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Alex

My approach to tutoring is very-much centered around personalization: I'm interested to know what your hobbies are, what kind of music you listen to, and what kinds of television shows and movies you enjoy. I strongly believe that engagement with any topic, even if a student is not keen on it to begin with, can be made interesting by relating it to their interests outside of academia. For example, the relationship between popular culture today and 19th century literature might not be immediately apparent, but so many things--from serialized television to pop music to superheroes and superhero movies--continue to feel the influences of earlier periods and forms (like the novel, poetry, nonfiction, and even literary celebrity of the 19th C). Additionally, I am familiar with numerous approaches to teaching composition and would be able to customize tutoring sessions to fit a wide range of student ability.

I hold a PhD in English with a Graduate Certificate in Gender Studies from the University of Southern California. My dissertation was on the topic of slackers in popular film, television, and literature from the 1980s to the present, and traces the contemporary slacker's origins to 19th century literature and literary figures (such as Herman Melville's "Bartleby" and Oscar Wilde). While I was at USC I taught "Writing and Critical Reasoning," an introductory college composition course, for their Writing Program for seven and a half years. The course's themes ranged from "Black Social Movements in the U.S.," "Race, Gender, Sexuality and Popular Culture," and "Exploring Ethnicity Through Film" to "Environmental Ethics," "Contemporary Moral Issues," and "Education and Intellectual Development." I have extensive experience working with non-humanities majors (Business, Communications, Engineering, etc.) as well as non-native English speakers.

I also have experience teaching English (grades 9-12) at Immaculate Heart High School, an all girls' Catholic private school, in Los Angeles, CA. During my time there I taught English I (9th Grade), American Literature (10th Grade), and Monster's in Literature (12th Grade).

Undergraduate Degree:

 University of California-Riverside - Bachelors, English

Graduate Degree:

 University of Southern California - PHD, English

I enjoy reading, watching scripted television and movies, listening to music, playing with my cats.

College English

Comparative Literature

High School English

What is your teaching philosophy?

My teaching centralizes three areas of analytical skill-building: developing students' historical and cultural imaginations; encouraging students to exercise a diverse range of writing skills to intervene in debates about a wide range of academic topics and areas, as well as political and social issues; and facilitating students' ability to make analytical connections between texts, cultural theories, social realities, and their everyday experience.

What might you do in a typical first session with a student?

Getting to know a bit about the student and their interests is extremely important to me and will help me to get a stronger sense of who they are as a person and how we might approach assignments and topics. With introductions out of the way, I would review the course syllabus and speak with the student about their teachers'/professors' expectations for coursework. For essays and other written assignments, we would read through the prompt handout together once, before reviewing it and breaking it down into its constituent parts: the question first, then any other pertinent information that would help the student better understand the assignment, possible approaches to writing, potential topics, and so on. If a student is struggling to come up with ideas, find a point of entry into an assignment or text that interests them, etc... I would try to connect the assignment or text to their personal interests in ways that would allow for deeper engagement. If time permits, we would work on brainstorming (and potentially even creating an outline) and developing a first-draft thesis statement. In the case of a text (a play, a poem, a novel, etc.), we would go through and read that text together, annotating (underlining important passages, writing notes in the margins) as we go along to begin to develop their critical reading skills.

How can you help a student become an independent learner?

I would teach a variety of methods: in-class note-taking, annotation (writing notes in the margins of a text), close reading, and other skills important to critical reasoning and analytical thinking that would provide the student with the tools necessary for independent learning.

How would you help a student stay motivated?

I would encourage students to try, whenever possible, to link their academic work and their approaches to a wide range of topics in their interests and to carefully consider what interests them when it comes to something they read or a topic they are considering. Rather than limiting students to a precise set of interests, I would emphasize that interests grow and expand, and encourage students to see education as a means of answering, or at least getting closer to the answers, for questions they may have asked themselves but potentially lost interest in because they've been led to believe that a topic is "irrelevant." In the past, I have witnessed first-hand the ways in which the pressures of academic success (with standardized test scores and grades in general) can actually negatively impact student motivation and their ability to produce the best work they can due to anxiety. In these moments, I try to remind students that they have support, talk to them about their anxieties, and ground them in the present, which allows them to better manage their work and ease any frustrations that might impede their ability to study. I would also remind them that it is okay, if not essential, to take a break when they are feeling overwhelmed, and to manage their time wisely so they don't feel burned out.

