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Category: English Language Arts

I Have Less; Can I Achieve My Best Test?

achievement gap, testing, SAT, tutoring, education, college, literacy, students,, teaching

How do I ace a test, the SAT, or any standardized test? How can they expect me to know everything? What if I don’t have the skills or the advantages?

They, whether a teacher, professor, ETS (Educational Testing Service), or the College Board, absolutely do not expect you to know everything that could potentially arise on an exam. In fact, that is precisely what they don’t want.

However, an increasingly globalized international climate has advanced educational accessibility for students with disabilities. Additionally, educators and public schools are painfully aware of the educational inequities among subgroups and have enacted policies in the United states to lessen the Achievement Gap, the persistent disparity in educational opportunities due to ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, etc. Many public schools and districts have pursued feasible and affordable reforms, which include picking students up at their homes, extending campus hours to accommodate economically disadvantaged students so they have a place to study and use computers, or facilitating after school peer tutoring.

Nevertheless, there is so much more to do. According to Marina Bolotinikova, author of Harvard Magazine’s article, “FAS’s Inequality in America Initiative,” educational imbalances continue to exist even now in 2017 at even some of the most elite universities, including Harvard itself.

We have people who are looking at inequality across race, gender, and class, but also thinking about the different domains of inequality–education, health, the labor market. We have all this on campus, but they’re not always in conversation…The idea here is to pursue a strategy that’s focused on greater collaboration, some new investment, and more dialogue.

On the other hand, prior to Harvard’s initiative, 21st century educators have supported progress along many avenues to “even the playing field” with the advent of student chromebooks, better cheap wifi, enhancing school libraries with used or donated books, and offering online courses and school approved websites. To be sure, students around the globe and across the country are better equipped “to know” and learn more than in previous eras. And yet, educational inequality persists. Not all students have access to private tutors, good schools, educated parents and technology in the home.

So, how do students with less, born and raised in neighborhoods that are so violent, sometimes they avoid school to avoid getting jumped? How do food insecure, homeless, and/or minority youth do well enough on tests to “pass go” and level up? How do young girls who are prescribed as homemakers, not college students,  transcend barriers? What about the SAT, a test so daunting, even students with every resource at their disposal struggle to hit their target score?

In many cases, the best source for success is you, the high school student.

So, let’s ask some fundamental questions and brainstorm some real-word solutions.

What can I do to build skills in reading comprehension and math?

  1. Read more outside of school assignments. Read a variety of materials: newspapers, novels, graphic novels, biographies.
  • Most library cards are free
  • Schools often have materials on hand in their libraries
  • Print out online publications at school; it’s cost free to you.
  • Visit the College Board for free test taking tips and practice tests
  1. Annotate what you read.
  • Underline main ideas
  • Circle and define new vocabulary in the margins, on a separate sheet of paper or make your own quizlet online
  • Stop every paragraph or two and ask, “What did I just read?”
  1. Explore purplemath or mathisfun, websites that will help you review and clarify:
  • Exponents
  • Arithmetic (PEMDAS)
  • Algebra
  • Coordinate Plane Geometry
  • Geometry
  • Basic Trig

What strategies can I use on multiple choice tests and college entrance exams?

  1. Process of Elimination
  • For each answer choice, ask, “Is it wrong?” If it’s not wrong, do not cross it out. Keep it. The choice may not be great, but it may be the least wrong.
  • Underline the word or words that make an answer choice wrong; then, cross it out.
  • The answer that’s not wrong is the correct answer
  1. Annotate all test questions, whether math or English.
  • Hunt for the most specific words and underline them.
  • Ignore everything else- it wastes your time to read words you don’t need.
  • In the following example, inferred, both, and agree are your key words:

It can be inferred from both passages that the authors would most likely agree that

  1. Don’t do anything you don’t have to do on a multiple choice test.
  • Less is more
  • Keep it simple
  • Let your answer choices guide you, particularly in math
    • Sometimes solving half the problem is all that is required.
  1. Set up a Khan Academy account online and practice for free.

The world of educational opportunity remains a far cry from egalitarian or “equal,” but there are resources available to students of every circumstance. If your school or home doesn’t have what you need, perhaps a bus pass and the public library will. Combined with determination, hard work and basic resources, every student can succeed if you have the desire.

