.  Also, if you are not sure about something, there are several students you can go to for help.  Between a group of minds, one of the students is most likely going to have the answer or your group can reason it out together.  Lastly, if another student is unsure, this gives you the opportunity to teach them.  When you get the chance to apply what you learn, you deepen your understanding.

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goals icon

#10: Set an End Goal

Maybe, you are the type of student who knows exactly where you want to be in ten years.  Maybe you know exactly where you want to go to college.  Or maybe you are just trying to make it through the semester, so please stop talking about goals, thank you very much!  Regardless of where you are at, it is important to have objectives, whether they be short term or long term.
Star Wars Yoday GoalNot sure where you want to be in the future?  Take a few moments to reflect.  Decide what grades you want this semester.  Think about the college of your dreams.  Even go as far as what type of job you want.  Write them down.  Go back to them throughout the semester to remind yourself of what it is that you are working so hard for.

What is your motivation? What keeps you getting out of bed in the morning and going back to school every day?  All this time you are putting to school is not in vain.  You will use it down the road whether it seems like it or not.

Plan Goal.jpg

At the very least, school is a stepping stone to get you to where you want to get.  So when you feel overwhelmed and like you want to throw in the towel, remember your purpose for studying.  You are headed somewhere, and there is a reason for giving school your best effort.

. . .

Untitled-2We hope that this list gave you some helpful tips to study more effectively in the New Year.  Even if using just a few of these tips end up making your studying more efficient, then it was worth the effort of applying these tools.

Which one of these tips sound the most helpful?  Are there any tips not on the list that you use to study?

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© Oxford Tutoring 2015

Julia Author PicMeet the author:  Julia Myres is an ELA instructor at Oxford Tutoring who has been working with students for over 10 years.  She builds up her student’s confidence in the subjects they struggle with through encouragement and support.  Striving to make her students ready to tackle even the most difficult concepts as they move up in their education, she motivates her students to take their education into their own hands and thrive.

Contributors:

Alex Claude:  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.

Jason Orens: Jason, a Math and Computer Science Instructor has been tutoring with Oxford Tutoring for over nine years.  Utilizing the student’s existing knowledge and a touch of humor, Jason strives to remove students mental barriers between themselves and the difficult, technical materials.  He combines his years of tutoring experience and expertise in the fields of Math and Computer Science to give his students the tools they need to succeed in these challenging classes.

Yuriko Lord: Yuriko is a Math and Science instructor who has been tutoring at Oxford Tutoring for over eight years.  Fully invested in her students, Yuriko sees her students through the demanding Math and Science courses, motivating her students through encouragement, accountability, and by challenging them to take their education into their own hands.  She incorporates visual and auditory tools into her tutoring method in order to best reach her student’s learning styles and educational needs.

Posted in Book, ELA, New year 2016, New Year's, Parent and Child, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing

16 Book Recommendation for Every Teenager to Read in 2016

The New Year is just around the corner, and you know what that means: New Year’s resolutions.  From exercising to eating healthier, many of the resolutions people make at the New Year have to do with physical benefits.  These are great goals, and benefiting the body is extremely important to your overall health.  However, we at Oxford Tutoring want to encourage you to take care of an often overlooked part of your being during 2016: your mind.  One simple way to expand your mind is through reading.  Reading will improve your vocabulary, your communication skills, your writing, your comprehension, and your ability to think deeper through analysis. So this upcoming New Year, pick up a new book while you jump on the treadmill or while you are eating your healthy lunch.  Here is our recommended list of sixteen books that we think every teenager to take the time to read in 2016.

 

Gone with the Wind

by Margaret Mitchell

gone with the wind

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book:  A young girl of only 16 at the start of the bloodiest war in American History, Scarlett O’Hara is forced to be the sole caretaker of her family in order to survive the devastation in the south as a result of the Civil War. Learn about her difficulty to move forward with her life once she no longer has to struggle to live, and the choices she makes along the way.

Summary: Many novels have been written about the Civil War and its aftermath. None take us into the burning fields and cities of the American South as Gone With the Wind does, creating haunting scenes and thrilling portraits of characters so vivid that we remember their words and feel their fear and hunger for the rest of our lives.

In the two main characters, the white-shouldered, irresistible Scarlett and the flashy, contemptuous Rhett, Margaret Mitchell not only conveyed a timeless story of survival under the harshest of circumstances, she also created two of the most famous lovers in the English-speaking world since Romeo and Juliet (Goodreads).

