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Thomas

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My experience with Breakthrough Collaborative and the Thompson Writing Program (TWP), as a teacher and tutor respectively, lets me borrow tactics from both grade school and university styles of instruction. I've completed both coursework and research/publication on small-group (1:1) instructional methodologies at Duke University as a training course. In the TWP, I consistently applied and formally reviewed the effectiveness of these techniques in blogs and panels. Long-term engagement with evolving philosophies of education helped me establish a conceptual foundation of contemporary ideologies and approaches. This ground-up familiarity with modern tutoring methods/resources enables me to cater my approach for each session, especially in the small-group instructional environment. As a counterpoint, my work with Breakthrough gave me the opportunity to scale my mentorship skills to a larger audience, as well as adapt my approaches to a new demographic (public/charter students in an under-performing district). While work with the TWP necessitated self- and program-wide evaluation, Breakthrough instituted an especially strong culture of administrative and intra-departmental evaluation. The ability to respond well to and implement feedback was crucial to our team's success; my work with both programs has helped me commit to an atmosphere of persistent evaluation and improvement.

My performance studies including the opportunities I've had to artistically direct the work of other actors have granted me tools to adapt my interpersonal strategies and create a rich, varied instructional style. As in the classroom, it is of utmost importance in the rehearsal space to unconditionally validate the contributions of students. Through my work on- and off-stage, I have facilitated the unrestricted generation of ideas by establishing clear rehearsal and communication standards to create an intellectually and emotionally safe space for all crewmembers. As well, my study of body language and gesture grants me control over non-verbal communication in service of an ideal instructional mode. Using an awareness of physicality, I've adopted a dynamic interpersonal and intellectual relationship with both tutees (in my Thompson Writing Program work) and larger groups (12) of students (in Breakthrough Collaborative). My vocabulary of narrative techniques has been consistently applicable: I use a range of media styles to instruct and engage an audience. And an intimate understanding of narrative structures allows me to deconstruct the "arc" of and "tell the story of" course material, in order to effectively communicate to students.

I have just returned from a stay abroad in Beijing, China. There, I taught two independently designed courses to different sets of middle school students in Beijing, China. In the span of five weeks, I enjoyed a whirlwind introduction to the language (with daily class) and life in both heavily developed and poorer, migrant worker regions of the city. The educational norms and approaches are in many ways in sharp contrast to American tactics of education. But parents and students in both countries share similar anxieties about getting a high-value education. I was happy to find that many of the student engagement strategies I've acquired in the U.S. were just as effective at creating a positive learning environment. Adapting to these new cultural standards has been a gratifying challenge, and I have a new appreciation for the unique resources and challenges that American students deal with every day.

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Thomas’ Qualifications

Education & Certification

Undergraduate Degree: Duke University - Bachelors, Mathematics

Test Scores

SAT Math: 750

SAT Verbal: 700

SAT Writing: 750

SAT Mathematics Level 2: 800

SAT Subject Test in Physics: 780

SAT Subject Test in Spanish: 730

Hobbies

yoga, traveling, photography, video games, theater

Tutoring Subjects

Algebra

Algebra 2

Algebra 3/4

AP Calculus AB

Calculus

Calculus 2

Calculus 3

College Algebra

College Computer Science

College English

College Essays

Computer Science

Conversational Spanish

English

English Grammar and Syntax

Essay Editing

High School Computer Science

High School English

HSPT Prep

HSPT Language Skills Prep

HSPT Math Prep

HSPT Quantitative Prep

HSPT Reading Prep

HSPT Verbal Prep

ISEE Prep

ISEE- Upper Level

Languages

Literature

Math

Multivariable Calculus

Pre-Algebra

Public Speaking

Python

SAT Prep

SAT Math

SAT Mathematics

SAT Reading

SAT Writing and Language

SHSAT Prep

Spanish

Spanish 1

Spanish 2

SSAT Prep

SSAT- Upper Level

TACHS Prep

Technology and Computer Science

Test Prep

Writing


Q & A

What is your teaching philosophy?

