By: Haley Garvin, The Village Tutors
When it comes to humanities-based subjects, writing is arguably the most complex process that we expect our students to master. Sometimes we forget that a child’s writing development runs parallel to his/her reading development. To study and practice writing is to also study and practice reading skills. These two cannot be taught or mastered on their own.
So why does this matter?
We’ve all seen student essays that feel incomplete and disjointed. But correcting students’ written work and smoothing out their essays is no easy task. Supporting young writers as they navigate the writing process can feel laborious. Sometimes the more we try to help a child write, the further from the finish line we can become. I’ve heard from many parents that helping their child with essays or written work can be stressful (or in some cases tearful!). But if we take a step back and consider how to combine writing with reading, we may help students grow more confident with their command and understanding of language. With the right instructional approach, writing can be enjoyable and effective. More importantly, a positive experience with writing for young learners can carve out space for students to feel heard. With a few small tweaks, we can support students as they find their own voice on the page.
Most of the time, the gaps in student writing are products of a narrow sense of audience. Simply put, students write for their teachers. They write to complete an assignment, which was set by the teacher. Their audience is way too narrow. It is no wonder then, that oftentimes, student writing reads like it is missing the point. We need to take a step back and introduce young writers to the concept of “reader” - the universal reader.
This means explicitly teaching “writing knowledge.” This term refers to the understanding of genre and discourse. Writing knowledge is the sense a learner gets when they realize that narratives and informational texts have unique and separate structures. But even more important than structure (which curriculum seems to stress) is the understanding of audience. Students need help considering and remembering audience in their own written work. They need to consider their reader.
They need to take care of their reader. Think of how we usually respond when students’ handwriting is illegible. We say, “How will your teacher know what you mean if he/she cannot make out these letters?” Because students learn at such a young age that their writing must make sense to their teacher, they develop a skewed sense of audience. Ideally, we want young writers to learn how to write for a much larger, wider audience. Ideally, a student’s writing will make sense to more than one person.
Helping our learners grow more aware of the connection between reading and writing will support their sense of audience. This awareness will arm students with an effective approach to their language-based assignments in any class.
These tips and tricks are a few ways we (as educators or parents) can help our students develop more sophisticated writing knowledge:
1. Read out-loud! One of the simplest ways to keep the writer’s presence alive and known for young readers is to give a text a voice. Bonus! - extra fluency practice too! Reading should be treated like an active dialogue with the writer. Bring that dialogue to life with a real human voice. Listen to the text. Hear the cadence of its written voice. Reading out-loud is fun and engaging. Plus, students don’t get enough opportunities to do this in school. Read poetry, read stories, read articles, read everything. And take time to appreciate how a text sounds. This will begin to demystify the illusive “writer” who lives behind the text itself.
2. Write letters! Letters have the built-in luxury of a specific and intended “reader” which brings that relationship to the front of students’ minds. When students write letters (maybe to friends, to family, to heroes or celebrities), they are NOT writing directly for their teacher. This is great because it means students are more aware of their audience and how the words on the page are going to be understood (or misunderstood) by a reader. Do your teachers a huge favor and teach your student how to write an effective email! More than ever, students are expected to reach out to their teachers with questions. With remote learning, this means writing an email. But writing emails means writing clearly. Something as simple as a subject line can feel obvious to adults, but students need help unpacking the significance of these tools. Even the most tech-savvy students need help understanding how to make their writing work for them.
3. Practice writing in the third-person. Students feel very comfortable writing in the first person. We speak in the first-person, so writing in the first-person is a natural leap. But writing in the first-person becomes a “crutch” for our students who struggle with argument-based writing (especially the dreaded DBQ). Third-person writing demands greater control and a stronger appreciation for audience. Just switching the point-of-view can immediately push students in the right direction. Try eliminating I, me, my, we, us, etc. and see how students will stretch for new ways to make their point.
