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Michael

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I firmly believe that education begins locally (e.g. the classroom), but grows best from personal experience and direction. Classes and lectures in large groups are a fantastic way to convey broad knowledge, but personal understanding can only be fostered through self-directed learning. That is why my approach to tutoring focuses on building individual study and learning skills, integrating fundamental strategies for success, and maximizing the efficiency of one's own time and resources. I believe that the greatest educational achievements can be found in one-on-one and small group settings. Working directly with students affords me the opportunity to keep track of individual growth, and to be sure my student's needs are met. I have worked as an essay grader for an independent grading company and this affords me unique insights into reading and writing for test-takers. Utilizing my work experience grading tests and my history as a writing tutor, I received a perfect 6 on the Analytical Writing section and a 169 of 170 on the Verbal Reasoning portion. I recently began a graduate program at Michigan State University following three years as an independent scholar, lecturer, and tutor. Outside of my academic pursuits I enjoy reading science fiction, engaging in role-playing games, painting, films, and hiking in the lush Michigan woods (weather permitting!).

Michael’s Qualifications

Education & Certification

Undergraduate Degree: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor - Bachelors, English

Graduate Degree: Michigan State University - Master of Arts, English

Test Scores

GRE Verbal: 169

GRE Analytical Writing: 6

Hobbies

Reading Science Fiction, Writing short stories, Role-Playing Games, Walking, Cooking, Baking, Milton, Disability studies, and confectionery.

Tutoring Subjects

American Literature

British Literature

College Application Essays

College English

College Level American Literature

Comparative Literature

English

ESL/ELL

Essay Editing

Graduate Test Prep

GRE Analytical Writing

GRE Verbal

High School Level American Literature

Medieval Literature

Other

Public Speaking

World Literature


Q & A

What is your teaching philosophy?

I believe that learning is most effective when a student can move beyond answering a question or writing an essay and into the realm of critical thinking which required them to answer in the first place. An understanding of the questioner's goals allows students to focus on the most rewarding aspects of the task at hand. Understanding both the subject matter and the scope of the assignment allows a student to meet every requirement of an assignment and to excel in any subject. I teach to build reasoning skills that will assist my students with both their current and future projects. It is a wonderful moment to look at a well-wrought paper and know that the task at hand is finished. However, I strive to include in my lessons the tools which will reduce the rigors of future assignments and allow my students to demonstrate their knowledge clearly. My aim is to build fundamental skills for learning and demonstrating knowledge. By integrating study methods and testing strategy, I give students resources to succeed beyond simple understanding of a subject.

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

The first session with a new student is the perfect time to build rapport and assess what progress needs to be made. It is important not only to go over the subject matter at hand, but to make sure both tutor and student are able to work together in a pleasant manner. By making a connection, it is easier to communicate needs and lessons than if there is no mutual understanding. The first session is also a critical time for setting goals for future progress. It is easy to approach a subject with a broad topic, such as "I want to study for the Verbal Reasoning portion of the GRE." However, making goals for future sessions allows me to prepare more specific resources to meet a student’s needs. For example, working towards a goal of "I want to build my vocabulary" versus "I need to build my close reading skills" both help with the Verbal GRE portion, but would be aided by very different study materials.

How can you help a student become an independent learner?

My tutoring method is designed to assist with independent learning. In my tutoring sessions, I don't simply assist in locating answers and completing papers. I aim to build long-term success by incorporating writing methods, study tools, testing strategies, and learning opportunities into my lessons. Small changes in study habits and time management can make for tremendous rewards. I had to commute to my insurance job, and, in the sometimes 15 minutes early I arrived for work (depending on traffic), I would use that time to focus on a GRE prompt or problem. It's small changes and the eye to see opportunity for learning that can make all of the difference.

How would you help a student stay motivated?

It's important to me to show that learning and language are more than a chore. With the right outlook, writing is the chance to spend a part of the day playing with words. Words are powerful. Knowing how language works and practicing its components is like training one's skill with power tools: once you have enough understanding, you can build anything. Motivation is a combination of many facets of life. To maintain it, there needs to be a balance. One has to be aware of setting, desire, and their own body. If a student's attention is starting to wander: is it because we are moving away from their goal? If so, we need to communicate and have open lines of discussion to share that information. Diet, exercise, and hydration are important in motivation: balanced bodies support balanced minds. The environment is significant as well: a noisy or busy study area can be detrimental to some...and helpful to others. In maintaining motivation, I seek to tutor in environments that are conducive to each student's learning style. I try to make sure that if things are starting to slow down that we take a second to focus on what's causing the difficulty so that we can return to 100% instead of just trying to maintain attention at 75%. It is sometimes necessary to pause or stretch to keep the mind focused.