Vocabulary Proficiency for Younger Learners: Conversation and Engagement

#vocabulary #words #parenting #childdevelopment

“Just read!”

“Memorize 100 words by Friday!”

Even though most high school students miserably stare at one another just thinking about these daunting expectations in addition to every other demand of their academic work week, such dictates often reign supreme as the default vocabulary strategies of many educators and parents. Inundating teens with new rapid-fire academic and complex, content-specific words to cram for a multiple choice test may in fact work for some students in the short term. However, genuine comprehension and long term vocabulary retention will remain unattainable if these are the sole methods of vocabulary instruction. According to, “Students Must Learn More Words, Say Studies,” an article written by Education Week’s Sarah D. Sparks, vocabulary knowledge is haphazardly enforced in classrooms and homes, and therefore, largely ineffective.

That informal style led to major discrepancies in both the number and difficulty of vocabulary words, with some teachers discussing only two words a day and others as many as 20. Moreover, because most words were chosen from the stories, they had little connection to other words being taught at the same time and were rarely words that students would need to understand instructions or academic content in later grades.

In fact, “prior studies have shown that students learn words better when they are grouped with related words.” Furthermore, All About Adolescent Literacy’s article, “Developing ‘Student-owned Vocabulary,” clarifies that students must interact with just one word up to 30 times before it becomes second nature. If language acquisition is such a challenge, what can parents and educators do to teach and reinforce basic, academic and discipline specific language that and professions demand?

Start earlier. Playing the procrastination game until 9th grade or high stakes college admissions testing is a catastrophic oversight. Forge environments rich with nuanced vocabulary as soon as your child can say “Dada.” Susan Canizares’ article, “For the Love of Words” in Parent’s Magazine featured on Scholastic.com observes that language acquisition or vocabulary competency begins when children begin walking. “Between the ages of 18 and 36 months, language growth occurs very quickly: babbling becomes more deliberate in tone, and children literally learn new words every day.” At this tender, but monumental age of developmental growth, children have the capacity to interact with thousands of words through listening, speaking, and creative activity. Reading comprehension and written skills tend to develop in kindergarten to second grade. As a result, parents and preschool educators should purposefully model and reinforce “adult” language through conversation, recreation and work with youngsters. Many effective instructional methods are available to boost your younger student’s vocabulary savvy at home, in a preschool Headstart classroom, or at an outdoor 6th grade camp.

  • Read a classic fairy tale or fable, such as Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
  • Ask your child active listening questions; “Why do you think the tortoise won?”
  • Repeat your child’s answer with correct grammar and academic vocabulary: “So you mean since the hare or rabbit was too proud or arrogant and the tortoise persevered, the rabbit napped while the tortoise finished the race.”
  • Paraphrase the first half of the tale and ask your child to summarize the ending.
  1. Use drawings, pictures or everyday objects as conversation starters to supplement vocabulary knowledge.
  • Board games like Monopoly Junior Board Game are wonderful ways to bond with your child and simultaneously combine conversation, visual illustrations and tangible symbols as students move their pieces around the board.
  • Household items, landscapes and infrastructure, walks in the park, a day at the beach, running errands and a number of other places and activities can be leveraged to support everyday and academic language acquisition.
  • Parents model- “Wow, those colorful chrysanthemums or flowers are really eye-catching!”
  • Ask questions- “What’s your favorite chrysanthemum? Why?”
  • Wait for your student’s response- ”I like the orange one because it’s big.”
  • Repeat their child’s answers with corrections- “Oh, so you like the tangerine colored chrysanthemum because it’s larger than the rest. What color is it? What kind of flower is it?”
  • Continue with this line of questioning and engagement until your child demonstrates the desired response.
  1. Encourage your student, particularly as they near kindergarten, to paraphrase your modeled responses in complete sentences!

While “just reading” and memorization will eventually play their roles to some extent, active engagement through listening, speaking, visual supports and kinesthetic or tactile activities are fundamental techniques that will assuredly foster your student’s lifelong pursuit of everyday and academic vocabulary achievement. And the younger parents and educators begin, the better!