4. Replace“teacher as reader” with something more tangible and manageable for students. I use this little trick for all my students, but especially for students who are trying so hard to make their writing “sound smart.” I urge them to write so that a student one year younger could understand their ideas. The “one-year-younger-reader” really works magically! This helps students make adjustments for the sake of clarity. What would they change? Where might they slow down and explain their thinking more? For all subjects, we can use a scale to gage student mastery. Students can choose from these options: 1 = I’m totally lost 2 = I’m starting to get it 3 = I feel I understand most of this 4= I’m able to do this on my own now 5 = I can teach a friend how to do this! We use this to help students realize their own mastery but also to catch gaps in understanding. This tool can be leveraged for writing too. When students write only for their teacher, their writing often makes too many big assumptions. “My teacher will know what I mean here,” leads to unclear language and disjointed writing. If students write for a less educated audience, their writing will have to be extra-clear. Students are often amazed when they realize their work actually sounds smarter when they adjust their audience this way.
5. Creative writing! Students absolutely love creative writing. But a blank page is scary. So give students the freedom to write what they want, but provide a few thought-provoking prompts or questions. Creative writing naturally feels intended for a wider audience. This is also a great space to experiment with voice and humor, which helps students appreciate the reader-writer relationship.
Identifying whether or not your student would benefit from working with a tutor is the first step. (We have a blog post for that, too!)
Once you’ve made the decision to get help for your learner, you’ll next need to make a decision about where to get that help. Third-party research overwhelmingly supports tutoring as the best educational option for additional help. Two of the most common and accessible options: learning center or private tutor.
A learning center typically follows a corporate-identified process for evaluation, onboarding, and teaching. Parents who take their students to a learning center can expect to go through an evaluation process. The evaluation is usually formalized and uses a number of multi-disciplinary assessments to identify academic pain points. The evaluation results in receiving a recommended roadmap or learning plan. Typically, the learning plan is then translated into a weekly tutoring schedule that outlines how long the program will take and how much it will cost for your student. Sometimes, depending on the learning center and/or franchise, a contract will be presented to the parent or guardian, and the program will kick-off using a structured, pre-determined learning approach based on your child’s evaluation.
An experienced private tutor will offer a fully customized and personalized experience. Private tutors may be individuals who are equipped to teach out of their home, or perhaps career-tutors who are members of a small, local network of tutors, such as The Village Tutors. Private tutors will typically take a personalized approach to assessing the needs of a student. It may include asking a series of questions or completing a strategic task. A comprehensive, yet flexible plan is developed not using algorithms and data, but instead based on each unique student’s learning style and learning challenges. Ongoing and close communication with the parent or guardian is also a critical component to the success of private tutoring. While private tutors may outline a recommended learning plan, including estimated length of services, there is typically not a contract put in place. Instead, the progress of the student guides the way and determines the learning plan completion date.
Choosing a learning partner for your student that will be effective and tailored to their specific learning style can seem daunting. But rest assured, the right option will become obvious once you take the first step of evaluation.
To learn more about the approach The Village Tutors takes in helping your student reach their academic goals, visit our homepage or contact us directly.
In January 2021, College Board announced that they will no longer offer SAT Subject Tests or SAT with Essay. (Read full details here)
Cancellation of SAT Subject Tests – Effective immediately, these tests are no longer available to students in the United States. Anyone registered for the May or June 2021 administrations will automatically have their registrations canceled and fees returned.
Cancellation of SAT Essay – After June 2021, the Essay portion of the SAT will only be available in states where it’s required as part of SAT School Day administrations. Per the College Board’s announcement, “Students scheduled to take the SAT on a school day should check with their school about whether the Essay will be included.”
“So, what does this mean for MY student?”
Great question! As experts in test prep, we see opportunity for your student in this change. The changes are providing a more flexible, streamlined SAT that meets the ever-changing needs of students and evolving demands of higher education.
“For years leading up to this, pre-pandemic, there has been decreasing interest in the SAT Subject Tests with increasing emphasis on AP tests,” says Matt Wolszon, math and science test prep tutor at The Village Tutors.
With the rise of and widespread availability of AP testing paired with top colleges no longer requiring SAT Subject Test scores for entrance, SAT Subject Tests (once called, “Achievement Tests”) have become less necessary.
It’s reported that in 2017, 1.8 million high school students took the SAT, but only 219,000 took a Subject Test. And in 2018, many colleges that had previously required the SAT Essay dropped the requirement.
Years in the making, we anticipate the shift away from SAT Subject Tests and SAT Essays will result in an even stronger shift towards AP testing. Suzanne Petree, founder of The Village Tutors suggests, “As many colleges have removed the requirement for the SAT essay, this will lessen the demand on our students, and continue to streamline the college admissions process.”
