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Category: Parenting

College Preparation: Nature, Nurture or Somewhere In Between

Development, Brain Growth, Nature vs Nurture, education, tutoring, teaching, parenting, college readiness, test prep, cognitition

Nature vs Nurture

Is it nature or is it nurture? Every so often we meet a student who appears to have it all. She seems naturally gifted in every sense: the captain of the varsity tennis team, a Calculus BC mathlete not to mention her high school’s poet laureate, and the first chair violinist. Most would assume she is innately adept at everything, a person who will succeed in any endeavor regardless of circumstance.

Why? Because she was “born with it.” Nature, right?

Not so fast.

MedicineNet, an online publication that features doctors, psychologists and other healthcare providers, suggests an alternative understanding. According to its recent article,  “Nature vs Nurture: Is It In Our Genes Or In Our Environment,

In the context of the nature vs. nurture debate, ‘nature’ refers to biological/genetic predispositions’ impact on human traits, and nurture describes the influence of learning and other influences from one’s environment.

Nurture or one’s environment refines and molds the human brain as a student matures from gestation through adolescence. Whether a student is “born with” higher or lower levels of cognition, environment plays a crucial role in influencing cerebral development during an individual’s formative years.

Historically, nature and nurture in the context of human intelligence and growth have been ceaselessly pitted against one another as incompatible adversaries. For decades, scientists and psychologists insisted that those who are “gifted and talented” have been gifted and talented from day one; those students who fail to show signs of youthful genius never will.

For example, The Time’s of Higher Education’s 1997 essay, “Nature’s Defeat of Nurture,” contends that nature or genes dominate an individual’s growth, aptitude and behavior based on twin studies. Several twins, two children born at the same birth, raised in similar if not the same environment, formed disparate personalities and exhibited differing traits throughout their lives. Therefore, the foremost psychologists in this article argued, “…the common shared environment – the family, the neighborhood, the parents’ income and education, their way of raising children – has no effect on the development of personality.” However, in light of recent analyses, this interpretation has largely been proven inconclusive.

Subsequent studies have since revealed that environment is indeed a powerful player in the brain growth game, even when individuals are raised in parallel environments. According to a 2013 NCBI study of human behavior, researchers  deduced the following:

There was general agreement that everybody’s behavior is influenced to varying degrees by both genetic and environmental factors but deterministic accounts of causation, except in exceptional circumstances, were rejected.- National Center for Biotechnology Information

In short, genetic fixity or rudimentary determinism is not the sole or even primary contributor to a one’s intellectual, personal or creative makeup.

Nature and Nurture

Today, psychologists and educators have discovered “nature’s partner is nurture.” Nature is not nurture’s bullish foe, but rather, nurture is nature’s encouraging mentor. Thus, nurture plays a significant role in any student’s intellectual, social-emotional and creative development. Our superstar tennis champion, mathlete-poet, and violinist has most certainly experienced a supportive learning environment both at home and in school, which has expeditiously nurtured her innate talents and skills.

So, how do hereditary (nature) and cultivated (nurture) traits engineer the academic success and college achievement of diverse students?

We are all born with our initial cognitive potential and family/ community resources; our students are born of their parents genes and into their family’s socioeconomic status. Consequently, some will have a head start due to the circumstances of their privilege; others will experience far fewer advantages as they leap from life’s “starting blocks.”

Nonetheless, nature and nurture coexist. As such, there are abundant ‘free of charge” resources available to all students who range in age, learning style, and inherent ability. Therefore, educators and families should foster “nurturing” environments that will support any student’s university preparation at little to no monetary cost.

Pre-K to 5th Grade- Start Em’ Young!

  1. READ, READ, READ (Nurture, Nurture, Nurture)

*Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library  offers free books to low income students around the world. Check your local area for availability

*The local library is your friend. If your branch doesn’t have your book, they can order it from another location at no cost to patrons

  1. Additional Free Help for Parents
  • Boys and Girls Clubs provide educational, social and other developmental skills coaching
  • Khan Academy (all ages) is a free online resource that hosts numerous learning programs from English and math instruction to SAT help
  • Friends, family and trusted neighbors can also create the nurturing community young students need. If parents struggle with Common Core math, maybe an older sibling who’s already successfully completed the course can jump in!