Students grow most when they face clear, achievable objectives; when the whole process of learning is demystified in a comfortable, focused environment. I aim to help the students build solid skills from the ground up. Everything from emotional well-being to time management to effective memorization technique plays an important role in student growth. As an artist and educator, I believe the path to academic success is an intimately creative one, in which each student must find the approach that suits their unique needs.

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

My first session always begins with a critical conversation with the student about their academic goals, and how close they feel they are to achieving them. A huge source of stress for many students is the question, "How far am I from feeling confident in my skills?” Oftentimes students are closer than they think. This conversation includes an analysis of their study habits and an identification of challenging content areas and subject-related skills. Once we've tallied everything up, it's just a matter of checking off boxes one at a time!

How can you help a student become an independent learner?

The key to developing student independence is nurturing proactive and goal-oriented study habits, both in and out of the session. This means, as a tutor, I must hold the student accountable for their private practice and preparation outside of sessions. Instead of becoming a surrogate learner for the student, I gradually release responsibility for the student across individual sessions and the tutoring period as a whole. As a classroom teacher for the national non-profit Breakthrough Collaborative, I learned best practices for curriculum design that supports this kind of student independence. Using so called "Say-See-Do" cycles – an instruction model taken from Doug Lemov's Teach Like A Champion – I first teach a skill via its bite-size, component parts, then gradually demand greater initiative from the student. This approach extends even into the way tutoring sessions themselves are organized: in the beginning of a tutoring series, I take greater control of time management and set goals I deem most appropriate. Across several sessions, the student is then expected to "drive" the session according to their own needs, thus taking ownership of their own development.

How would you help a student stay motivated?

Students are often under an enormous amount of external pressure to succeed. What students need most, though, is a powerful internal motivation to move forward. I think that motivation is part self-esteem: the student must know exactly how far they've come, where they stand now, and where they can get by next week or month. So in order for students to stay motivated in the long-term, they need to see and relish this progress. By helping the student to carefully track their academic progress (via scores, content understanding, or other measures), they can relish the fruits of their labor and be fulfilled. In a tutoring session, I try to keep an eye on the energy level of my student. I use a variety of tactics to help the student stay strong in a session, such as taking micro breaks, varying up the study method, and helping the student relax from a hard day at school. Sometimes what a student needs most is to vent their frustrations. As a tutor, I must occasionally play the role of academic or even personal counselor. A variety of outside factors can hold a student back from success; I can free the student to be at the top of their game by simply listening.

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

No concept or skill is unavailable to a student. The first thing I do when a student finds a roadblock is assure them, often through verbal praise, that they can get over it. Before I can help the student, I must first identify for myself what piece of the puzzle is missing. Sometimes it takes walking through a problem step by step with a student to figure out what's going wrong. Often the student is missing an entire series of skills or concepts that would help them solve a problem. In those cases, I might have to reteach a set of skills from the very beginning. I will need to break down a skill into manageable parts that anyone could learn (if a student cannot learn a particular part, then I have not successfully partitioned the skill). When each part has been learned, I ensure that the student has understood by testing these abilities on a separate problem.

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

When students struggle to understand a text, a variety of issues might be at play. Perhaps a student is missing key vocabulary. Or complex syntax prevents them from organizing the text in a way that makes sense to them. Or perhaps the logical connection between elements in a text is unclear to the student. It would be easy, as a tutor, to identify the issue and explain the text directly to the student. But taking a Band-Aid approach will not help students take control of future comprehension challenges. I believe students must learn to communicate their confusions clearly to themselves before they can resolve the issue in the text. So I ask students to articulate: "What part of this text are you struggling with?" An ideal answer will demonstrate a meta-understanding of the challenges in the text, such as "I don't know what this word means..." or "I don't see the purpose of this sentence/paragraph..." Identifying the question is the first and perhaps the most important step. Once the student has identified their question about the text, they can proceed to use a variety of strategies to answer their own question. Deciphering the meaning of a word in context or identifying the main idea of a paragraph are examples of such strategies. These survival techniques might have to be taught and cultivated in the session in complement with additional practice materials.