Gone with the Wind quote

Memorable Quote: “As God as my witness, as God as my witness, they’re not going to lick me.  I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again.  No, nor any of my folk. As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

Kate Remembered

by A. Scott Berg

kate remembered.jpg

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: Go behind the scenes into the life of one of the most celebrated actresses in Hollywood with a career that spanned over seven decades.  This biography allows you to see Katharine Hepburn through the eyes of her friend, author A. Scott Berg, and experience the glory days of Hollywood through the eyes of one of its brightest stars.

Summary: In addition to recording heretofore untold biographical details of her entire phenomenal career and her famous relationships with such men as Spencer Tracy and Howard Hughes, Kate Remembered also tells the amusing, often emotional story of one of the most touching friendships in her final years. Scott Berg provides his own memories of Katharine Hepburn offstage – quiet dinners in her town house in New York City, winter swims (she swam, he watched) in the Long Island Sound at Fenwick, her home in Connecticut, weekend visits with family members and dear friends…even some unusual appearances by the likes of Michael Jackson and Warren Beatty. Finally, Kate Remembered discusses the legendary actress’s moving farewell, during which her mighty personality surrendered at last to her failing body – all the while remaining true to her courageous character.

Kate Remembered is a book about love and friendship, family and career, Hollywood and Broadway – all punctuated by unforgettable lessons from an extraordinary life (Goodreads).

kat hepburn quote

Memorable Quote: “Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to give – which is everything.”

 

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak 

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: Zusak offers perspective on the side of the war rarely discussed through the life of Liesel and her adopted family during WWII in Germany. Liesel uses the power of words to make it through the difficult times of the war and to influence the life of a friend who would otherwise have died.

Summary: It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul (Goodreads).

The Book Thief Quote.jpg

Memorable Quote: “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

The Horse and His Boy

by C.S. Lewis

horse book

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: This novel details the events of two former slaves who face many dangers on their journey to Narnia in order to be free.  With powerful life lessons for all ages, The Horse and His Boy is full of interesting characters and fascinating adventures.

Summary: On a desperate journey, two runaways meet and join forces. Though they are only looking to escape their harsh and narrow lives, they soon find themselves at the center of a terrible battle. It is a battle that will decide their fate and the fate of Narnia itself.

The Horse and His Boy is the third book in C. S. Lewis’s classic fantasy series, which has been drawing readers of all ages intoa magical land where horses talk and destiny awaits for over sixty years. This is a novel that stands on its own, but if you would like to explore more of Narnia, read Prince Caspian, the fourth book in The Chronicles of Narnia (Amazon).

 

the horse and his boy

Inspiring Quote: “‘Child,’said the Lion, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers.  No one is told any story but their own.'”

Atonement

by Ian McEwan

atonement book

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: A novel that takes the reader into the trenches of WWII and the loved ones who are waiting for them at home.

Summary: Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

On a hot summer day in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece (Goodreads).Atonement quote.jpg

Inspiring Quote: “A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.”

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

the help book.jpg

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: Follow in the footsteps of Skeeter, the main character in The Help, as she learns about the importance of forming her own opinions and standing up for her beliefs and those who cannot speak for themselves, despite what society and even her own friends are telling her.

Summary: Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed (Goodreads).

The Help Quote.jpg

Memorable Quote: “‘Ever morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision. You gone have to ask yourself, ‘Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?'”

 

 The Hobbit

by J.R.R. Tolkien

the-hobbit

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: A wonderful adventure filled with colorful characters and exciting obstacles, the Hobbit is a great read for anyone looking to discover more about himself or herself, as Bilbo does on his perilous journey to do good.

Summary: In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent. The text in this 372-page paperback edition is based on that first published in Great Britain by Collins Modern Classics (1998), and includes a note on the text by Douglas A. Anderson (2001). Unforgettable! (Goodreads)

Hobbit Quote

Memorable Quote: “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found.  It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.”

 

Rebecca

by Daphne Du Maurier

rebecca book.jpg

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: Mysterious and exciting, Rebecca is beautifully written and details the drama that unfolds at the Gothic mansion Manderley.  This novel depicts how to write a mystery beautifully and how to keep your readers hooked until the very last page.

Summary: The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century (Goodreads).

Rebecca Quote.jpg

Memorable Quote: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again.”