Middle School- Get Ready!

  1. Enter Enhanced Digital Learning
  • Quill.org is an excellent free online resource for grades 1-9 writing and grammar coaching, lessons and projects
  • iCivics by Common Sense Education, appropriate for grades 6-12, assists teachers, students and parents as they investigate local, state and federal laws, rights, responsibilities and government functions through online interactive games, projects and puzzles
  • Get-the-Math,  another free online opportunity, introduces middle school learners to real life math scenarios, which encourage students to think beyond the textbook and appreciate the ways in which math applies to music, architecture, video game creation and civil engineering
  1. Rapid Brain Development
  • While mood swings and difficult behavior are afoot in the lives of  middle school youth who have been stricken by the onset of puberty, changes in behavior and personality have recently been attributed more to rapid brain development rather than pure hormonal mutiny (Nature)
  • In school and at home methods that sustain students in this challenging developmental stage in healthy ways include:

*Positive Reinforcement– Clearly state what a student is doing well in the moment (it remains ill advised to toss a piece a candy in a kid’s direction every time he does his homework)

*Confidence and Team Building Activities– Rock climbing, hiking, trust falls, scavenger hunts, setting small goals and accomplishing them, arts and crafts, or simply carving out time to listen and suspend judgment are just some activities that promote self-esteem and reduce angst

*A little TLC  or “tender loving care” goes a long way. A “Tween” is on her path to self-discovery while her brain’s prefrontal cortex, the logical command center, battles its amygdala, the emotional vortex of the “lizard brain,” the brain’s most primitive part. Let the girl wear her earbuds and have some down time. We’ll all need it once “teenagedom” is in full swing.

High School and the Road to University

Stay tuned for my next installment about “nurturing” college bound high school students as they prepare for a competitive future through journaling, test preparation, nutrition, internships, and time management, among other techniques.

In truth, not every student will become a hybrid of Einstein meets tennis champion, but educators and families can all work together to build a safe academic space for all students where they will “grow into” their gifts and talents as they mature into professional adults.

The Holidays: 4 Tips for a Family Fun Education

holidays, K-12, students, Comics, Avengers, DC Comics, education, parents, museums, zoos, higher order thinking, critical thinking

Holidays or “Holidaze?”

Many of the families I serve wrack their brains, “What can I do with my kids over holidays like Veterans Day, Thanksgiving break, Winter break, President’s’ Day,  Ski Week (especially if they don’t ski), Spring break and the whopper of them all, Summer Break?”

The list of weeklong or “weeks’ long” vacations seems to multiply and drag on each year, so parents more often than not scramble to find adequate child care and carve out quality family time that has some academic merit. Why are they so anxious? What’s the big deal?

Their primary concern- “I just can’t let my student fall behind”- literally keeps some parents up at night. Inevitably, K-12 students will return to school, readjusting to an early start, rigorous long days and considerable homework all over again. Yet, parents and educators legitimately don’t want students to suffer from “severe brain death” over extended vacations. So how can parents and caregivers prevent their youth from the proverbial “mental break” on break?

Step 1: Do not be alarmed. The Holidays are A-okay.

The youthful brain is undergoing explosive development, hormonal overdoses during puberty and what I often refer to as “attitude dysfunction.” It may not feel like it, but this is normal. All phases will pass, even “the terrible two’s and three’s” and teenagedom.

 

Step 2: Be Proactive. Get Offline and Maximize Holiday Hands On Time.

The proactive parent or caretaker has to be creative to rescue their adolescent’s education and secure active engagement other than the gaming abyss of “World of Warcraft” or “Resident Evil 7.” Supervised online activity is fine some of the time, but offline activities are fundamental for bonding, creativity and simple experience in the world.

