Reading

Does your child have a book s/he can’t put down? Many lose their love of reading somewhere around fourth grade. Then… between sports teams and video games, reading gets lost. The joy fizzles. But it doesn’t need to be that way. I can help your son find books you never knew existed, books he will devour, about the Titanic, sharks, tornadoes, and…well, gross things you won’t want to read to him. But he’ll love. Your daughter may love books about horses, time travel, women soccer players, the ins and outs of friendship…and the first woman astronaut. Every student is different. I understand that, and I talk with them and help them rediscover that love of stories, real and made up. You’ll know we’ve won when you hear yourself yelling, “Turn out that flashlight, put that book away, and go to sleep!” With a little help, your child can be that passionate about reading.

Writing

When your child first learned to write, s/he wrote everywhere! on paper bags. On the wall. On your books. Then something changed. S/he got scared of making mistakes, of those red marks the teacher made all over her/his paper. And suddenly writing wasn’t so fun anymore.

I can help your child enjoy writing again, and that’s the secret to helping your child write well. And I don’t do it by having your child just write stories or poems; I encourage your child to do research the things that interest him/her. We use all the steps in the Common Core plan, but we have fun doing it. I keep it light and fun, and because your child is interested in the topic (why do butterflies migrate to Capistrano? what’s up with the horses in Chincoteague?), it doesn’t feel like work.

And I don’t beat the topic to death. We research it. S/he brainstorms the facts, organizes it, outlines it, writes a rough draft, and final draft. Done. Move on.

For students who aren’t ready for that, I have a colorful 11 sentence paragraph template that helps students learn how to develop an idea, writing longer, richer paragraphs than the old five to seven sentence paragraphs they learned in elementary school.

Slowly, the fear departs, and the smiles return. Confidence arrives, and your child realizes – writing is not so hard. This is not hard, at all.

College Prep...

… the dreaded essays

For some college applicants, there’s a sense of panic as the students wonder what they should write about. What if they haven’t traveled the world? Saved a child from a burning building? Suffered from some sort of family drama that can be summed up neatly in a short essay format?

To give them a sense of what they need to do, I have students read college essays published in the NY Times or in college guidebooks. This provides many with an “aha!” moment; they can write about their first, possibly awful, job! They can write about their grandparents! And so we discuss their family backgrounds, their interests, and especially what they feel is important in their own lives.

And in this process, I help them realize that there’s no perfect topic, no need to find that one dramatic moment. The goal is for the student to become a person to the admissions office. Student #3402221 from Ann Arbor is now a brown haired, brown-eyed, soccer playing trombonist with a little brother who’s a pest, whom she loves, and with whom she’s bonded over video games played late at night when their mother thinks they’re both in bed. That young woman could write about how her relationship with her younger brother grew closer, when he asked her about their grandfather’s death and her beliefs. This would dovetail well with the Common App prompt Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Once they get started, the essays usually start to flow. It’s not easy; the stakes are too high. But once a student has my help, and has begun, the pressure is relieved. I’ve had a mother clasp my hand and say, “Since we have come to you, I’m sleeping so much better! The whole family is calm now!” I was so glad I could bring them a little peace.

ACT/SAT prep

“My child took one of those expensive test prep classes, but s/he’s still not doing well! I don’t know what to do!”

I hear this all the time. What happened? Students tend to panic when the stakes are high, and the stakes could not be any higher than they are for these tests. Even students who ordinarily stay cool and collected for classroom tests tend to forget everything they every knew when faced with a blur of ovals to fill and not nearly enough time to fill them all. Because that’s the situation – the SATs and ACTs are designed to put students under unimaginable pressure: on the SAT writing and language portion, a student has 35 minutes for 44 questions. On the ACT, the English portion is 45 minutes long for…75 questions. Wow. These are mostly tests on how well a student takes a test, and how calm they can remain.

That’s hard to learn in a room filled with 30 other sweat-stained students.

But I can help your child learn strategies calmly, working slowly and painlessly through examples. I laugh with students, and the hour goes by surprisingly quickly. At home, they practice but without that sense of panic, because they know we will go over their mistakes together, and everything will be fine.

When they walk into the test, they breathe slowly, deeply, with a sense of knowing what they want to score, and how they plan to get there, what they’ll do if they hit a question they don’t know. They also know that their self-worth is not based on a test score, and that colleges are placing less and less emphasis on these scores. I help them know – really know – that whatever they score, it’s going to be ok. And knowing that makes all the difference in helping a student achieve their best.

Bring back the joy of learning