May 132014

Often the children who come for tutoring have temperament traits that make classroom learning difficult. Tutors, because they work one-on-one, can adjust teaching style to accommodate those traits, thus increasing both learning and enjoyment for the student.  One temperament trait to be aware of is activity level; both high and low activity levels can clash with a classroom routine, but a one-on-one tutor (or tutoring parent) can adapt to, and take advantage of, both these temperament traits.  High activity or high energy children need to move as they learn. Incorporate jumping and running with younger students, and balance balls with older students.  This high energy level can help students be very productive when it is properly focused.  Low activity children need time to think about each step in a process, and may need a timer to help them stay on task. A small reward can reinforce finishing a task, as well.  The low activity student can be very thorough and thoughtful as long as they are kept on task.

Apr 302014

A few more tips on working with students with language processing delays:

  • Have the student practice hearing directions and making a picture of them in his or her head before bolting off to carry them out. Work up from 1 task to 3 or 4 linked tasks. Be sure these tasks require the student to move about, both because the child needs to move and because the child needs to be able to remember while moving.
  • Alternate language activities with hands-on building or doing activities.
  • Use color, diagrams, and mind maps (close eyes and picture the task).
  • Give instructions in the order in which they are to be done. “We can play chess after you finish this page” can be confusing. The child may hear, “play chess, finish page.”  Instead, say “After you finish this page we can play chess.”
  • Encourage and model socially positive language such as thank you, please, excuse me, may I. Do not allow rudeness. Explain calmly how it makes others feel, and if the child is able, have him or her repeat the incident using better words which you model.  Of course, be sure to meet even small improvements with warm words and smiles.
  • Gently model and guide the child into using appropriate body language for learning. Older children can be taught that positive body language causes teachers to teach better because the student looks interested.
Apr 292014

Internet Research Made Simpler: (thanks to tutor Sam Roberts for this tip!)

Tutors doing homework support often need to help a student do online research, but students may have trouble distinguishing reliable sites from unreliable in the overwhelming information tidal wave. A possible way to help is by using as the search engine (rather than google or yahoo). This site, built especially for student research, presents only reliable educational sites, making it easier for the student to find the reliable sources he or she needs.

Reading Levels Made Easy:

Sometimes a tutor needs to find out the reading level of a book or article. Free reading level analysis is provided at It’s simple to use; just highlight and copy, or type in, 100 words or more of the text. The program will analyze sentence structure, vocabulary level, words per sentence, etc and tell you the reading level in seconds. You can also use the free online software to build crossword puzzles using any list of words you like.

Comprehension topics and leveled reading passages:

Recommended by PACE, the Professional Association of Colorado Educators, is a free resource for teachers. It focuses on specific comprehension topics and offers a wide variety of leveled passages for practicing reading skills with your students!

Free E-books: (tip from Parent-at-the-Helm, a home school website)

Download thousands of free e-books to your Kindle at  Searchable by category.

Apr 242014

Here are a few simple tips for working with children with language processing delays:

  • Be aware of mispronounced words and garbled sentences. Simply repeat the sentence correctly, with a positive addition such as “yes” or “that’s right,” thus providing correct feed-back without humiliation.
  • Speak slowly and face the child. Say things in more than one way and use short sentences.
  • Make eye-contact with the child.
  • Tap or clap rhythms or names, words, sentences. Accentuate the rhythm of language so the child can hear it.
  • Ensure that the child understands the meanings of key words. A reference sheet with words attached to simple pictures can be helpful.
  • Have the student pretend to be the teacher and explain a story or concept to you as you pretend to be the student.
Apr 092014

The are two basic means of helping a student deal with ADD or ADHD tendencies: helping the student avoid distractions, and helping the student focus through them.  Ideally, a tutor should do both.  Possible ways of avoiding distractions include using ear phones or earplugs to help block auditory distractions, and using a fold-out cardboard “study fence” on the desk or table to block visual distractions. The outside of the fence may be decorated by the student; the inside should be blank.  To avoid contributing distractions yourself, gently teach student to interact without interrupting his or her thought process by keeping explanations short and asking for feedback.

In order to help a student focus through the inevitable remaining distractions, is it very important to remember that ADD does NOT mean that a student cannot focus as well as others, it means that they find it more difficult to CONTROL that focus.  People with ADD and ADHD tendencies are often capable of far more profound concentration than the general populous.  I know one person diagnosed with ADD who cut herself on glass from a broken window, but was so focused on what she was doing had that she didn’t notice that she was hurt, or even that the window was broken, until the blood got in the way of what she was reading.

Ways of helping students with ADD tendencies focus despite distractions often centers on recruiting the students subconscious mind.  If, subconsciously, the student does not want to be thinking about the task at hand, they may well find it impossible to consciously force focus.  On the other hand, if the subconscious is engaged, it allows greater focus and speed of thought than the conscious mind alone can achieve.  Let the student know what to expect during the session and allow negotiations (within practical limits); the student often has the best feel for what they need in order to focus.  Focus on the positive: catch the student doing things right or making improvements, reward them every few minutes (verbal praise, smiles, small prize), and give direction positively (“do this”) rather than negatively (“don’t do that”); if the lesson is unpleasant or discouraging the student will want to be elsewhere, both consciously and subconsciously, and their hyper-focus lets them BE elsewhere without leaving their seat.  It also can help to let the student identify organizational methods that work for them, rather than imposing any “standard” method.  The ADD student’s mind works a bit differently than most, and may do better with an unusual or even unique organization system.

