I've been teaching biology to undergraduates since 2003, as a tenured professor at the University of Redlands and as visiting faculty at various institutions, including Boston College and Williams College. One of my greatest joys in life is seeing my students grow in their skills, their confidence, and the power to shape their futures.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: Williams College - Bachelors, Biology, General
Graduate Degree: University of California-Davis - PHD, Population Biology
SAT Composite: 1550
SAT Math: 800
SAT Verbal: 750
Animals of all kinds, Indian cuisine, computer programming
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
I focus on helping students build a network of ideas so that they can remember and use them. I also guide them through the kinds of problem-solving strategies that experts use. My approach is to meet students where they are and work with them step by step until they master a topic, using positive feedback and encouraging self-reflection along the way.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
My first goal is to find out what a student can already do, where they're getting stuck, and what approach they're taking to the subject they're studying. It's important for me to have tutoring sessions that focus on the student, but that's especially important during a first session. I want to know who my student is and where they want to go! I'm not a useful guide until I know that.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
Helping students develop their learning skills is very important to me. I encourage students to reflect on their own learning, try out new approaches, and evaluate the success of their approaches. I also try to identify students' strengths, and encourage them to build on those. That builds confidence. Confidence and the habit of evaluating whether you're succeeding are important building blocks for independent learning.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Goals that are small and achievable-- but still meaningful for a student! -- are the key to motivation. I try to find the speed and the level of difficulty at which a student is making progress, but isn't overwhelmed. I also try to help students see how the work they're doing is helping them toward something they care about.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
First, I'd figure out exactly where the student is having difficulty. If they're stuck on a concept, explaining it in a different way, or having them walk through an example, often helps. Often, it's useful to break a complex challenge down into smaller pieces; once they're solid on the pieces, they can ramp up to tackling that challenge as a whole.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
Often, problems with comprehension come when a student is trying to take in too much at once. Encouraging them to slow down and understand each sentence before moving on can help. For technical scientific literature, there's a real art to extracting the important information and ignoring the rest. That's something I teach to my upper-level students.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
An absolute must for me is getting the student doing the skill they want to get better at. I can suggest ways to make the work efficient, but it's the student's active work that makes learning happen. So, active learning is my #1 strategy.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
It's important for a student to find a reason to care about what they're doing. I try to help students connect with the goal that their work is moving them toward. It's also important to show students that they really can succeed in that subject. No matter how helpless a student feels he or she is, there are always pieces of the puzzle that they're already doing right. I point those out, and when I've coached them through mastering another little piece, I point out the progress they're making. Focusing a student's attention on small, immediate goals often helps keep them from being overwhelmed.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
I ask students to explain concepts to me in their own words, and to explain how those concepts can be applied to specific questions or problems. If a student can put an idea into their own words, it's a sure sign of understanding.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Start small. Find the things they're already succeeding at. Get them to focus on each step, so they aren't overwhelmed by the feeling of everything they don't know. With quantitative subjects, I guide students to understand the key concepts on a non-quantitative level. Then the mathematical equations make sense, and they aren't as intimidating anymore.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
The first place I start is by listening. Students are often good guides to what they do and don't need. I've got a lot of experience, so I know where many of the common "roadblocks" come up for students. I'll often ask questions designed to determine whether or not they're stuck in one of these places.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
Everything in tutoring should be adapted to a student's needs. I'm always gauging how well my approach is working, and changing it if it's not being effective. This means being open to dialogue: asking the student what would be most helpful, and checking to make sure that explanations or guidance are working.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
That depends very much on the needs of the student. I rely a lot on visual explanations, but one student might need to be coached through a set of practice problems, while another might want to see me work an example or have a concept explained in a different way than what's in his or her textbook. I try to be flexible.