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

Reading comprehension is one of the more difficult aspects of the English language, requiring understanding and interpretation on multiple levels. It's completely understandable that some students encounter more difficulty than others when faced with the daunting task. The first and most important thing is that struggling with learning comprehension is not a slight on one's intelligence. The English language is in constant changes, and every author uses different conventions when writing. As such, every reader faces challenges in every context when engaging with the written word. It's most important to start from the basics and move from there to more complex ideas. What are the words of a passage? How do they work together? How does the idea of one sentence relate to another in this context? The key to building reading comprehension is the same as learning to play music: start slow and be patient. Just like individual notes make a melody (at any speed), individual words make an idea. Once a student has learned to recognize some melodies (or ideas), they can speed up their understanding of how the ideas harmonize together to structure meaning.

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

When starting a new project with a new student, there are three key procedures that help to guarantee success. First, is the setting of goals. It cannot be stressed enough that having a clear understanding of what is necessary on both the student and the tutor's part makes the tutoring process easier for both parties. The second process is to plan for those goals. By knowing what hurdles are ahead, the student and tutor can develop learning strategies, schedule sessions for important projects, and implement effective strategies for knowledge growth. The final procedure is humor. Being able to laugh at the academic pressure that faces students helps to bring assignments back from their ominous heights and back into manageable territory. In the face of learning, one has to be able to step back from the glowering columns and the imposing shelves of books to appreciate that learning is about more than grades or a piece of paper. Learning is about the adventure of exploring new ideas, using new concepts, and growing into an understanding of the world at large.

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

A subject that causes a struggle is a very good thing. If a subject is too easy, it is learned without the reward of having overcome its challenges. The second reason that a struggle is beneficial is that means that there is a desire and a necessity to move out of one's comfort into a broadened understanding. The key to making something engaging is to bring it out of its context as an assignment or as a test and into the world. Critically examining Moby Dick may seem like a dull paper when one is only doing it to satisfy and American Writers requirement. However, Melville’s classic work can quickly become a game of "spot the pun" and "how could you use these allegorical references in other papers?" Engagement in a subject relies more on perspective than it does on ability. All texts can be made accessible and if there is a struggle; that is because both tutor and student haven't quite found the best approach to it yet.

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

Understanding is more than a yes/no situation. Throughout the course of a lesson, I make sure to pause for a moment to make sure my student and I are in the same degree of understanding the material. It's not simply enough to solve a problem or complete a paragraph. I make sure that, throughout the process, we are building up from the most basic units of understanding towards are particular assignment, and that by the end, we have met the necessary goals and put some infrastructure in place to apply the current session to future work.

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

Confidence in a subject comes from the interaction of two things: understanding and application. When a student is able to understand even a small portion of a subject, the hard part is over. That small seed of knowledge will grow as long as it is nurtured. Once a student puts down roots, the intuitive part of the mind will begin relating that knowledge to other concepts and automatically apply it. Once a student begins to understand a subject, they can apply it in any number of ways. In applying knowledge, one simultaneously grows their understanding. It is this cycle of application and understanding that nurtures confidence. No one becomes completely confident in medieval literature in a moment. However, when one realizes that they can access the text even a small amount, the process and self-confidence can grow in every minute accomplishment.

How do you evaluate a student's needs?

I evaluate a student’s needs in two ways. The first is the simpler: I evaluate their explicit goals. I ask what the scope of their project is, what specific aspects or tasks are their goals, and I ask what they believe their greatest need to be. These needs determine how we approach the subject matter and grant me an understanding of their minimum needs. During our tutoring sessions, I make sure to note what strengths the student has, where they have potential for growth, and how they interact with the project in order to spot opportunities to change study habits to foster independent learning. It is my goal to highlight student strengths and needs that they may overlook.

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

Every student is going to bring with them a unique set of strengths and needs. Part of my work as a tutor is to make it evident to my students that both of these characteristics are necessary. If a student exceeds at vocabulary, but struggles with usage, I know that I can adapt my lessons to focus on how words work rather than what they mean to save us time and energy on a subject the student already understands. If a student is showing exceeding ability at a task, then that is my cue to both increase the difficulty of our assessments and to consider moving on to greater hurdles. If a student is struggling with a particular concept, it is even better. Being able to see where a student most needs work allows me, as a tutor, to specifically target that area of study and to bring the student gradually to a place of higher learning.

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

I always encourage students to bring the text or textbook from which they are working and the syllabus or assignment description to in-person study sessions because these are the most valuable resources. Having a clear understanding of what the framework of the assignment is helps me to target my lessons on what needs to be done and are a good reminder to stay on subject within the session. Whenever possible, I try to bring my own notebook to keep track of our progress and to make note of any particular information that will be needed in future tutoring sessions. I also try to find relevant information and practice questions online that can be shared with the student to work on both during our tutoring session and once I have left.