Over the years, the biggest problem I faced like many of my own private clients have, is that sometimes students don't know what the instructor is expecting from them. This can occur in any classroom and at any level. Students may be referring to unknown expectations of a teacher or a professor about a particular quiz, exam, midterm, essay or even the primary goal of the academic year. My job is to guide each student towards identifying and achieving what the instructor is looking for, and ultimately comprehending those difficult demands. I try to bridge the gap between the student and teacher. My primary goal is to lead to clarity - not further any confusion, difficulty, or frustration. Learning a language is hard enough. I simply guide the student by showing him or her new techniques to study and methods to learn about the Spanish language. This is turn gives the student the ability to achieve his or her individual goals. Moreover, the previous tension and confusion felt by the student begins to lessen with each session. As a personal tutor I hope to advance the development of a student's initial knowledge of the Spanish language into a solid foundation.
What is your teaching philosophy?
My teaching philosophy, quite frankly, depends on each student. Each client learns differently and achieves success at an individual pace. Growing up bilingual and developing a foundation in classrooms has forced me to find out the true struggles for students learning the Spanish language. The confusion I overcame over the years stocked me with knowledge of what works and what does not work. This involves every secret from studying, to performing in the classroom, and succeeding academically overall in any class, at any level. When I initially meet a new student, I introduce myself and speak about my background to establish a sense of trust. This way, the client has confidence in my ability and knows that I have a strong foundation of the language besides blindly expecting the label of a tutor to carry them through the individual struggles. Then, I begin to explain my techniques and skills to studying and, ultimately, pinpointing what the teacher or professor expects. To effectively do this, I ask questions about the student's teachers or professors. Have they mentioned anything important to succeeding in their class? Is there any paperwork for any quiz or exam used as study material that I should be aware of? Instructors oftentimes have particular ideas or requirements of their students, and it’s the lack of clarity for students that leaves them very confused. This set of confused ideas from instructors in student's eyes could be for a particular quiz, exam, or oftentimes for most of the academic school year. This is where I come in. I serve as a catalyst between the instructor and the student. My main goal is to shed light on the instructor's wishes to help the student succeed. Once I have an idea of what the teacher is looking for in any exam or quiz, I pinpoint exactly what tricks or study habits I use myself to guide them. Sometimes this requires only one session, but oftentimes the material is so involved it requires multiple sessions. This totally depends on each client and each student's goals for tutoring. No matter what, at the end of each session, I ask the student if there is any way I could improve my teaching. Each client knows, before beginning our session, to stop me if I'm either not making sense or if I need to slow down or repeat what I said. I always want to master new techniques of learning, and oftentimes, my students give me their unique ideas that help them and me. This kind of open conversation or feedback allows me grow as a tutor by translating that new technique to other clients who might not understand my particular method as easily. The bottom line is, even as a tutor myself, I never want stop learning or helping students overcome challenges.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
During the initial session with a student, I introduce myself and ask them how they are doing. To ease anxiety and instill a sense of trust, I ask the client about any interests or hobbies they have and respond by speaking of a few of my own passions. Then, I run through a brief history of my relationship with the Spanish language. Meanwhile, I assure them, through my many years of study inside and outside the classroom, that I will help them achieve their individual goals. After the introduction, I direct the student to speak of their goals with the Spanish language and with our tutoring session. Is this a one-time session where they hope to achieve clarity of a particular material? Are they looking for more of a mentor experience through the culmination of many sessions? Is this a learning experience to use strictly outside the classroom, and if not what class or level of Spanish are they in? If applicable, how does instructor run the class and what are the general expectations of the class? Each question allows me to grasp a clearer idea of the difficulties they currently face. This then allows me to organize our time during the session(s) for the individual client, concerning both content and time management. Each student is unique, and therefore their situation and concerns are as well. Afterwards, we begin to dig into the initial material. As I establish what this student's general level is, I ask them what they would like to work on this particular day. If there isn't any specific question but rather general concerns, I introduce grammar, vocabulary or any other assignment myself and work with them to assess his or her academic level more closely. This gives me a better idea what to focus on. For example, oftentimes we need to backtrack and go over main ideas of grammar tenses before beginning a homework assignment. At any time, I make sure to engage the student by asking if the pace I am teaching is ok, and if not I modify by going slower or faster. At the end of each session I ask how the student feels; are they more confident with the material? Should they schedule more time later on? Many clients often underestimate the time it takes to develop a solid foundation or concept in any language. After the initial session, they usually recognize that they will need much more time than anticipated. Finally, I thank them for contacting me for help and hope that the new ideas covered or introduced began, at least, to bring some clarity.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