 

The Historian

by Elizabeth KostovaThe-Historian

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: Discover the hidden secrets of the ancient history of Dracula through this story that unfolds, layer by layer, and keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

Summary: Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself-to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed-and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign-and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions-and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad’s ancient powers-one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil  (Amazon).

the historian quote.jpg

Memorable Quote: “The very worst impulses of humankind can survive generations, centuries, even millennia.  And the best of our individual efforts can die with us at the end of a single lifetime.”

 

The Trial

by Franz KafkaThe trial book

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: This book portrays the difficulties of trying to break into a system that refuses to bend the rules.  It is a powerful example of how dangerous it can be for a group of people to stay set in their ways and refuse to be open to the opinions and ideas of others.

Summary: “Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.” From its gripping first sentence onward, this novel exemplifies the term “”Kafkaesque.” Its darkly humorous narrative recounts a bank clerk’s entrapment — based on an undisclosed charge — in a maze of nonsensical rules and bureaucratic roadblocks.

Written in 1914 and published posthumously in 1925, Kafka’s engrossing parable about the human condition plunges an isolated individual into an impersonal, illogical system. Josef K.’s ordeals raise provocative, ever-relevant issues related to the role of government and the nature of justice. This inexpensive edition of one of the 20th century’s most important novels features an acclaimed translation by David Wyllie (Amazon).

THE TRIAL QUOTE

Memorable Quote: “Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”

 

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austinsense book.JPG

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: Sense and Sensibility  juxtaposes two extreme ways of living: with the heart or with the mind.  While Mariane runs headlong into events with her heart exposed, her sister Elinor takes a step back and considers her options before making a decision.  This novel details the importance of having a balance rather than living by one extreme or the other.

Summary: Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behavior leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love (Goodreads).

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Memorable Quote: “I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.”


The Death of a Salesman

by Arthur MillerDeathOfASalesman play

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: A wonderful read for anyone wanting to learn more about theater and how to read or write plays.  This play explores how the choices we make, to risk or to play it safe, can affect the rest of our lives.

Summary: Ever since it was first performed in 1949, Death of a Salesman has been recognized as a milestone of the American theater. In the person of Willy Loman, the aging, failing salesman who makes his living riding on a smile and a shoeshine, Arthur Miller redefined the tragic hero as a man whose dreams are at once insupportably vast and dangerously insubstantial. He has given us a figure whose name has become a symbol for a kind of majestic grandiosity—and a play that compresses epic extremes of humor and anguish, promise and loss, between the four walls of an American living room (Amazon).

 death of a salesman

Memorable Quote: “Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be . . . when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.”

 

Call of the Wild

by Jack LondonCallOfTheWild book.jpg

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: This book explores the idea of nature vs. nurture, and finding who we really are at our core, despite what others have told us that we are or forced us to be.

Summary: Buck, a sturdy crossbreed canine (half St. Bernard, half Shepard), is a dog born to luxury and raised in a sheltered Californian home. But then he is kidnapped and sold to be a sled dog in the harsh and frozen Yukon Territory. Passed from master to master, Buck embarks on an extraordinary journey, proving his unbreakable spirit…

First published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is regarded as Jack London’s masterpiece. Based on London’s experiences as a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness and his ideas about nature and the struggle for existence, The Call of the Wild is a tale about unbreakable spirit and the fight for survival in the frozen Alaskan Klondike  (Goodreads).

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Memorable Quote: “Love, genuine passionate love, was his for the first time.”

 

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

by Terry Ryanprize winner book.jpg

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: A story of overcoming great odds, perseverance, and the importance of making the best of what you have been given, this book is a must read for anyone looking for an example of beating the odds.

Summary: “Evelyn Ryan, wife of an alcoholic husband and mother of ten children, lived in a small town in a time and place when women did not seek jobs outside the home. When finances ran low, feeling desperate, she turned to her parish priest who suggested she “take in laundry.” Ryan had to laugh at the advice because she could barely keep up with her own family’s washing and ironing. A lesser woman might have succumbed to poverty, but she was determined to keep her family financially afloat and to teach her children that the life of the mind was important. In the early 1950s, Ryan started entering contests, composing her jingles, poems, and essays at the ironing board. She won household appliances, bikes, watches, clocks, and, occasionally, cash. She won a freezer, and several weeks later, she won a supermarket shopping-spree. When the family was faced with eviction, she received a $5000 first place check from the regional Western Auto Store. Ryan’s unconventionality and sense of humor triumphed over poverty, and her persistence makes the reader cheer her on (Goodreads).