If your student is not the prodigious journalism major or avid novel reader, try tossing some graphic novels or comic books their way. Kids of all ages love Marvel’s Avengers or DC ComicsBatman, so why not provide them with some movie context and borrow the comic book backstories at the library? Star Wars has has graphic novels, puzzles, coloring books, and legos! Explore the story of Han Solo, piece together or color a signature scene from the Empire Strikes Back, and create your own Lego Death Star as a family.

 

Step 3: Fun Holiday Outdoor Family Time Is Worth the Effort.

Plan adventures with a clandestine educational twist; your kids don’t have to know they’re “learning” and enjoying at the same time. Outings to zoos and museums or scoping out local hiking trails, rock climbing gyms and botanical gardens are host to optimal experiences and reflections. As a family, you can describe the numerous features, evaluate what you liked most and reflect on new information from the name of plant species to climbing gear. Usually around the holidays, community events pop up all over town like Christmas tree lightings, Jewish Heritage Events, and Kwanza Cultural Celebrations, which also host a plethora of critical thinking and historical knowledge. Most are generally low cost, but rich in academic content. In fact, every year, San Diego’s free two day December Nights event celebrates the Christmas tradition in addition to the international fare, customs and faiths with various musical performances, food booths and carnival rides.

 

Step 4: Ask and You Shall Receive Holiday Higher Order Thinking.

Regardless of which activity you choose, the proactive parent constantly sparks dialogue and asks questions during and after a family escapade.

During an event, parents can initiate basic comprehension and higher order thinking skills, such as application, synthesis and evaluation of experiences and information, by asking the following questions:

  1. Describe what you see, smell, taste, feel, and hear?
  2. What’s happening or has happened so far?
  3. Can you describe the procedure you’re using and/or the sequence of events? (from building a Lego planet to the events unfolding in a comic)
  4. What is this character or individual doing and why is he or she doing it?
  5. What is the objective or goal of the character, your project or the celebration? Explain its importance.

 

After an event, the time for reflection not only activates critical thinking, but long-term recall and memory:

  1. Summarize what happened.
  2. What was the most enjoyable aspect or part?
  3. What went well?
  4. What would you improve?
  5. Evaluate or rate the experience. What were the finer points and which would you change? Why?

 

Even the slightest flicker of creativity, enthusiasm and adventure can ignite memorable experiences and educational stimuli. Explore, attend free or low cost excursions and consistently ask questions; parents might be surprised what they learn from their students!

 

College Planning 2017; It Just Got Real

University, College Planning, academics, College Campus, College Planning,

The College Planning Saga

How do we know the college planning season is upon us? When the phone starts ringing off the hook! Concerned parents on the other end are desperately seeking a strategy, any strategic means by which to navigate the university application maelstrom.

“My son’s a junior. He’s a 4.2 GPA student, and such a good kid, but he struggled to perform on the SAT. He finally did alright, but he’s not sure what he wants to study or what colleges will take him. I just don’t know, but I know he doesn’t want someone making his decisions for him. What should I do?” As college planning season quickly ensnares panicked parents, high school juniors and seniors struggle to access the college admissions guidance they need.

Even in affluent public school districts, many high school administrators hope students will just “figure it out” on their own. Unfortunately, lack of funding is the frequent culprit. As a result, high school college counselors across the US are overburdened with an average of 436 students per individual counselor according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and a 2013-2014 U.S. Department of Education survey, which is nearly double the recommended 250 students per one counselor ratio. Most public high school counselors do their best to meet with students once or twice in a semester, leaving parents who haven’t attended university in decades terrified for their students who are unprepared to dodge the treacherous landmines of college admissions.

Daunting issues include soaring tuition and living expenses, selecting the right school and major of study, completing scholarship and FASFA applications, and the lengthy college essay process. Despite its difficulties, college acceptance within reach!

The Right College Planning

Not every student requires a personal college counselor. As long as your student possess a combination of the following characteristics and resources, enlisting additional help may not be necessary.