Still have more questions? Reach out to us!
We’re often asked, “how do I know if my child actually needs a tutor?” Usually, if this is a question you’re asking, it’s reasonable to believe your student would benefit from some outside help. But it also begs another question, “does my child just need extra help, or are they struggling with a learning challenge?” It’s a question that deserves to be answered.
As the parent, there are some things you can do at home in order to identify whether your child may have a learning difficulty or delay. Then, if you identify potential learning challenges at home, you can seek the professional opinion of those trained in the diagnosis and support of that specific learning challenge.
Sounds simple enough. But as parents, we know how hard it can be to analyze something we may not know much about. And trying to figure out what’s going on when your child is struggling can feel overwhelming. Sure, we have our parental “gut instincts” – and while those are incredibly valuable…there’s something else that may help: Take N.O.T.E.
Take N.O.T.E. is an effective “at-home” approach that can help identify potential learning challenges for your student.
Step 1: NOTICE
Perhaps it goes without saying, but first and foremost you must identify a specific action or behavior that is out of the ordinary. You may not understand what’s going on with your child, but noticing it and acknowledging that it’s out of the ordinary is the first step.
Step 2: OBSERVE
Identify and keep track of patterns in your child’s action/behavior you identified in step 1. An easy, always-available place to do this could even be your (iCal) phone calendar. It often helps to keep a physical log (literally, take notes – no pun intended) to be able to go back and begin to see patterns, if any, in your child’s behavior.
Step 3: TALK
This includes not only talking to your child about what you’re observing, but also talking with those who know your child well, like teachers and other caregivers.
Step 4: ENGAGE
This is the final step – and it includes connecting with experts like your child’s doctor and school specialists who can help you solidify an understanding of whether your child has a learning or thinking difference.
Here is an interactive online guide from the creators of the Take N.O.T.E. method, complete with helpful, easy-to-understand videos for each “step”, discussion guides when it comes to “engage” or “talk”, and even downloadable observation tool templates.
Need more help? Our team of tutors have had incredible success with our highly-personalized approach. Browse our website to learn more about our approach and the programs we use to help students who struggle.
By: Pam Keseric, The Village Tutors
“Team Natalie.” “Team Lucas.” Those names are part of a reflection of my tenure at TVT. I believe that the “Team” concept is the best way to help your child succeed.
And this Team is composed of parent, child, school teachers, resource teachers, and tutor. One way to help your child succeed is to gather a team behind him/her and all work for the same goal: to make your child gain in the academic skills and feel success in school and in himself.
One key component of this Team is communication. In the past, when I have received parental permission to communicate with the school, it has led to tailoring lessons to support the child. From a teacher’s email, I may learn that the student needs help with blends. Our one-hour tutoring lesson will then incorporate that skill. Through both teacher and parent emails, the sharing of student behavior in school and at home helps me since our one-on-one lessons have no peer interactions to play a factor.
Besides emails, attending IEP and 504 meetings with the school is another communication mode. Nowadays, Zoom IEP meetings. But in the past, in person/at school meetings. Even though I may not say a word, I am jotting down notes from the teacher reports that help me understand the child. This knowledge has been so helpful in knowing how to adjust the level of work and to understand school assignments.
When we were in person, my connection to parents was often before and after the lessons during pick up and drop off. I’d fill my parents in on what transpired during the lesson. At the end of each week, there were also emails/texts for all parents so that they knew what was happening in that hour long lesson. Perhaps skills that could be reinforced at home. And, I always enjoyed the quick (sometimes humorous) responses from the parents. It kept the Team connected. I’d share the academic side; parents shared the family side. And this communication is vital today.
I have tried to keep the pandemic out of this article, but it has snuck in a few times. It is too big for us to ignore. This remote learning has made the Team concept stronger in many cases. I am totally remote with my students, and I can’t begin to tell all how my parents have stepped up to the Team concept. Some of my students do all their work from the screen. Many students would like to read from paper since they are burned out by the screens from their remote school classes. For this group, I send out attachments every week, and the parent member of the Team prints these pages. There are even parents who sit next to their “little ones” during our lessons and help them with some of the work. We all agree that remote learning is not the best way to teach, but for now, I know that the parent Team member is beyond invaluable for my lessons.
