I started tutoring at my university writing lab, and found that it was rewarding and sometimes even exciting to help students through their projects. Although my job was to help students with grammar and organization, I often found myself talking to students about the focus of their work and their goals for the assignment. I enjoyed helping students and I carried that interest into a teaching career.
I taught English language skills, research skills, history, and politics in China for ten years, mostly at the high school and university levels. In China I was also fortunate enough to serve as the director of studies for an English language high school, which gave me an opportunity to dive deeper into assessments and see how teachers can help students understand just what they’re supposed to do, and how they can encourage students to develop their own interest in their school work. Along the way I completed a US teacher certification course and am (as of July 2016) weeks away from becoming a US certified teacher.
I speak and write Mandarin Chinese (although far from perfectly!). Learning a foreign language, especially one so different from English, has been a long-term and ongoing project. One of the most important things I’ve gotten from learning Chinese is a sense of humility and forgiveness. Learning can be hard—and every teacher will tell you it should be challenging. It’s important to give ourselves opportunities to make mistakes, to ask real questions, and to appreciate the advances we make, no matter how small.
I look forward to helping more students find and reach their goals.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: Washington State University - Bachelors, Political Science and Government
Graduate Degree: University of Wisconsin-Madison - Masters, Political Science and Government
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
My philosophy of teaching starts with clearly understanding the goals. There always has to be a purpose to the work we do, even if it's to pass a class or a test. Often the work we do isn't an end in itself, but a stepping stone on the way to achieving some larger purpose.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
After introductions, I would talk to the student about our mutual expectations, our roles, and our goals. I would take the time to make sure we are in agreement about what we want to happen and, generally, how we're going to make it happen. Then I would start with the task, what is the assignment the student is working on? What does he or she need to accomplish? From there, we would make a plan to get the work done.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
I try to help students become independent learners by working with them to develop a sense of purpose to their work and ownership of their work. This starts with self-reflection and planning.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Reflection and journaling are key to staying motivated. It's not enough to just keep in mind the goal, passing the test, learning the concept, or whatever it is. I encourage students to keep track of the work they do and write notes about what they think about their own work. Making progress we can record, even when we're stuck and having a hard time, helps us stay motivated.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
I would talk with the student and help him or her isolate the particular area of concern and the difficulties he or she is having with it, then encourage him or her to try to ask specific but very basic questions. The metacognitive strategies of reflection and journaling are actually key to this question as well. If the student has been reflecting on and writing about his or her own work, those recorded reflections provide a lot of the key to identifying and targeting the problem itself. If the student is pre-literate, discussion with a mentor, as well as voice recordings, can substitute for written reflections.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
I try to help students who have difficulties with reading comprehension learn to isolate their difficulties. Once we know where the problem is, I encourage students to read what came before and what comes after; often the context shown demystifies the confusing sentence or paragraph. For difficult vocabulary, I work with students to rephrase the problematic portion of the passage in their own words, and encourage them to record new vocabulary and definitions in a personal glossary.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
I think it's important to talk candidly about the student's expectations and my expectations. This helps both parties be clear about our roles. I also ask students about their background with the subject they're working on and listen carefully so I can better understand the student's goals. If the student has a particular assignment they're currently working on, I ask to see the assignment materials, in particular the grading rubric. From there, I work with students to plan backwards, step by step from the finish line back to today.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
I would help the student understand the task and talk about his or her goals. Having clear goals allows for planning and having plans allows for regular reflection and journaling. Knowing what we're working toward and keeping track of our progress helps us engage and build our motivation.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
In one-on-one tutoring, I use the following techniques: asking open-ended questions that require the student to rephrase or reformulate the essential information, writing summaries or essential questions, asking the student to explain it to a child (and pretending I'm the child), and requiring the student to keep a learning log or reflection journal.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
The key is to help students believe that they can succeed. I work with students on goal-setting, and require them to keep a reflection journal so they can track their progress. I offer praise when students make progress but try not to overdo it. I want students to appreciate their own progress, not to work for the sake of getting a tutor to say "good job." I avoid interrupting students to correct mistakes, and try to ask open-ended questions about how the student is reasoning. I try to stay positive and encourage students to measure their success against their own past performance rather than the work of other students.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
I like asking students open-ended questions about their background and interests, their experience with the subject, types of assignments they've loved and types they've hated, how they work in groups and how they work alone, subjects and tasks they feel they're good at, and how or whether they monitor their progress. I use KWL charts and reflection journals to find out more about how students are thinking about their work, not just whether they're doing their work. If I have control over the project or summative assessment, I give students options about the topic and the format of their work, such as writing a report or making a video. This motivates students and lets me find out more about their learning styles.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
I always work on goal-setting with students. If a student doesn't have much experience with goal-setting, I work with them to set goals for their particular task. Given a particular assigned task, if a student is cruising along, I rely on progress checks and targeted feedback. If a student is struggling, I model the task or work for the student, work with the student through an extended example or two, and then give the student an example task and a learning log to complete on his or her own.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
I like to have the following: the tutoring calendar showing dates of tutoring sessions, progress checks, and deadlines, a whiteboard, a dictionary, pens & pencils, plenty of scratch paper, flashcards (if applicable), and all of the student's materials, including textbooks, research materials, assignment sheets, rubrics, and past quizzes.