The Checklist

Your student:

___ Is intrinsically motivated

___ Has access to consistent, quality college counseling at school

___ Has an available parent, guardian or caretaker who is willing and able to research current college planning metrics

___ Has a good working rapport with his or her parent or primary caretaker

Some students will need personal college guidance. If your student requires or lacks the following, hiring a reputable and qualified college planner who is an experienced educator is a plus. (In many cases, credentialed teachers make the best college planners; they are not only professionally trained, but they also interact with high school students far more than administrators and keep up to date on college requirements and processes.)

The Checklist

Your student:

___ Requires hands on assistance and step by step guidance

___ Has limited college counseling opportunities at school

___ Does not have access to sufficient college planning resources at home

___ Experiences difficulty communicating or working with parents to achieve goals

Although many teens continue to respond to their parents advice and guidance, others are often at odds with their caretakers in the waning days of their high school careers; a combination of hormones and the youthful yearning to be free from parental restrictions can strain the college scouting partnership. According to the Kid’s Health’s article, “Butting Heads,” “The primary goal of the teen years is to achieve independence. To do this, teens must start pulling away from their parents — especially the parent whom they’re the closest to.” Without an interdependent and respectful relationship between parent and teen, such a duo is likely to accomplish little progress, which is not an option when its crunch time; deadlines are non-negotiable and quality applications must meet if not exceed standards for the competitive edge.

Effective parental college guidance is a viable option if a parent can navigate the current college application maze, doesn’t work grueling hours outside of the home, and possesses a working rapport with his or her young scholar. Otherwise, there are other viable options; seeking the support of a professional educator and college planner to lighten the load and secure success is just one!

In It to Win It: Long-term Test Prep

test prep, tutoring, college, higher education, college admissionsClearly, parents want the best for their children. Unfortunately, many hope for “quick fixes” and short term solutions to catapult their student into test taking stardom. As the college admission season quickly closes in on our high school juniors, many parents still wait to the last minute to plan for crucial college entrance exams. According to Top Universities, “While some students do thrive on last-minute ‘cramming,’ its widely accepted for most of us, this not the best way to approach an exam.” As a test prep provider, I frequently receive requests from parents whose students “just need to score high enough for an athletics scholarship” or reach eligibility for their “dream” engineering college like Harvey Mudd; “Can you get my kid to a perfect score over a weekend? How about in a month?” Unfortunately, unless your student is already nearing his or her ideal score, the answer is a blunt “no.” The reality is that genuine progress requires patience, time and hard work.

In most cases, students are not natural born standardized test takers. In fact, many who need additional help require prolonged investment in personalized instruction, resources, and practice. The SAT and ACT, for instance, are not straightforward exams; they are designed to trick, fool and “weed out” university hopefuls from the competitive pool of potential applicants. College entrance exams are brutal, cruel, and purposefully deceitful, so if students are not already academically strong, they will not meet the necessary score unless they have access to substantial test preparation.

Six Successful Test Prep Tips

1.Avoid large classes through major test prep companies and universities. These are expensive and ineffective, particularly since they only offer  “cookie cutter,” “one size fits all” approaches. The vast majority of attendees walk away with more questions and fewer answers.

2. Go with one-on-one instruction. Find your local highly rated entrepreneurial instructor; they generally offer better service and results at a lower cost. Google, Thumbtack and Yelp are all good places to start!

3. Invest in two to six months of exam preparation in advance of the target test. Meet with an experienced instructor or tutor, ideally a credentialed teacher who can actually teach, once or twice per week for one to two hours. Lessons should be consistent or students won’t retain new content and strategy.

4. Prioritize exam preparation. Its high stakes, so lets act like it. Too often, other interests get in the way. Sports, homework, part-time jobs or even travel often supersede test prep. If these don’t allow for regular practice and meetings with your instructor, something has to change or the score won’t!

5. Practice, Practice, Practice. In addition to instruction, students must take the initiative. Ideally, practice should happen daily, but three times a week is sufficient in most cases. Check out Kaplan’s 8 Practice Tests for the SAT 2017: 1,200+ SAT Practice Questions for independent practice

6. Kindly, but firmly hold your students accountable. “No pain, no gain!” Having worked with teens for over 18 years, excuses arise. Although some are legitimate of course, others are deployed to merely “get out” of doing the work, which is imperative for improvement!

