I've been a lot of things in my life. A physical scientist. A social scientist. A teacher. A professor. A computer programmer. I read. I listen. I question. I share. I can do all of these things -- and do them well -- because I have worked hard at my education and I continue to learn. If you want to realize your dreams, you need to work hard as well. I can help.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor - Bachelors, Education
Graduate Degree: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor - Masters, Science education, Psychology
Dogs, Running, Reading, SciFi, Web development
Elementary School Reading
Elementary School Science
High School Physics
Middle School Science
Technology and Computer Science
Q & A
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
Becoming an independent learner is one part knowing and one part believing. A student needs to know she can master what she wants to learn, which may likely involve first demonstrating and explaining concepts and skills, but needs to move beyond to the student being able to work independently of assistance. It also involves more generalized skills for learning that apply to any area, such as study and time management skills. Finally, she needs to believe she can succeed on her own. She needs to have successes in learning to give her the confidence to investigate on her own, and she needs to be able to examine what interests her and discover what new knowledge might help her understand those interests better.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Nothing succeeds like success, and the more a student can be helped to achieve the results they desire on their own, the more that success will mean. Having goals and achieving them is also a powerful motivator, particularly when those goals are both short term (to readily track progress and gain feedback on success) as well as long term (as something for those short-term goals to build towards). Finally, learning about something in the context of their interests is far more likely to keep them engaged and learning than something that they see has no relevance for what they like to do or hope to do in the future.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
No skill or concept exists in isolation. Often, examining the broader context can help a student tie in well-understood ideas to the one giving him difficulty and lead him to a better understanding. Breaking a skill or idea into smaller steps or ideas can also be beneficial. Not only can the difficult idea be too much for someone to take in all at once, but trying to "dissect" the idea might show aspects that are well-understood and others that are not. Finally, models, metaphors, or analogies -- particularly those that might link the difficult idea to one that the student understands well -- provide a different perspective on an idea that can assist the student in seeing the idea from several "directions" at once.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
There are both the language/procedural skills and the more cognitive, higher order skills that may need to be addressed. You can't get to the meaning of a reading if you are having trouble with vocabulary or with grammar. Students just learning English might have problems as well with idioms or other English conventions, and these may interfere with comprehension. In addition, there are the higher order skills such as being able to identify key ideas in a paragraph. They may be having trouble with a specific genre or author's voice. Sometimes it may be an issue of lack of familiarity with the topic of the reading. Students need to have these higher order, generalizable skills that they can apply to any text they read. They are skills, like spelling, vocabulary building, and grammar, that can be learned.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
Once we have had a chance to talk about goals and needs, it's time to get down to specifics. The first thing I like to do with a student having difficulty with a topic is to pose problems or questions and let the student try to answer them initially without support. I'll ask them to write out what they are thinking as they work on an answer and even "think aloud", talking about their problem-solving process. Helping students break down a question and the process they take to solve it can help identify specific problems that they may have in mastering the topic they are studying. By looking at a number of questions using the same process, I can usually get a sense of the specific difficulties a student may be having.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
The more a subject can be related to a student's interests, the easier it will be to get that student to engage in learning that subject. Bringing in real world contexts can show the relevance of what the student needs to learn. Also, quite often a lack of interest is a cover for frustration and anxiety due to a lack of success. Helping a student master a topic -- in particular, helping them demonstrate an independent mastery of the subject -- can also roll over into increased engagement in learning about the topic.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
Primarily, I would look to the context in which the student will need to demonstrate understanding outside of the tutoring sessions. If they are being tutored for a class, then I would need to see how they perform on tasks similar to what their teacher would give them. If they are being tutored for a standardized test, then performance on a practice test would be a critical measure. I do see a need to go beyond, though, in order to help the student continue to be successful. Some of the best teaching strategies involve students teaching other students and having a student demonstrate to me that they can teach me back what they have learned can illustrate just how well they have mastered the topic. Devising problems and questions that extend beyond the scope of what you have covered with them can also give insight into just how well the student grasps the subject.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Praise alone can be disastrous if the student can't back up what messages you have been giving. Feedback on success needs to be timely and specific. Opportunities for success also need to come quickly when a student is having trouble so that you can help them see past the trouble and realize they are capable. As a student improves, what you praise them for needs to cover larger portions of a subject. They still need frequent feedback, but success at this level needs to become "commonplace" and expected. Getting rewards for what you've mastered can actually have a detrimental effect in that it cheapens the meaning of the reward.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
By asking, first of all. By listening closely to what the student's goals are, what he sees as his difficulties and competencies, and by getting feedback from grades, parents or whatever source is provided. Once that context can be established, it becomes more meaningful to looking specifically at the topics and skills he wants to focus on. Observing how a student approaches and tries to solve a problem or answer a question can illustrate strengths and weaknesses. It's also no time for me to remain passive. I need to be actively listening and engaging with the student as they work through those initial problems to try to identify exactly what is causing any problem.