Mar 312014

Some tips for doing your best on tests:

  • Eat protein before test such as fish, eggs, or beans and rice.
  • Sleep the night before, 9 hrs if possible
  • No cramming
  • Take test in same medication state as you studied if possible
  • Use smells to jog your memory—same hand lotion, mints, highlighter, etc. that you smelled while studying.
  • Do test at medium speed; no hurrying, no daydreaming
  • Look for clues within the test to check your answers—the answer to one question might be found in another!
  • Study with the type of test in mind:  essay, short answer, multiple choice
  • Study to understand the material so well you could teach it yourself; just memorizing answers will backfire.
  • Write a test on the material yourself, pretending you are the teacher.
  • Compare notes with a classmate and study together by asking each other questions.
  • If you learn better by listening than reading, consider recording the lectures or having someone read the text into a recording so you can listen to it several times while walking, driving, or resting.
  • If test anxiety is a problem (you forget what you know when you take the test) practice relaxation techniques such as guided imagery, yoga, or just walking.
  • Use memory aides such as the loci technique or mnemonics to remember complex lists or relationships.  Use colored highlighters to color and frame words you need to know.
  • Afterward:  do damage control if needed (self-advocate for re-test, extra credit, etc) Let the teacher know this grade is important to you.
Mar 272014

Both tutors and parents often find themselves involved in homework support.  Homework can frustrate both student and parent, but all involved may find it encouraging to understand that homework is not a test; it is a chance to practice a skill.

Good teaching entails modeling (I do it)  followed by assisted practice (we do it) and finally mastery (you do it).  Modeling can occur beautifully in the classroom, but assisted practice is harder.  That’s where homework comes in, so it’s appropriate to assist at whatever level the student requires in order to do the practice correctly.  After all, incorrect practice only makes things worse. If the tutor or parent is supporting at a level that feels uncomfortable, it’s a good idea to write a note to the teacher explaining what supports were used and why.

Help from a tutor or parent usually means the student spends less total time doing homework, because the person assisting makes sure the student doesn’t get stuck. . . and after guided practice, that is usually the person who hears the student say, “I get it now; let me do it myself!”

May you have many such moments.

Mar 182014

More examples of questions that help students learn to use the information they already have to problem-solve in new situations:

11. Why did that happen?
12. Can you test that idea with an experiment?
13. How will you know if that works?
14. How do you know that’s true?
15. Where could you find more information?
16. Why do you think that?
17. Is that always true?
18. Explain what you mean by that.
19. Give me an example.

. . . and of course the classic:

20. Tell me more.

Mar 142014
When considering a students sensory comfort, don’t forget the sense of touch.  Many good lessons have been ineffective because a student was so irritated by a tag in his or her shirt, or shoes that hurt, or a runny nose, that listening and focusing on the lesson was impossible.  Is the room too cold or too hot?  Are the items the student touches pleasant to him or her?  We use wooden dominos for math because some students react negatively to plastic ones.  We use real money to count because plastic play money doesn’t have the same weight and surface feel.  How does the pencil or pen feel in the student’s hand?  Picking a writing instrument that feels nice is crucial to handwriting success.  Some students cringe from the scratch of a pencil on paper, while others love that tactile feedback.  Some “writing-phobic” students will happily practice handwriting if given a smooth flowing pen, especially if it’s paired with colored paper that doesn’t glare.
If the student appears too sleepy, too agitated, or otherwise not at optimum alertness level, spend some time exploring the environment with them, with all the senses.  Not only will your session be more productive, but the student gains valuable insight into ways to self-adjust the environment to make learning easier.
Mar 022014

Older children with ADD and ADHD tendencies may develop coping mechanisms, especially in school, which give the appearance of focus on the topic at hand without the substance.  As a tutor, be aware that an attentive gaze does not necessarily mean that the student understands or is even aware of what you are saying.  This is not a display of disrespect or a refusal to work, it is simply that the student has learned that he or she cannot provide the same type of focus as other students seem to (though students labeled ADD are often capable of even greater focus than their peers in the right circumstances), and tries to keep teachers happy anyway.

A tutor needs to make sure that the student actually does understand, but it is vitally important to be non-critical and pleasant when doing so.  The nature of the focus such a student is capable of provides them with a means of escape without ever leaving the room, and a critical or stressful environment will only drive them further away mentally.  Even a student with a strong conscious desire to learn may well respond subconsciously to a hostile or stressful environment with flight into hyper-focus on anything except the lesson that is causing him or her pain.

I have found that working with students with ADD tendencies who have previously experienced significant emotional trauma related to education is not unlike socializing feral cats. First, accept that they assume you are the bad guy.  Make absolutely sure that you do not cause additional fear.  Then start building trust, and realize that trying to rush the process can put you back at square one or worse.  The only thing a child (or cat) learns from someone they don’t trust is basic survival techniques.  If you want more than that, you must first build trust.