For most students, getting results is far from easy. Dedication on the part of students, parents and teachers must be present to ensure exam day success.

 Stay tuned for the next installment of free college admissions tips!

An Educator’s Perspective on Discrimination and Bullying

An Interview on Discrimination and Bullyingbullying, discrimination, education, teacher, parents

LOTR (Love on the Regular): We know that discrimination, bias and bullying is on the rise in school-age children, especially with increasing use of social media and the internet. Recent reports show that in 2016 as many as 4400 school aged children committed suicide, many as a direct result of bullying. This is a national crisis. What are some of the effective strategies you have seen employed in schools to reverse this trend?

Juliet: Well for one, ignoring an act of bullying is never acceptable. Time and time again I’ve witnessed teachers “ignore” the behavior, whether it’s name calling, pushing and shoving or backpack stealing. Some adhere to this belief because they believe that failing to acknowledge cruelty will somehow discredit it. This is false; by ignoring, we permit, and permissive educators and parents mistakenly create the proverbial “monster.” Cessation of the behavior must happen immediately and directly, whether in the classroom, on the playground or in the home. As an educator, I respond by immediately walking over to the student performing the bullying and calmly ask for his or her help with anything I can think of: passing out or collecting papers, writing homework on the board, moving books, etc., in order to diffuse the situation. I quickly check in with the harassed student quietly to avoid further humiliation, restate directions to the class as a whole to maintain on-task behavior, and then I briefly chat with my new helper, “So what’s going on? How are you feeling today? Everything alright?” Shockingly, simply asking a student how he is enables him” to drop his guard” and feel compassion from a caring and concerned adult, which he likely doesn’t receive often. I then clearly state that we must discuss “the problem” and we  “make an appointment” to continue the conversation at the appointed time. The discussion usually includes me asking a series of questions, such as “what happened,” “what if it had been you,” “did I miss something,” “what can we do next time.” and so on. Eventually, we discuss solutions and alternatives. With most students, this strategy is effective, but with others, parents and other school officials need to craft and implement a behavioral support plant or BSP to facilitate desired interactions and behaviors. Overall, I’ve learned over the years that those who bully are usually in tremendous pain; they have suffered bullying, abuse or negligence in one or many forms, generally from primary care givers. As an educator, if I can build rapport with my “troubled” students, I can demonstrate, thereby teaching them, how to give and receive the compassion they so desperately seek.

LOTR: What is your advice to parents if they suspect their child is being discriminated or bullied?

Juliet: Parents should approach their children delicately, but directly, perhaps by asking how things are going in school in general to start, and as the conversation develops, hone in on specifics. Of course, listening well and paying attention to their child’s body language is always advisable; a defensive or frightened posture, hunched shoulders and failure to make eye contact may indicate much more than words. Whether or not enough information is gathered in this context, contact the appropriate school officials and discuss your suspicions and the school’s policy. If necessary, teachers will assist with feedback, observations and any documentation of the suspected incidents. In many cases, bullying is undetected, and as previously stated, ignored. Parents should make school officials aware and encourage paying closer attention to their student and any interactions with the potential bully. A one time offense may be handled between teacher ad student. However, if systematic bullying persists, teachers should immediately intervene, carefully document the event in an incident report or referral, and notify the right school officials who should then notify parents to conduct a Behavior Support Plan meeting. Of course, continuing to show much needed “TLC” to the affected child is a must during the process. In short, get involved and be proactive. Further, rather than wait for the first instance of bullying, initiate the discussion with school officials prior to the start of school about policies and procedures, and discuss these with your child at home. Hold school personnel accountable with a simple phone call, routine conferences or recommending a Behavioral Support Plan for the student who is engaging in the bullying, and of course, do whatever is necessary and ethical to protect your child from physical harm.