With this pandemic, we all wonder about the stress that the children are under. We know and understand the senior losses: graduation, prom, college preparation work. But even the “little ones” are experiencing stress. Research has stated that there are three kinds of stress: positive stress, tolerable stress, and toxic stress. Positive stress is when your child is mildly out of his comfort zone. It may be reading a challenging book and feeling frustration at not being able to read all the words. Tolerable stress is when there is bad stuff happening. This is a pandemic world we are living in now. Bad stuff is happening. BUT if there is a supportive parent to help the child through this time, he can conquer that stress. Toxic stress is long lasting and without a support system. As a Team, we are all there to help each member of the Team to be strong. We are the support system for each other. And the Team member who benefits the most? Your child.
Stress is experienced in many ways: whether the student is having a bad day and needs to leave the lesson to get a hug from mom or the mom is understanding when we don’t quite finish the planned lesson. We need to remember that we are all in this Team together. And we are successful when we can support each other in all ways. And “Team [insert your child’s name here]” is the winner-academically, emotionally, intellectually.
Every day, our students have the opportunity to start fresh. But for some, the symbolism of “new year, new start” is appealing. Harness the draw of setting intentions for self-improvement through New Year’s resolutions!
If your student struggles with procrastination, they are not alone. The problem is that this habit can be a hard one to break, and it promises to follow them throughout life unless there’s a change.
So, here are our tips for how you can help your student break procrastination habits:
Acknowledge personal limitations & set intentions
First, let’s set the record straight: procrastination does not necessarily equal laziness. Procrastination occurs when the individual choses to prioritize other tasks over something else they know they should be doing.
There may be many factors contributing to procrastination—abstract goals, anxiety, overwhelm, task aversion, perfectionism, learning differences, just to name a few. Understanding your student’s procrastination trigger(s) can be helpful in curbing the habit. For example, if your student is overwhelmed by academic obligations, hold time and space for alternative activities to create balance.
Setting intentions is another great way to identify goals. Make sure they are truly achievable based on your student’s limitations. If they are easily overwhelmed, create a daily list with 4-5 manageable tasks. If they struggle with anxiety, set a daily intention that includes a self-calming and awareness activity between tasks.
Make sure there is a dedicated space that is:
-Fully-stocked with supplies
-Includes minimal distractions
Your students’ workspace should be fully functional without compromising what we might call “motivational flare”. While it’s important to have minimal distractions in the immediate workspace area, we do know that some students need the reprieve of nearby art or sensory-activating items to inspire and boost creativity.
Front-load the day
For some students, their attention and motivation seem to dwindle in the last half of the day. Some research indicates that our minds are capable of being at their most focused in the morning—especially after sufficient sleep and nutritious fuel. Even a brief 15-30 minutes of exercise can help. Harvard Medical School’s journal has stated that exercise causes the brain to secrete a chemical called neurotrophic factor, which can boost brain function.
This may not work for every student, but here’s a sample morning routine for optimal productivity:
1) Wake (after 8-10 hours of sleep)
2) Drink 8 oz. of water
3) 15-30 minutes of light exercise (walk, yoga, stretching, dancing, etc.)
4) Eat a balanced, nutritious breakfast (opt for “whole” foods and avoid highly processed or sugared foods)
5) Set out to achieve 1-2 “top priority” goals for the day in a comfortable environment with minimal distractions before the lunch hour
Sometimes the “reward” for a certain task is too far into the future for it to be immediately motivating. For instance, a college diploma is a wonderful reward for collegiate coursework…but for the junior in high school, it may not carry the motivational weight needed to study harder for those ACTs.
Consider a short-term reward system that’s personalized to your student’s learning style. Remember, the line between reward and bribe can be very thin. In selecting a reward system that works for your student, you’ll need to:
1.Set the Goal – what is the measurable behavior or result you’re hoping to achieve?
2.Choose the Reward – we recommend letting your student participate in choosing rewards. Have them create a list of ideas. Then, as the adult overseeing the reward system, you still have the final word on what the reward is!
3.Set clear intentions & reward early – Just like in the case of feedback, rewards should be given in a timely manner once earned.
