My name is Devin and I am a tutor for ACT prep, middle- and high-school math, and Spanish. I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in May 2018 with majors in Mathematics and Spanish. This year I will be working as a full-time math tutor for SAGA Innovations in Chicago, IL. My career interests include teaching, public policy, software development, and consulting. I love working for Varsity Tutors because one-on-one instruction is one of my biggest strengths as a teacher. I have developed this skill by volunteering as an instructional coach and a reading tutor for middle school students. Although every student is different, I always focus on consistent practice, incremental improvements, and concrete goal-setting. If a student is not sure where to begin, I identify strengths and weaknesses using comprehensive practice tests and then work with the student to draw up a study plan. I have worked mainly as an ACT tutor for Varsity Tutors, but I am very confident in my math skills and my command of Spanish. I spent 6 months studying abroad in Chile, an experience which greatly increased my fluency, listening skills, and intuitive understanding of grammar. In my free time, I like to play the guitar, go on long bike rides, and read adventure novels.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: Washington University in St Louis - Current Undergrad, Mathematics
ACT Composite: 35
ACT English: 35
ACT Math: 31
ACT Reading: 36
ACT Science: 36
SAT Verbal: 780
SAT Writing: 740
guitar, jazz music, cycling, running, anime, indie movies, Spanish literature, electronics, music production
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
I think to teach well, a tutor must get students excited about the material. The best way to do this is to nudge the student's understanding forward bit by bit, so that he or she can make important connections by their own reasoning. Understanding something new for the first time is a pretty cool feeling, and I believe students should be able to cherish it.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
I will chat with a student at first to get a sense of him or her as a person. It's good to ask what kinds of hobbies and academic subjects are the most interesting (or boring) for the student, so I can take a more personalized approach to the sessions. I'll also share some details from my life so he or she can get to know me. I think it is really important to form a friendly connection with a student so that we can communicate more effectively and honestly.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
Never give away the answer, unless I'm doing a demonstration, or the student has made several attempts with only hints to guide them. Also, keep hints helpful but vague, although not so cryptic as to be frustrating.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
To keep a struggling student motivated I would do my best to personalize my lessons to their specific needs, and provide encouragement and positive reinforcement for every step they make in the right direction. (Sometimes my professors bring candy at the end of the week, so that is also a good strategy!)
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
Try to approach it from as many angles as possible. By varying my approach and using different analogies, there is a better chance the student will come to understand a difficult concept. It's also important sometimes to just drop it and move on, then come back to it after it has been properly digested.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
I apply the lessons I have learned in struggling to read Spanish literature. I scan for unfamiliar words that occur 3 or more times in a paragraph, and look up definitions and synonyms for those words so I can write them in the margins. It is also good to focus on the big picture and look past minor details if they are too muddy to comprehend at first. As a tutor I will do my best to explain the overall meaning of the chapter or passage in different words, and then relate each sentence to the plot and the themes.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
For math and science, I would try to draw comparisons with the real world, choosing examples of how real scientists and engineers use concepts to solve problems and make important discoveries. There are lots of fun facts in math (Euler’s formula and Russel’s paradox, for example) and in science (the uncertainty principle, neutrinos, the life cycles of stars, and tons more.)
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Concentrate on what they enjoy most, and on what they are the best at. Small victories are important on the path the understanding.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
Repetition is very important, especially when studying science and math. Using different techniques on the same problem is also a good way to solidify an idea. Certain concepts are just too slippery to put into words, and can only really be grasped after churning through a lot of problems. Similarly, for writing and history the best way to really drive home an idea is lots of guided practice. Each new attempt should have some core concept as its focus, such as organization, flow of ideas, or a strong introductory paragraph. It's better to write a lot of bad essays than to spend all of your time on one good one, as long as each try is a little bit better than the last. If the student is confident in getting their ideas on paper, they will be more comfortable on a timed test or other important assignment.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
When I first meet with a student, I will ask which areas they struggle with the most. I also make of point of giving them some practice problems, prompts, or questions to see how they handle them. By talking to the student and evaluating their performance on a 'pop quiz,' I can gauge their strengths and weaknesses, and get a feel for their abilities. From this point, we can better focus our sessions on certain areas: time-management, proofreading & revision, or making sure the right equations, identities, and foundational concepts are clear in the student's mind.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
Every student is different, and so is every subject. For these reasons there is no one-size-fits-all approach to tutoring, and only after personally working with a student can I fine-tune the pace, level of difficulty, break time, and areas of emphasis in our sessions. My style must change according to the abilities of the student and their academic goals. I will always push a student to do their best. Sometimes this requires a lot of focus and rigorous planning for both of us, and other times the student breezes through the material while I race to find new ways to challenge them. Although I try to make things as productive and difficult as possible, I understand the value of patience as learned from my experiences mentoring children at the elementary and middle school levels. Balancing toughness and patience is very important, and I will try my best to achieve this.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
I try to use textbooks and review materials that I am familiar with or have studied from in the past.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
When first starting with a student, I get the best sense of their abilities and goals when I allow them to drive the bus during the first session. This helps me to see which types of activities work best for the student, and get a sense of what they enjoy or try to avoid. I will also make a point of giving the student a more or less comprehensive set of practice problems to see how they handle them.