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Memorable Quote: “At that moment we knew that as long as we used our brains, we were not victims.  By striking out to write our own ticket, we would grow up to be like our mother, winners.”

 

Jane Eyre 

by Charlotte BronteJane-Eyre-book.jpg

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: Through the character of Jane, readers can experience the value of making decisions for yourself, and doing what is right even if it is going to be painful.

Summary: Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers (Goodreads).

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Memorable Quote: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

 

Lady Elizabeth

by Alison Weireliabeth book

Why Oxford Tutoring recommends this book: Go inside the mind of one of England’s fiercest and most iconic Queens, with this historical fiction piece while learning more about 16th century England.

Summary: Even at age two, Elizabeth is keenly aware that people in the court of her father, King Henry VIII, have stopped referring to her as “Lady Princess” and now call her “the Lady Elizabeth.” Before she is three, she learns of the tragic fate that has befallen her mother, the enigmatic and seductive Anne Boleyn, and that she herself has been declared illegitimate, an injustice that will haunt her.

What comes next is a succession of stepmothers, bringing with them glimpses of love, fleeting security, tempestuous conflict, and tragedy. The death of her father puts the teenage Elizabeth in greater peril, leaving her at the mercy of ambitious and unscrupulous men. Like her mother two decades earlier she is imprisoned in the Tower of London–and fears she will also meet her mother’s grisly end. Power-driven politics, private scandal and public gossip, a disputed succession, and the grievous example of her sister, “Bloody” Queen Mary, all cement Elizabeth’s resolve in matters of statecraft and love, and set the stage for her transformation into the iconic Virgin Queen (Goodreads).

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Memorable Quote: “But what use was the semblance of power without the substance?”

Do you agree with our list? What books would you recommend?

Disclaimer: Research these books to make sure you are comfortable with the subject matter of each book.

© Oxford Tutoring 2015

Julia Author PicMeet the author:  Julia Myres is an ELA instructor at Oxford Tutoring who has been working with students for over 10 years.  She builds up her student’s confidence in the subjects they struggle with through encouragement and support.  Striving to make her students ready to tackle even the most difficult concepts as they move up in their education, she motivates her students to take their education into their own hands and thrive.

Posted in Education, English Language Arts Tutoring, Individualized Tutoring, Private Tutoring, Reading, Studying, Tutoring, Tutoring Sessions, Writing

Why do I Have to Learn this? English Language Arts

Confused young man sitting at the library desk with a book stack and laptop on it

In this second entry of Oxford’s “Why do I have to learn this?” series, we will explore the link between English Language Arts (ELA) and the adult life of one who is not a professional writer. 

Why do I have to learn ELA?

It is fair to assume that most of us are aware of the fact that the fundamental reason for learning the English Language Arts (ELA) concepts and skills presented between Kindergarten and Junior High is to be able to function in society.  Obviously, we need to be able to read the written portion of the DMV’s licensing exam, the menu at a restaurant, and the check-out instructions on Amazon.com.  We also need to be able to request and present information verbally such as when we want to ask our friends what they thought about the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy or The Walking Dead, or if we need to convince mom and dad to let us borrow the car for the evening.  But, if we learn how to do that by the time we get to our teenage years, why are we tortured with ELA instruction throughout high school, the first year or two of college, and by our ELA tutors?

The reason ELA instruction lasts so long after we learn to read and speak is that we also need to be able to understand how this whole language thing works.  That way, we can understand the subtleties that make the difference between the literal meaning and the author or speaker’s “real” meaning and intent.  When you listen to the weather report in the morning, you can be certain that the meteorologist is simply trying to inform you of what you will experience while you are outside today.  However, are there ever times when what someone says or how he or she says it is purposefully meant to confuse, entertain, test, trick, or mislead you?  Of course there are.  One author who is famous for inventing such scenarios in written and spoken form is the one and only William Shakespeare.  Arguably, his greatest skill was his ability to present language so cleverly that he could entertain the social elites and common rabble at the same time.  Specifically, he could write a play that entertained the rabble by making fun of the elites without the elites realizing that they had just been insulted. Then, he would turn around and do the same thing and entertain the elites at the expense of the rabble.  We study such works even to this day because we recognize the skill and power that results from mastering ELA.  It is with those scenarios in mind, that high school teachers, college professors, and ELA tutors strive to get you to learn the subtleties, nay, the artistry that lies beyond the use of language for direct information presentation and reception.