Against All Odds- An Effective SAT Essay Introductory Paragraph

#testpreparation #highschool #writing #teaching #tutoring

Hawk Educational Solutions 2016 SAT Essay

Prior to the adoption of Common Core, the No Child Left Behind approach to education reigned for over a decade, “relying too heavily on standardized tests” according to many critics. One of the policy’s greatest deficits was the abandonment of writing curricula throughout the nation’s districts, charter schools, and other Local Education Agencies in order to focus on “teaching to the tests,” all of which were multiple choice. Unfortunately, the 21st century appears to demand effective writing skills, which are trending once again and in high demand, not only by the College Board, the engineers of the SAT, but also by college professors, universities and employers.

Furthermore, given the excruciating competition of college admissions, particularly with respect to top performing Ivy Leagues and the University of California system, 2016 SAT qualifying scores range between 1400-1600 and a formidable score on the new 2016 SAT essay of 7-8 is a must!

So, how can parents, teachers, and students themselves prepare for the SAT essay after the prolonged absence of sufficient public school writing programs?

Familiarize yourself with the SAT Essay directions prior to taking the exam.

Know that the prompt; it will always be the same, except the author and passage will always be unique.

As you read the passage below, consider how Dr. King uses

 

  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

 

Practice reading various test released essay passages, annotating and constructing a brief outline of quotes for a five paragraph analysis.

Craft your introductory paragraph. Let’s use  Dr. Martin Luther King’s, “Beyond Vietnam,”  speech as an example to illustrate how to compose an impressive, emotionally potent introductory paragraph:

I. “Hook” the reader:

  • Poignant observation
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Reference to the Constitution
  • Personal anecdote
  • Quote from the passage
  • Combination of all of the above

 

Example Has the U.S. consistently upheld the civil liberties of every American citizen? Some might question the United States’ credibility as the enforcer of democratic ideals around the world when it has not always defended the Constitutional rights on its own citizens at home.

II. Present a relevant summary of the author’s argument with:

 

  • Title, author and genre (TAG)
  • Powerful quotes from the passage

 

Example: In his 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. argues that the United States, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” has undeniably failed many of its civilians, particularly the poor and African American communities. Furthermore, he claims that such hypocrisy has “crippled” our nation’s ethical and literal health.

III. Establish your thesis:

 

  • Use your outline
  • Answer the SAT Essay Prompt: “Write an essay in which you explain how Martin Luther King Jr. builds an argument to persuade his audience that American involvement in the Vietnam War is unjust.”
  • Use unique verbs- replace uses with maneuvers, applies adopts, employs, etc.

 

Example: Dr. King maneuvers expert emotional appeal or style, and reasoning to build his argument that the US government’s involvement in the Vietnam War is an unjust constitutional violation which Americans must ardently “attack” with free speech to promote a healthy and free society.

Stay tuned for more information about how to build an effective SAT essay outline!

 

Common Core- What’s the Deal?

Parents, teachers, students, and schools in California are in a state of frenzy because the questions are mounting:  What’s the deal with Common Core? What is the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium)? Why weren’t we told sooner? Why are our students boycotting exams or literally throwing up because of the intense, high pressure atmosphere to perform well? Why aren’t districts and teachers prepared? Why were parents informed, in many cases, just two weeks prior to this new standardized test?

Let’s take a deep breath because at this point, there is no need to panic. There are three essentials to know that will restore parents to sanity.

This year’s SBAC, like its predecessor the CST, will not have bearing on college acceptance.

At least not yet. The SBAC was administered last year as a “field test” or test of the test only to a select group of California schools, and neither the results nor the questions were released. This year, although the results will supposedly be released to the public, the SBAC is still scrambling to find “graders,” many of whom are likely unqualified, to score written sections of the exam. The good news- colleges didn’t request CST scores and they’re not requesting SBAC scores. A combination of SAT/ ACT scores, quality college applications and GPA is still the primary determinant of college acceptance and success.

Parents can prepare, somewhat, with students online.

SBAC practice questions are available online athttp://sbac.portal.airast.org/practice-test/.

1. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, click on “Student Interface: Practice and Training Tests,” and sign in as the preset guest.