What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?

Strategies I find to be successful: - Cultivating a safe, supportive space immediately at the start of the tutoring session, - Respecting the time and objective of tutoring sessions, - Asking the student what their needs of the session are before launching into a session, - Setting clear, time-based objectives at the top of every session, - Evaluating student progress at the end of every session, - Helping the student set post-session goals, - And providing acknowledgement of student effort and praise of progress when appropriate.

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

Students can tire of a subject they find challenging when "failure" affects self-esteem or otherwise negatively affects their emotional well-being. To do this, I help the student avoid defeatist self-talk: the language of "I can't X" or "I'm not good at Y" obscures the real, achievable steps a student can take to improve. From the very beginning, I instill a growth-mindset that takes setbacks for what they are and awards progress when inevitably made. I also guide students to set appropriately leveled goals that keep success flowing. Students stay excited when they see checkpoints in sight. Appropriate goal-setting means students regularly receive internal reward that propels them forward to the next goal. Even non-evaluative goals are meaningful ("read for 10 minutes every day").

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

Questions that ask the student to assess their own understanding in a yes/no format ("Do you understand it now?") are usually ineffective. The only way to ensure a student understands the material is to see mastery demonstrated in a new problem or context. Having a stockpile of sample questions, or the ability to devise them, lets me immediately test student understanding after a concept is learned/re-learned.

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

A number of strategies are available to support student self-esteem. I have students tally a list of concepts or skills they already understand. What texts do they already read and understand? What skills do they feel confident in? When this list is as long as the list of "missing concepts," a student can look at their own progress with pride. I make sure that students approach level-appropriate problems before tackling more complicated problems. I never give up on a problem when a student is struggling (even if I have to put it away for now and return later). I repeatedly assure the student verbally that any concept is achievable. I regularly assess student progress.

How do you evaluate a student's needs?

Students need to develop an understanding of their own needs, so the first step in an evaluation is asking the student, "What do you feel you need from this session?" I compare their answer with the evidence presented to me: tests, essays, their well-being, their study habits. I look carefully at entire documents to find patterns of errors that may point to an underlying misunderstanding. I then find a compromise between their stated needs and the patterns I notice in their work. I create a plan of in-session and out-of-session action that needs to be taken.

How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?

In order to adapt to student needs, I must be aware of the variety of ways I know how to help a student. I must not create expectations about what the student needs before I arrive at a session. I pull from my toolkit depending on what I observe in the student. Perhaps the student needs time to drill problems. Perhaps the student needs to walk carefully through a concept. How do I know if I've used the right tool? I (1) test student understanding and (2) ask for immediate and after-the-fact feedback from the student about my own effectiveness. In order to be adaptive to student needs, which may be changing, I have to constantly ask myself and my tutor, "Is this working?" Furthermore, I am responsive to moment-by-moment cues. Every day is different for the student, I must adjust my body language, energy level, and lesson pacing to either match or counterbalance the state of the student.

What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?

The most important materials in a session are the ones the student provides themselves. The texts or resources a student already has access to are the ones they will repeatedly access on their own. I focus on appropriate and efficient use of these materials, which are often the first line of defense. Much of student research at home happens through the internet, and I believe it is important to teach effective use of online materials. Non-proprietary educational sites are important second-response tools to student questions at home. Other sources include proprietary mobile applications, such as a suite of learning modules. These are excellent complements to analog study methods, but are usually not full substitutes. If I am aware of a particular concept or skill need of a student, I can refer them to relevant online resources or print handouts directly if the student does not have internet access at home.


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