Rhetoric – Word Choice

young beautiful student girl lying on campus park grass with books on rug studying happy preparing exam in university and college education concept

Without putting too fine a point on it, the two main areas of focus when classifying one’s use of language as great or just OK are rhetoric and structure.  To paraphrase, rhetoric refers to what you choose to say and structure refers to the order in which you say it.  There are many aspects to consider when analyzing rhetoric, but the simplest way to think about it is to focus on the desired result.  Going back to our earlier discussion of the weather, we can choose to talk about the atmospheric conditions in our local neighborhood with two main goals in mind: we can focus on the scientific /factual nature of the weather or on the emotional result caused by the weather.  For example, if rain is in the day’s forecast, the meteorologist could describe the atmospheric conditions using technical terminology such as informing us that there is an eighty percent chance of precipitation due to a high or low pressure system in the region, or he or she could say that we’re probably going to get some rain today, which is great news since Southern California is always in a drought.  The difference between the two examples is that the scientific version left emotion out of the picture so that we could focus on exactly what was going to happen while the latter example encouraged us to be happy about the impending rain.  These examples show a stark contrast between the two ends of the rhetorical spectrum, but one who has great control of his or her use of language can seamlessly blend the scientific and emotional sides so that the reader or listener thinks and feels exactly as the author or speaker intends.

Structure – Organization

While rhetoric addresses the issue of the type of impact we want our words to have – emotional or intellectual, the structure of our words can help us present the information or argument in the most effective order in terms of what will make the most sense to the reader or listener.  To better understand the effect of structure, let’s compare the structure of words in a speech or written passage to the structure of music.  What makes music musical and not just a collection of random sounds is how the sounds are structured: the order in which the sounds are presented.  This is because our brains are designed to recognize patterns.  Thus, part of the pleasure of listening to music comes from identifying the musical patterns and recognizing when the patterns change.  Consider what happens when you are “rocking-out” to your favorite song.  Most likely, the two best parts of the song are when you are in sync with the melody and when you anticipate the build up to the change from the melody to the chorus and back again.  Our brains consider written and spoken words in the same way.   We’ve come to expect information to be presented in certain ways.  If the author’s purpose is to explain, we expect to be informed of the “Five Ws:” who, what, where, when, why, and how.  If the purpose is to describe, we want to know who the main characters are and what happens to them.  We generally consider the presentation of information successful or not based on whether or not our expectations have been met.  However, if a speech or passage is considered successful when all of the parts have been included, how do we decide if it is better or more impressive that one we’ve heard or seen before?

What makes a passage great?

To answer that, we have to consider the rhetoric and structure of the entire work.  A speech or passage is considered more successful if the elements were presented in a unique, interesting, and pleasing order.  If an author intended to inform an audience of people who are out of touch with pop-culture and need to learn about selfies, the text would only be considered successful if the audience was informed about all of the necessary aspects of selfie taking more effectively and interestingly than ever before?  For example, does the reader now know when it is appropriate to use a Selfie Stick, or how to ask a famous person to join them in a selfie?  Was said information presented completely, clearly, and in a unique and interesting manner?  If so, then, the author has written the best or most impressive informational passage about taking selfies ever.

We learn it because it’s Art

Language can be used to create the same or greater impact as the most famous painting, sculpture, or song.  The only difference between the audience being able to appreciate the words, melody, or image is how well the audience understands mode of artistic expression.  If you’ve learned to appreciate the technical and aesthetic components of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, it would only be possible because you’ve trained your “visual eye” to consider all of the relevant characteristics of the piece.  Similarly, if you want to learn to appreciate Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” you would need to have trained your “literary eye” to identify the skill relating to the contrast created by employing a pastoral setting; the subtleties of satire; and the challenge of creating a story within a story and seamlessly transitioning between the two, all in order to appreciate the fact that the loves, pains, and joys that comprise daily life in the middle ages closely resemble those you and I experience today.  If you can accomplish these tasks, you will likely appreciate Chaucer’s literary and cultural achievement.  In the end however, appreciation for art – in whatever form – cannot be forced upon one who does not wish to “see” it.  Therefore, schools and ELA tutors will continue to teach English Language Arts so that students will, at the very least, be able to tell the difference between someone’s thoughtless utterances and another’s words of wisdom.

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.

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© Oxford Tutoring 2015