2. Then, select the appropriate grade level and all of the preset information on the following pages.

3. Once you choose, “Yes, Start My Test,” you’ll begin with question #1 presented on the screen. Once finished, move your cursor to the top left and click next to move to question #2.

4. You must answer every question, or you will not be able to move on.

5. There are some nonsensical pitfalls: the ELA sections don’t always work (the audio, if malfunctioning, will not grant you access to the test) and your results for these practice tests aren’t available. What’s that you say? Yes, you can take the test, but you will not get a score. You and your child can only familiarize yourselves with the testing interface and question types, but will have no reference to test performance.

Curriculum is coming, albeit, painstakingly slowly.

At a snail’s pace, but Common Core curriculum is on the move, no thanks to the SBAC. While the test makers provide example questions, student responses, and performance tasks to teachers and districts, the assignments themselves must be generated by educators. This is a tedious and time consuming process because we have to piecemeal various texts, video clips, and graphic media together to create the documents that accompany the SBAC tasks. In some cases, we actually have to write the articles or short stories that serve as sources. However, there are an increasing number of free resources available online while schools get it together.

Creditable websites such as  http://www.k12reader.com/ allow parents to download a wealth of reading comprehension, spelling, writing, and grammar worksheets and projects that provide answer keys. While we nervously wait for the curriculum to catch up to the exam, parents can get a head start at home. Reading with your child at home, discussing why something is happening in a story or newspaper article, and getting to know the SBAC portal are a start!

Read It Without Weeping: 3 Essentials for the SAT’s Passage-Based Q’s

How many of us loath the stress and pressure of an ever-changing college entrance exam, one that is still necessary for admission into the U.S.’s most prestigious universities, and yet, may or may not determine one’s success in college or life?

Regardless of our antipathy toward the exam, a high score on this daunting test of 2100 or higher “unlocks doors” to veritable success during the college application process. For instance, the average combined SAT score for incoming freshman at UCLA in 2012 was between 2100 and 2200 out of a possible 2400 in combination with a 4.5 GPA or higher. Believe it or not, a score of 2180 demonstrates no more than a handful of mistakes. Until universities are able to dislodge the SAT’s powerful legacy throughout America’s college admission’s history, the SAT is here to stay.

As it is now (changes are due next year), the exam has three primary categories that are segmented into 10 timed sections including an essay: the Critical Reading, Writing, and Math sections.

The passage-based questions within the Critical Reading category present perilous traps for even the advanced reader; therefore, the consistent application of strategy is necessary to achieve as close to an 800 as possible in this section.

The Passage-based Unlocked

1. Questions First- Answers Last

Before reading the passage:

  • Circle only the key works in the question- annotation is necessary!
  • If a line number, word, or phrase is referenced in the question, immediately move to the passage and circle, underline or annotate only the word or lines indicated by the question.
  • If a general question such as the excerpt’s main idea, author’s tone, or purpose is asked, make a written note somewhere at the top of the passage.
  • Avoid reading answer choices before reading the passage– a preview of the incorrect answers may confuse the test taker as he or she reads the passage.

2. Read with the Questions in Mind

Once the questions have been annotated:

  • Be aware of the general idea and the questions you’ve read.
  • Avoid any prior knowledge– stay focused on the author’s perspective of the topic, not any other. The SAT does not consider the test taker’s outside knowledge or opinion, but only that of the author or those of other persons presented in the passage.

3. Process of Elimination is Paramount!

Many test takers who are advanced readers believe they will do well on this section because they achieve high scores in their honors or AP English courses. Unfortunately, the SAT is designed to deceive us all; consequently, consistent strategy is necessary.

  • Avoid selecting an answer without eliminating other answer choices– in many cases, a question will provide two to three choices that may work, but only one is “SAT correct.”
  • Systematically cross out each letter of a wrong answer choice for every question in the test booklet.
  • Eliminate as many as possible.
  • Refer back to the passage if left with two to three choices.
  • Eliminate an additional one to two choices.
  • Hopefully, only the correct choice stands tall above the rest!