Becoming an independent learner requires discipline and consistency. As a tutor, this is one of my goals with any student. Oftentimes, it requires some tough love and reality checks for younger or teenage students to understand that one session or even ten sessions does not translate into being an independent learner. I always push students to study on their own, as this will be the only way to really achieve consistent academic success and gain individual clarity of the Spanish language. More often than not, parents are involved to make sure the young student works each week as addressed by me at the end of each session. Once the student begins to comprehend more of the language, he or she begins opening up to the idea of studying without me. After all, that is how I would define the beginnings of an independent learner. I engage my clients each time by telling them that if he or she organizes themselves better before a tutoring session, I guarantee that we will achieve much more than anticipated and do so at a much faster pace. This will in turn reward the student and, ultimately, give him or her the ability to reach the individual goals much easier. At the end of the day, transforming into an independent learner is a choice. I believe that all of my students have the ability to become independent learners, although sometimes it requires the help of family, in addition to me as a tutor. However, it is up to the student to make the choice to organize, discipline, and train him or herself. Once achieved, this will serve as a huge stepping stone for the student to learn any new subject, at any level, be it in school or college.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
If a particular material is challenging for a student to understand, I would try to approach the concept in a more familiar way. This would be unique to each student. For example, if a sports analogy for a young male student works better, I'll go for it. It doesn't matter what the concept is, the hardest part may be relating the material back to the student. If one analogy doesn't work, I'll try another or go a different path entirely. Sometimes just repeating and slowing down the approach of teaching helps a student overcome the specific block to understanding the idea. I ask after each time if this helps or still confuses the client, and base my next move on what is said or from the reaction I notice by their body language. If there is any confusion, we start back at the beginning and attack the concept in another way. Most importantly, moving past an idea that is difficult without confronting the problem would be giving up on my client. One cannot build a foundation when the initial material is confusing, and I never give up on any concept that is tough for a student to learn.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
For those students who have trouble reading in Spanish, I often begin by either going over basic grammar tenses and vocabulary that are shown in the text they are trying to read. Most times a client's confusion with reading comprehension stems from basic problems with grammar and vocabulary presented in the text. If this is the case, I backtrack and explain the material. When I know the student has a better grasp of how to tackle all major parts of a particular text, I then work through that reading exercise with them. I break down what grammar is shown and give clues to help a student link the vocabulary with the meaning in English. If there is not any particular text that is challenging, I introduce outside materials like magazine articles that incite a particular interest of a student. A young female client I had years ago loves fashion, tennis and celebrity gossip. For her sessions, I chose a few articles that I plucked from a Spanish newspaper about fashion and tennis champions. I used this material for homework for her to read after our session and to analyze. The next class, I had her orally present the information given in each article. She worked on reading comprehension and continued to develop her speaking skills.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
When I begin working with any student, I try to figure out how this particular client best learns. Is the student more of a visual or auditory learner? What are common strategies they have used to study for other subjects in the past? If applicable, what does the instructor suggest or do in class? The more the client tells me about previous study habits, the better idea I have to set up the session. If a student has not found any particular way to study by themselves nor from the teacher that has proved effective, I introduce a few ideas and ask if he or she would be willing to try. It takes time for a client to see if methods work. Simple and basic materials like flash cards tend to be an extremely successful way to practice grammar tenses. I tell my clients whom I tutor on a consistent basis that, as we advance through basic concepts of the language, I will show him or her new methods to study. My strategy for listening comprehension is using popular music and having the student rearrange the lyrics in the proper order as they listen to the song. I print out a set of lyrics, cut them up, and mix them together to force the client to listen to key words or use their grammar skills to arrange the pieces. For developing reading proficiency, I search on the web and print out articles or stories in Spanish that address a unique interest of the student, like movies, for instance. I then have the student read the piece and have them prepare an oral presentation of the information in our next session. This way I sneak in oral practice in addition to expanding their reading comprehension. To advance writing skills and work on specific vocabulary, like cooking, I have the student write out their cooking recipe or pretend to host their own show on the Food Network. I have them write exactly what they would say during the entire show. For oral practice, I suggest clients pretend to be their favorite celebrity and chat one-on-one with me. I would assume a role as well and essentially assist the student during parts they struggle with, but push them to be the principal speaker in the conversation each time. I also make up grammar exercises or find stories to have my clients choose which conjugation or grammar tense to use in each sentence. With this exercise, I require them to explain why they chose that particular answer so I can understand their thought process. The better I know how they think, the more I can help them progress. It is a slow process, but it is an effective one. In addition to strategies I bring to my sessions, there are many classrooms that now have online tools. This could be a great help to learn new vocabulary. Classroom websites also have computer games to study the translation of a sentence or a particular word. The main idea is to keep the methods simple and the material challenging, but within reach of the student's ability. With most strategies I use, the client has a free reign of creativity. The more creative they are, the more they enjoy completing the work.