If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?

I would take a moment to talk to them about a topic seemingly unrelated to the skill or concept the student is having difficulty with (this is why, to me, learning about student interests and hobbies, their favorite music, movies, and tv shows is so important) before relating things back to the skills or concepts they are struggling with. I also find that breaking down complex skills and concepts into their constituent elements is extremely helpful. For example, students who struggle with thesis statements often benefit from learning how to break thesis statements down into parts: topic, position, rationale ("because"), and qualification ("although"). Once these individual components are understood, it becomes easier for students to combine these elements to create a strong, working thesis statement.

How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?

Encouraging students to develop their vocabulary (using vocab journals, for example, or writing definitions for words in the margins of their books) is one method I use to help with reading comprehension. Another is annotation, which involves teaching students how to highlight/underline pertinent passages (rather than everything they are reading) and write notes to themselves in margins, etc. I also find that students who struggle with reading comprehension often struggle because they feel they are not reading fast enough. I would remind them that reading slowly is okay, that it is, in many cases, essential to "close reading," and I would read through texts and annotate with them during our sessions in order to help them develop these skills. If a student is having difficulty at the sentence level, we would take the time to carefully consider that sentence and go through a step by step process of breaking that sentence down into more manageable parts.

How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?

Because my work as an academic has often involved the study of American (and British) popular culture, I find that pop culture is often a great way of getting students excited about a topic. If a student is having a difficult time with Shakespeare but enjoys, for example, the television show Sons of Anarchy, I would take some time to talk about that television show before discussing with them the ways that the show borrows heavily from Shakespeare's plays like Hamlet and Macbeth. In terms of writing itself, a task and "subject" that students (especially those who may be less interested in the Humanities) often struggle with and rarely find exciting, I try to explain to them that writing itself is a process through which we take the time to develop our ideas and communicate them, skills that are crucial to social and civic engagement as well as to many jobs. I encourage students to find approaches to writing about topics that might initially seem boring by finding interesting entry-points to those topics while also making sure they are not going "off-topic" in their written work.

What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?

I would start by having a conversation with the student about the topic, getting them to essentially give me an informal summary of the information, before proceeding to ask them questions whose answers require greater specificity. Rather than formal or rote summarization, I find that an informal dialogue allows students to feel more comfortable, which often raises confidence (whether they realize it or not).

How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?

Creating an environment and fostering a relationship in which students are comfortable with informal conversation about subjects is often extremely helpful not only in building a student's confidence, but also as a means of showing students that they are much further along and have a much firmer grasp of a topic than they might think. Positive encouragement is also crucial to building student confidence. When assisting students in the process of editing their written work, for example, I often stop to point out particularly well-written and/or interesting moments in an essay. I find that this is essential during the editing process because students can often feel overwhelmed by the mark-ups that are typical of editing. One thing that I remind students of during the editing process is that even published authors receive extensive notes, corrections, and feedback on their work, and at times, I show edits I have made to work written by professors that I have personally edited in order to dispel the myth that there are simply "good" and "bad" writers.

How do you evaluate a student's needs?

I would, first, ask a student about what they hope our sessions will help them improve upon and have a conversation that would serve as a kind of informal self-assessment. With written work (depending on how far along a student might be into a quarter, semester, or academic year), I will either conduct my own assessment (with a short, one to two page written response to a "diagnostic" prompt) or ask a student to bring in already graded work to get both a sense of the student's strengths and those areas in which a student needs to improve as well as a better understanding of a teacher's expectations. With reading, I might have a discussion with the student about a text they have already read in order to get a better sense of the student's level of comprehension, or go through a short reading with the student, asking them questions as we read to assess a student's abilities and their needs.