Tutoring Articles

To Read Is To Grow: Literacy in Cuba

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

I was very fortunate to have spent eight days of my spring break in Cuba!

Americans still need a reason (other than pure tourism) to be allowed to visit Cuba, and  I went on an educational research tour, during which we visited schools, clinics and the Cuban Literacy Museum in Havana.

“To Read Is To Grow”

The Cuban people place a high value on education, and Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

At the Literacy Museum, we learned about the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961, which enlisted “each person who could read to teach one person who could not read,” and which raised the national literacy rate from about 65% to 96%.

I feel passionately about one-on-one education as a source of empowerment and connection for both learner and teacher, so I was greatly moved to see tutoring having been implemented on such a grand scale and having had the effect of forming bonds between people from different backgrounds and geographic areas.

“Before 1959 it was the countryside versus the city. The literacy campaign united the country because, for the first time, people from the city understood how hard life was for people before the revolution, that they survived on their own, and that as people they had much in common. This was very important for the new government.”- Luisa Yara Campos, Cuban literacy museum director

I also believe that all people should be lifetime teachers and learners, so I admired that the Cuban literacy initiative enlisted all kinds of people, especially young people with little to no formal teacher training, to become instructors, and that anyone, regardless of age, gender or profession, was given the opportunity to learn to read.

Here are two pictures of photographs on display in the literacy museum:

Literacy tutors carry lanterns in order to teach in rural homes without electricity .


Perfect for a Snow Day: ACT/SAT/ Math Review

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

cats in the snow  Jan 27 2011 012Many students will be taking the ACT or the make-up SAT this coming Saturday, February 7, and today’s snow day is a wonderful opportunity for kids to do some prep work.

There’s lots of test prep material online; here are some of my favorites:


Why Vocabulary and Facts Are So Important

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Getty Center July 17 2010 024How do you know all the words without looking at the back of the cards? 

A fifth grade student was amazed that I knew every word on the American Heritage Dictionary’s Top 100 Words Every Middle Schooler Should Know  list. She only recognized five.

I assured her that soon she would also know these words, because we were about to begin learning them now.The authors explain why knowing these words is so important:


Tips for Test-Takers from “Thinking Fast and Slow”

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Redding. LSM, Wpt, etc for posts 074Dear Friends,

Have you ever felt like there were two people inside you vying for control?

I’m rereading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize-winning psychologist who studies reasoning and decision-making. Kahneman explains that our minds do contain two agents: A System One which makes quick, emotionally-based decisions, and a System Two which reasons slowly and deliberately.

The premise of Thinking Fast and Slow is that we’d all be better off if we learned awareness of these two systems so as to use the right system for the right purpose.

Most of the time, System One works just fine. It makes its decisions by applying heuristics (rules), which are stored in the brain innately or through prior experience. Because its answers are prepackaged, System One’s decisions are quick and feel easy and use little mental energy. System One works well in simple situations and on problems that are similar to ones that have been solved before.

But when situations are complex or novel, System Two ought to be hauled out. Many financial decisions (Should I buy this house?) and academic ones (What is the correct answer to this SAT question?) are properly the province of System Two. They ought to be reasoned out slowly and deliberately, with a vigilant eye out for mistakes and skipped steps and unfounded assumptions.

And yet, we all too often apply a System One-level decision to a System Two-level problem. That’s because “going by our gut” feels so pleasant and satisfying, whereas the application of meticulous mental effort is drudgery.

System Two thinking is physiologically uncomfortable. It burns more glucose (it literally consumes “mental energy,” which is why students should carry energy bar snacks to their standardized tests). Heart rate and blood pressure rise and pupils dilate. System Two work is a lot like running, and most of us would much rather walk:

“This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.” 

Reading Tips for Everyone

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

Dear Friends,

Group 1 085

Some 60’s era references at The Black Hole Museum, Los Alamos, New Mexico

A young student of mine began reading a fun-looking (to me) book called Schooled; I smiled as soon as I saw the peace symbol and tie-dye cover.

Here’s the Amazon synopsis:”Capricorn Cap Anderson has been homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Rain. When Rain is injured in a fall, Cap is forced to attend the local middle school. Although he knows a lot about Zen Buddhism, nothing has prepared him for the politics of public school.”

But of course my fifth grade student was having trouble relating to the book because, unlike me, he knew nothing about flower children, communes or any of the other 60’s era references. He had read the first two chapters on his own and was totally confused and lost.


My Favorite Free Online Resources for Last-Minute SAT Review

Friday, April 25th, 2014
a houseboat in Vancouver harbor

a houseboat in Vancouver harbor

Dear Friends,

The next SAT is just around the corner, on Saturday, May 3!

So, in case you’ve got a student who needs to do some last-minute review, I’ve complied this collection of my favorite easy-to-use, free online tools, perfect for using this weekend and through next week.


Picking Up That 100-Pound Pencil: Students and Cognitive Miserliness

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

P8020099Dear Friends,

I’ve so often wondered why so many students haaaate writing down their math steps, insisting instead on trying to do the work in their heads or on their calculators. Perhaps they feel as if writing is slowing them down, or maybe they dislike the scratchy feel of pencil on paper. (Whenever I’ve asked, kids invariably say “I don’t know).

Meanwhile, kids who don’t write out their math steps, skip copying down formulas and refuse to draw and label diagrams, make a lot more mistakes and also tend to be way more confused. They’ll stare at a problem and then give up, without ever making a mark on paper.


Is Your Student “Pumped Up,” or “Deflated”?

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

PTown New Years Weekend 2011 027Last week I wrote about the demonstrably positive effects of longer-term studying. Kids who begin studying several days before a test and who study consistently and to the point of mastery get high grades.

This seems like a no-brainer, right? So why don’t more kids do it?

One reason is that fear and anxiety hamper people’s ability to think straight and organize themselves. (We talk a lot about executive function issues in kids, but these are problems all people of all ages experience)

As part of his research with couples, John Gottman attached heart monitors to his subjects, and he discovered that when people become emotionally agitated, their systems “flood” with adrenaline and their heart rates elevate. A heart rate above 95 beats per minute signals that a person’s listening, planning and reasoning skills have broken down.


My Experiment Shows: Longer-Term Studying is Better

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

PTown New Years Weekend 2011 010Students typically wait until the last minute to begin studying for tests, and many parents support this practice, fearing that their kid will forget the material if they review it too early. But decades of tutoring as well as personal experience has taught me otherwise: Consistent, deliberate practice over time is the way to master material.

I have 30 tutoring students, and bunches of them go to the same schools and are in the same classes. This means that I often have multiple students taking the same test on the same day.

Recently, I was working with a number of students who were all getting ready for the same Monday algebra test (the test was being given by more than one teacher at the same school). My weekend schedule was so hectic that, in order to find enough time for everyone, I met with some students after school on the Friday before the test (my least popular time slot as you can likely imagine). The rest of the kids reviewed with me on Sunday.

This arrangement accidentally created a nice mini-experiment, with interesting results!


Helping Your Student Face Test-Prep Fear

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

P9160358I’ve been a test-prep coach for decades, tutoring students for the SSAT, ISEE, SAT, and ACT, and of course I’m very comfortable with the material by now.

Last month, my own daughter was getting ready to take the LSAT (the law school entrance exam), so I tried a few practice LSAT sections myself…and, guess what?

I found them stunningly, amazingly difficult! And, I made TONS of mistakes!

For example, on my first reading passage, I answered the eight questions, and got SIX of them wrong!!! 

This was an excellent experience for me, because I felt something I’ve lost touch with: I felt a sinking, dizzying fear of this difficult material.


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