LOTR: What is your advice to parents who suspect that their child is the one doing the discriminating or bullying?

Juliet:  As I mentioned earlier, youth who engage in discrimination and/or bullying have often been bullied, neglected or witnessed this behavior, generally more than once from primary caregivers. Teens who bully often act out of insecurity because parents are less involved in their student’s life, or too permissive in allowing students their too much decision making freedom and not enough corrective feedback about treating others justly and fairly. On the other hand, in extreme, but tragically common circumstances, some parents are excessively punitive if not abusive. In either case, older students are likely to “act out” because they have received or observed similar treatment. Younger students may experience similar adversity, or they may just merely imitate what they’ve seen adults, older peers or classmates and friends do and say. As a solution, parents may want to examine their own behavior around their younger children, and how, as parents, they respond to difficult situations, and their students needs and behavior. Parents may also do well to observe the actions of older siblings or friends that directly impact their child. Cliche as it may sound, toddlers and elementary school children are the most easily influenced; therefore, their primary caretakers, educators and friends should be “good influencers” or positive role models. In sum, parents should take time out every day to speak with their kids, hang out and enjoy everything from the fun family day at the park to handling the mundane humdrum of preparing and cleaning up after meals. As any good teacher, parents should model desired do’s and don’ts, and point out considerate and kind behavior like holding doors for the elderly, throwing trash or recycling into to the correct bins, or simply smiling and greeting acquaintances. Finally, in recognizing that youth who bully are often our most at-risk, in-need children, adults should pay particular attention to the antecedents or “triggers,” as well as their child’s emotional state prior to overly aggressive or cruel behavior toward others. If parents and teachers can know what “sets off” a student who is easily triggered, appropriate preventative measures can be strategically implemented: a front row seat in the classroom or a special classroom role that only that student has “the honor” and responsibility to fulfill. At home, simply redirecting while expressing understanding of an increasingly frustrated or hostile child to choose from two or three options can often defuse or prevent a confrontation, “I know you’re frustrated that Johnny’s reading your book. You can play with Legos, blocks or puzzle pieces while your brother reads your book. Then you can swap.” Finally, checking in as many times a day as is appropriate and letting your child know that you love them, unequivocally and unconditionally, are two of the simplest, and yet, most powerful acts of love that resist bullying I have ever experienced.

LOTR: What can we do as parents to teach young children about acceptance and diversity? And at what age do you feel it is appropriate for parents to start having these types or conversations or employing these tools?

Juliet: All of the above and the younger the better. Obviously, a discussion about kindness and acceptance, and ultimately, appreciation of our differences, with a pre-schooler will be notably different from that of a rebellious teen, but the message is the same; diversity makes us the beautiful cultural mosaic of our colorful democracy, and yet, for all our striking uniqueness of shade and shine, we are all remarkably similar; we are all human beings worthy of the dignity and respect we expect from others. Continuing the daily conversation, visiting diverse libraries like the downtown San Diego branch, attending cultural fairs and festivals such as December Nights, feeding the homeless at a soup kitchen or volunteering at the Salvation Army, and attending a school of students who descend from various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds are all beneficial as long as attentive and compassionate parents and educators lead the charge!

LOTR: In addition to your many accomplishments, you are a musician and song-writer. The benefits in music education are expansive. Children who listen to and learn music have higher test scores, enhanced language development, Increased IQ and even finer-tuned motor skills. What other benefits have you seen and how would you recommend parents incorporate more music into their child’s lives?  

Juliet: The benefits of music are infinite: the enhancement of creativity, self-expression, positive “venting” or channeling frustrations and the pure expression of joy to name a few. Music and a variety of it is a must- I recommend classical, world music, “censored” or PG hip hop, reggae, oldies, blues, jazz, gospel, Motown, singer-songwriter and folk, some choice rock and roll, and electronic down-tempo, and of course, joyful joyful House music! Listening and playing music for the purposes of creation, enjoyment, dance, concentration, contemplation or just “feeling” feelings provides a vital wellspring of nutrients for the soul, for both our children and ourselves. Exploring diversity in music also lends itself to the discovery and appreciation of its diverse creators’ backgrounds, personal experiences, talents and passions. Music provides an invaluable teaching tool that validates and showcases our many unique backgrounds and yet highlights our essential “sameness;” we are all human beings who appreciate beauty, feel emotions, desire to be heard and seek love and acceptance. Through an eclectic selection of music, diversity remains relevant, teachable and profound. Parents should play music and play it often, discuss it, dance to it with their kids, or simply relax and enjoy.