5 Tips for Effective ESL Speaking Instruction

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Throughout my 15 years in education, I have confronted many obstacles related to teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to Hispanic students in the United States and Asian learners in the United States and Taiwan as a classroom teacher and private tutor. There are five core tips that an effective educator can apply to ensure the progress of K-12 and adult ESL students in small group courses and individual tutoring sessions.

  • Put your students at ease; mistakes are not only acceptable, but necessary. Leaning a new language is intimidating because the process requires the learner to relinquish their expertise as a native speaker of their language in order to acquire the unknown. Students of all ages often experience humiliation if they make a mistake when attempting to pronounce an English word or answer a question with grammatical accuracy. Dr. Stephen Krashen, professor of linguistics at the University of Southern California, has extensively studied ESL students who “over-monitor,” or attempt to grammatically edit their speech as if they are editing their writing, a process that many linguists believe interferes with students’ ability to speak fluently. Based on his research along with other experts in the field of linguistics, many students “over-monitor” or over-correct themselves, which impedes fluid expression. When students are overly self-conscious, they may tend to skirt embarrassment by correcting every mistake or avoiding speaking altogether. Let your students know up front that progress, not perfection, is the goal; missteps are necessary to aid in the learning process. Assure them that they are free and safe to speak openly without judgment when they are working with you.
  • Correct your students based upon three or fewer target objectives.Set goals with your students and work on three or fewer at a time. If one objective is to use articles, such as “a, an, and the” before nouns, then pause and correct students only on this objective. If another objective is to pronounce the letters “r” and “l” correctly, once again, pause to model the pronunciation once they have a finished speaking. “Over-correcting” your students, interrupting them in mid-sentence or focusing on too many types of inaccuracies will only confuse and potentially alienate your students. Keep it simple by focusing on three clear goals that you have established with your student.
  • Model, repeat, and practice in the target language. Charles Berlitz, founder of the worldwide ESL organization, Berlitz, developed the Direct Method or English immersion method of ESL instruction. While the method is sound in some settings, such as small groups and individual instruction, larger class sizes may not benefit from this method alone; Bilingual education has its merits in larger classrooms where individualized education is not always possible. Nonetheless, as a former ESL instructor and curriculum writer for Berlitz and C2 Education, I observed that the principles of speaking in the target language without reliance upon a student’s native language is frequently an effective approach that directs students away from the crutch of having to translate their native language into English. Effective teachers demonstrate or model the objective in English, and then invite their students to repeat; therefore, students learn to directly associate the English word, phrase, or expression to visuals, concepts and ideas rather than rely on translations that are often inaccurate or overly literal.
  • Engage learners with high interest and culturally relevant content.Familiarize yourself with your students’ interests by asking them about or introducing them to images related to their profession, cultural background, family, travels, hobbies, etc. Possibly integrate maps, YouTube videos, graphic novels, and/or illustrated short fiction or non-fiction excerpts into the learning plans of your students based upon what they desire to discuss. Reading and discussing short narratives or newspaper articles is often a simple, yet engaging way to integrate the practical instruction of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation into lessons. For younger or less experienced learners, short videos, visual images, and illustrated books often stimulate their desire to express their interests. Physically modelling an action and naming it in English is also a memorable way to teach verbs as vocabulary. Students may not always understand every word an instructor iterates, but they will eventually apprehend the general idea and acquire more specific target goals over time when instructors consistently express ideas with visual supports and repeat directives in English.
  • Slow down, be patient and build confidence. Developing a new skill in any field of study that requires intense and focused cognition requires time, hard work, and patience on the part of both the instructor and the student. The teacher is tasked with the responsibility to model appropriate pronunciation, expression, and pace during the course of conversation or discussion. Effective teachers model the pace or speed at which words are spoken and exercise patience as their students adapt to the instructors techniques and expectations. Strategies such as speaking slowly, physically demonstrating the tongue’s position to form the “t” sound versus the “th” sound, and modeling and repeating target goals require energy, patience and encouragement “with a smile.” Stipulating high expectations is imperative, but don’t expect your students to remember any one item that they’ve experienced or practiced only once or twice. Many students may need to interact with a particular objective such as a vocabulary word and its pronunciation up to 30 times before they truly learn how to integrate it into their speech. With time and patience, your students will achieve their goals and become increasingly confident and fluent English speakers.

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