4.Curb dependence on rewards – make sure your student is learning intrinsic motivation and does not become dependent on rewards. You can do this by lessening the rewards over time. Raise your expectations for your student’s achievements in order to receive the same reward.
Need more help? Our team of tutors have had incredible success with our highly-personalized approach to executive function skills building. Learn more about our approach and the programs we use to help students who struggle with procrastination: https://www.thevillagetutors.org/executive-function-skills.html
By: Ann Wilson, The Village Tutors
Even the most organized and focused students are beginning to struggle, despite some having hybrid schedules and others even attending school full-time. Anxiety is on the rise and grades seem to be dropping. Here are some tips to overcome these out-of-control feelings and wobbly grades:
But I’m so tired! After a day of Zoom learning, having to do homework feels like too much to handle. Before you start, get outside! This is a great time to go for a walk with the dog, run and errand, or go for a run. Clear your head and then come back and get started.
Here’s something to remember: every time you are distracted, it takes seven minutes to regain the focus you had before that interruption. Plan on doing your homework in 20-30-minute chunks, with planned breaks in between completed assignments to check your phone or chat with a friend.
Or better yet, work with a friend! This is a great way to use technology. Find a friend who is in some of your same classes, and do your homework together online or on Facetime. Take turns reading the textbook pages, discuss the answers to study guide questions, even do the math homework together. This is not cheating, this is collaborating, and a lot of people learn better if they can talk it through. Just make sure your homework buddy is someone who is as concerned about his/her grades as you are. The idea is to motivate each other, not take each other off task.
What if it’s too late? Is there a class that is just too far gone to rescue? Is the grade simply not going to be what you want it to be, no matter what you do? Accept it. Cut your losses and forgive yourself. This is a first-time situation for the whole world! Your future will not be ruined by one bad grade or even one bad semester. Do your best to improve your habits, and if you are moving in the right direction, be proud of yourself. Every day is new day, and you can always make the next day a better one than the day before You just have to choose to do it.
What should Mom and Dad do? Try and reduce expectations. If you are less alarmed at students’ little (or big) failures, they will be to. Accept setbacks and try and be positive. Ask, “what can I do to help you?” Maybe a favorite snack, a cup of tea in the morning, or a family walk at lunchtime would make this whole new reality easier to accept. On the weekend when there is less pressure, ask what might help make the next week a better one. Is there a better location in the house for learning? Is the light good, the chair comfortable, and the desk or table big enough?
For the expectations you do have, make them clear: no missed assignments is a great starting point. Kids need to know that the basic expectation is that they will do their work. If anything is missing at the end of the week, it should be completed before recreation is allowed. If kids are way way way behind already, then make a schedule for finishing the late work, check it off when it is done, and make sure nothing current gets added to that late list.
Are there rewards that could make the work week more tolerable? Like a special dinner on Friday night, the chance to see a friend, or extra time on video games? Even a trip to the store sometimes feels like a treat: “Woohoo it’s Friday!” is a feeling we can all relate to!
And finally, let’s enjoy the holidays and take comfort in the fact that the semester is nearly over. 😊
Can gratitude lead to higher grades + satisfaction among students?
The development of strong social-emotional skills allows us to thrive in all aspects of life. For our children, this is an especially important toolset they can use in educational settings.
Learning social and emotional skills helps students self-regulate their emotions, manage stress, set and achieve goals, build confidence, and encourages collaboration and cooperation with others. All of these are important cornerstones of a productive learning experience.
One form of social and emotional development we’ve seen contribute to students’ success: gratitude.
Studies have shown that grateful students experience more positive emotions and have higher GPAs. And, according to ASCD, “gratitude among middle school students can foster an increased sense of hope and trust in others and fuel a desire to give back to their community.”
Giacomo Bono is a professor at California State University-Fullerton and is a large contributor to this research. Bono and his research colleagues believe that the benefits of gratitude can be seen throughout the K-12 education. It’s a skill that can be taught when a child is developmentally ready, which experts hypothesize can be in children as young as six.
A simple way to expose our children to the concept of gratitude early on, is to model this emotional-social skill. As our children develop emotionally, especially near the middle-school years, experts encourage teachers to incorporate practice of this discipline into the curriculum and educational routine.