LOTR: Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom with us today. We sincerely appreciate your time.

Love on the Regular is a San Diego blog created to inspire parents who have a desire to raise their children to grow up to be good humans. “We explore the virtues of Empathy, Compassion, Kindness, Bravery, Courage and Love.” Please visit Love on the Regular at http://loveontheregular.com/ for more about the organization and its mission.

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!

The Big, the Bad- The Monolithic Test Prep Class

IMG_1692The False Promises

Out of panic and pressure that their children will be “left behind” during the college admissions process, families often fall victim to the mega-test prep firm’s large class instructional package “deals.” Universities and private companies alike employ 100’s of instructors who guarantee “that students scoring in the 500’s will get in the 750 range,” according to Derek Briggs, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Education as quoted in the Wall Street Journal’s article, “Do SAT Prep Courses Help Test Takers?”

Simply put, there are no studies that support such promises, particularly in large class settings of novice test takers.

The Rough Reality

Rest assured, high performers excel in any environment. On the other hand, the vast majority of learners require skill-based teaching in addition to “one size fits all” test prep strategies. The College Success Network suggests that large class settings of over eight students do not yield the miraculous results universities and private test prep companies advertise:

With large group classes, students are exposed to test-taking tips and take multiple practice tests, but rarely have the opportunity for specific feedback or one-to-one coaching on areas of weakness.

Instructors not only lack the time to address individual needs in a large class, but they are also ill-equipped to provide fundamental grammar, reading comprehension, writing and math skills instruction that so many college hopefuls require.

The Colossal Cost

Unfortunately, the best prices these programs offer are large class strategy cram sessions that cost upwards of a $1,500 according to a New York Times 2014 study. In addition to the extravagant expense, students often leave more “deadlocked” than they were when they arrived; their confidence has been proverbially “shot” since their scores stagnate, and in some cases, drop because the courses fail to teach actual skills.

How would I know? Ironically, after all of the money they’ve spent, I host a gamut of one-on-one and small group test prep students who hire me after they’ve endured these torturous programs, having escaped with little else than a deflated sense of dignity.

Who These Companies Are

Generally, the owners establish successful businesses through expensive and enhanced marketing and highlight the success of their top test-takers.

Instructors are hired on the basis of their test score performance, not on their ability to deliver or explain difficult content to high school learners. Author Jared Wells explains in his LearnSpeed article, The Evolving Business of Tutoring and Test Preparation,” that test prep instructors are ultimately not prepared or skillful teachers.

By default, and without proper training and support, well intentioned instructors explain what the student fails to understand…The problem is that this model largely does not solve the underlying cause of why students struggle in the first place.

In a nutshell, large test prep companies that offer large class test prep demonstrate a good business model, rarely a quality education.

Think “Smaller”

At the major firm, expect one-on-one coaching to cost between $100 and $200 per hour! While the tutors are compensated very little, the bulk of the “tuition” pays the company’s overhead, executives and shareholders.

So how can families access qualified and affordable one-on-one and small class (ideally 3-5 students per group) teachers who happen to offer test prep services?

1.Research (google) Sole Proprietors and Small Businesses and their websites. Explore the following advertising forums:

2. Select credentialed and experienced teachers with references.

  • Check their references- How many points did their student’s score increase? What skills did their student acquire?
  • Did they actually learn the grammar rule or just another ineffective strategy?

3. Invest in one-on-one or small group lessons to ensure that all of your student’s needs are addressed on every section of the test, including the essay.

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!

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