Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 5

Summer reading is another area that often presents a challenge.

Students frequently struggle to comprehend the themes in classic literature, and write clear and concise summaries of their summer reading assignments. The best advice I can give is not to leave the summer reading until the week before school starts. Make sure students have picked their summer reading books, and they have the books in hand by early July. Encourage students to begin their summer reading early, and to work on it a little bit each week. Leaving summer reading to the last minute creates undo stress, and almost guarantees that the finished product will not be a quality one.

Helping a child learn the difference between just reading the books and really analyzing the literature is key to aiding them in developing the critical thinking skills needed to excel in school. Tutors can work with students to guide them through their summer reading, and help them develop the skills needed to tackle advanced literature such as Shakespeare, Dickens and Hemingway.

Summer reading does not have to be a chore!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 4

Solid study skills are critical for students looking to succeed in challenging academic environments.

Students transitioning from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school often struggle with raised expectations and more demanding coursework, especially if they do not have tools and techniques in place to support these increased demands.

Note taking, time management, project management, test taking strategies, reading comprehension skills, the ability to write well, and organization are all critical skills needed to insure success in a challenging academic environment. An investment in a study skills class can reap big rewards down the road when students are better organized, feel less stressed, and earn better grades.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 3

Writing is iterative, and is as much an art as a science.

Students need to practice writing in order to improve their writing skills and “find their voices” as writers. Many students have great ideas, but lack the mechanics required to make their writing cohesive. Student often struggle with how to express their ideas, spell correctly, use proper grammar, write using correct sentence structure, create transition sentences, craft solid introductions and conclusions, and avoid repetition and cliques. Colleges had been seeing so many students that could not write a solid paper, that they pressured the College Board to add a writing section to the SAT. Ignoring poor writing skills will limit choices as students progress in their academic careers. Summer is a great time to practice honing those writing skills.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 2

Foreign Language Learning is Cumulative

Many schools require a set number of years of foreign languages; some require both classical languages (Latin and Greek) and modern foreign language (Spanish, French, etc.). Language learning is also cumulative. If first year Latin is a challenge, then second year Latin is going to be even more of a challenge. Spanish II builds on Spanish I, if students did not master the basics of vocabulary and grammar in their introductory languages course, then they are going to continue to struggle for the duration of their time learning the language. Summer is a great time to review the vocabulary and grammar from the prior year and fill in the gaps, and get a jump start on next year so that it will not continue to be a struggle.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Peer Tutors Versus Professional Tutors

This past week there has been some debate about the effectiveness of peer tutoring versus professional tutoring on some message boards that I belong to. I will weigh in on my opinion on this matter.

When it comes to tutoring, as with many things in this world - you get what you pay for. There is no substitute for a professional, trained, adult tutor who has been screened (both for their knowledge and to be sure they have no criminal record) and is supervised by an administrator.

It often amazes me how willing some people are to open their homes to a stranger, and expose that stranger to their child. When you hire a tutor on your own you often have no way to verify that they know the subject matter they are teaching, that they have experience teaching, and that they do not have a criminal record that could put you and your family in danger.

While a peer tutor may be good at a certain subject, this does not mean that they have the ability to teach this subject to others. Teaching is a skill that is learned over time and requires a great deal of planning, patience and ability. Not everyone can connect with a student and motivate them to want to do well.

I have had parents tell me horror stories about tutors they have hired on their own who did not show up at the agreed upon time, were late, did not know the subject matter as well as they claimed, were not good teachers, and were unprofessional.

One parents recently shared with me a story of how the peer tutor she had hired to work with her daughter had been hitting on her daughter when he was supposed to be teaching her.

Sometimes parents feel that they can get a peer tutor for much less money than a professional tutor. Again, I need to remind parents: "you get what you pay for". If the peer tutor takes more time to teach the subject because they are not skilled in teaching, then you end up paying the same amount as if you had gone to the professional in the first place. You also run the risk of wasting your time and your money on an approach that is not getting results.

There is a reason that I do not attempt to plumb my own pipes, wire my own home, represent myself in legal matters, or perform my own dental work. When I want good results and I want the job done right, I hire a professional.

I suggest when your child needs help in school, or is preparing for a high stakes test, you also look to the professionals.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 1

Knowledge and skills in most subject areas are cumulative.

Math is one of the most pronounced examples of the critical need for a continual progression of strong and steady skill development. If students have not mastered their times tables, then they will continue to struggle as they advance to more complex math subjects, and encounter more challenging standardized tests. Having to stop and think about basic math facts slows students down, frustrates them, and diminishes their performance. Students that struggle with pre-Algebra will continue to face difficulty as they encounter Algebra I and Algebra II. It is important that students with a weakness in math use the summer months to strengthen their math skills so that they do not fall further behind.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summertime and the Learning is Easy

Now that the lazy, hazy days of summer are upon us, it does not mean that the learning has to stop. Studies have shown that students given a 2-3 month break for the summer lose a great deal of the gains they made in class the prior school year.

Researchers have found that summer learning loss equals at least one month of instruction, as measured by grade level equivalents on standardized test scores. On average, students tests scores were at least one month lower when they returned to school in the fall than scores were when students left in the spring. Summer knowledge loss was more pronounced for math facts and spelling than for other tested skill areas.

Given what we know about the challenges students have in retaining material over the summer, what can parents do to stem this brain drain? There are several areas you may want to focus on when looking at how to structure summer learning time for your child.

Over the next week I will share with you some things you can do to stem the summer brain drain.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lessons Learned #8

There is no substitute for a caring and committed parent.

Parents are a child’s best teachers. Even when our little darlings reach those teen years, and we think they do not listen to us, they do. They may not always agree with us, but they do listen. They listen to what we say, they watch what we do, and they make observations about what we value. Parents send children powerful messages by both their words and their actions. We in turn know our children better than anyone, and we have to trust out instincts when it comes to what is best for our children. We also have to hang in there with them, even when it seems like our efforts are in vain. There is a light at the end the tunnel.