An excerpt from ASCD’s November 2013 article “Tapping into the Power of Gratitude” by Sarah McKibben:
Cultivating Gratitude in Academic Life
✔ Think intentions, costs, and benefits.
Researcher Giacomo Bono suggests that when students express gratitude, educators should encourage them to notice intentions (the thought behind the gift that they received), appreciate costs (someone went out of her way or made sacrifices to help them), and recognize the benefits (someone provided them with a gift or a kind act that has personal value).
✔ Use a gratitude journal.
This may be one of the simplest ways to increase gratitude. In a 2008 study by Bono and Jeffrey Froh, middle school students who regularly wrote about what they were thankful for reported greater optimism and a more positive outlook on their school experience.
✔ Lead gratitude activities.
Have students write a thank-you letter to someone in their lives, participate in gratitude circles, or contribute to a gratitude wall or bulletin board.
✔ Pair students to increase cooperation.
Gratitude can emerge organically in mixed-ability grouping that allows students to complement one another's strengths.
✔ Use question prompts.
For example, when students come into school on Monday mornings, ask them what their favorite part of the weekend was, says Bono. Then, follow up with, Did someone help make that happen? Or, if they faced a particular challenge, ask, Did someone help you overcome it? Bono explains, "It's easy in the day-to-day conversations that you have with a child to talk about the people who were responsible [for a positive event]."
✔ Encourage service learning.
Service learning gives students an opportunity to experience and reflect on the struggles of others. Each discipline poses opportunities for service learning around a social justice question or authentic community need.
✔ Model it!
The key to cultivating gratitude in your classroom is to make it part of your own routine. By modeling gratitude, you encourage students to do the same, and, according to the Greater Good Science Center, teachers who practice gratitude "feel more satisfied and accomplished, and less emotionally exhausted, possibly reducing teacher burnout."
From everyone at The Village Tutors, we want you to know how grateful we are for every family that works with us, for every personal referral we receive, and for every teacher, tutor, and now parents who devote their time to education.
When you’re the parent of a child with dyslexia, even though it’s common—it can feel isolating and, at times, overwhelming. All we want is to fully understand our child’s needs and do whatever it takes to meet them. Whether you’re a parent or an educator or both, it’s our job to help identify those barriers, and help break them down so our children succeed.
Suzanne Petree, founder of The Village Tutors, is a mother who walked this very path after one of her children was diagnosed with dyslexia.
Our organization’s history is rooted in providing evidence-based support for non-traditional learners. In 2004, a group of mothers were looking for ways to help their grade-school children who struggled in reading. We formed The Reading Ladies and began to provide one-on-one, Orton-Gillingham based support. As our students progressed and their needs evolved, so did our services.
Today, sixteen years later, The Reading Ladies have become The Village Tutors. We instruct and inspire all learners with full academic support. And we want parents to feel empowered to advocate and to make good choices for their student(s).
So, we get it—on a professional and personal level. Now, allow us to impart some of our hard-earned wisdom!
Here’s what you should consider when looking for a tutor for your child with dyslexia or reading difficulties:
Ask about the tutor’s work experience, and any special trainings, such as programs based on the Orton-Gillingham methodology.
It’s always appropriate to ask for references from past students who also worked with the tutor.
Consider having your child “meet and greet” with the tutor prior to initiating an instruction plan. This also applies to the parents! Your relationship with the tutor should be strong, too, so that there is open communication and a positive, impactful partnership for the benefit of your child. We never charge our families for attending IEP or 504 meetings.
Approach to evaluation and customization
First, ask the tutor about how they would initially evaluate your child (interview/meeting, questionnaire, review of past work, etc.) Then, ask them how their initial evaluation will help shape their tutoring plan. There are many methods and programs that tutors can leverage to support students with dyslexia…but every student is different. Does your child have any comorbid diagnostics? Do you have an outside evaluation that you would like to share or an IEP or 504. Flexibility and customization are key for your non-traditional learner.
Session Length and structure
Ask the tutor how they structure their sessions for non-traditional learners, like those with dyslexia. Should it be less than an hour?
Progress measurement and progress reports
With a goal in mind, ask the tutor how progress will be measured and reported back to you. There should be a continuous evaluation process in place so your child’s instructional plan can be adjusted on an as-needed basis.