Monday, August 10, 2015

Is it worth paying for subscription lesson planning services?

I'm going to explain why using the "freemium" lesson planning model is more expensive than using most paid subscription lesson planning models for your tutoring sessions. You may disagree, and if so, then great! I'd love to hear some alternative ideas.
Do you struggle with planning for tutoring sessions? For the most part, tutoring students have homework assignments, essays, or tests and quizzes for which they need every minute of your lesson to prepare for with you, but that isn’t always the case.

Sometimes, students have a more ambiguous goal, such as improving writing skills, improving vocabulary, improving reading comprehension, or even improving math skills. If your student has such a need, then how do you create goals for them? 
A quick search online will lead you to find a list of great websites that will help you easily plan your lessons. Most of these sites offer 1000s of free or inexpensive resources. If you're regularly tutoring, then you might want to consider signing up for a subscription service for educational resources; these generally cost between $20-50 per year. If you've come to tutoring from the classroom, then you may be accustomed to having these subscriptions paid for, and you may not wish to shell out cash for the paid services when you can access the "free-mium" version. 
Consider, however, the cost-benefit analysis of how much time you spend looking for free resources. Now, consider your hourly tutoring rate. Let's say your hourly tutoring rate is $35, and the subscription to your favorite resource site is $50. Let's imagine that this is a site where you can input your student's reading level, the number of vocabulary words at that level you want your student to learn, and the one that will take that information and create a reading book with enrichment questions for your student to work on during the week that you can review with your student during your lesson (a pretty decent way to help improve reading, which we can touch on later!). If you can access that through a subscription and download your PDF to either print or email to your student in just a couple of minutes, is that worth saving you 15 to 20 minutes to look for a freemium version? 

Let's say you repeat that process every week for a month with this student. 
  • Using subscription service: 5 minutes x 4 weeks = 20 minutes
  • Using freemium service: 15 minutes x 4 weeks = 60 minutes
At your tutoring rate of $35 per hour, using the freemium service would "cost" you $35; the subscription service would cost you just under $12, or one-third the cost of the freemium model. 
However, let's say you paid $50 for the subscription model. Using the subscription model would actually have cost you $62 for lesson planning for that month while the freemium model only cost you $35, but that's assuming that you have only one student per month. 
Let's imagine you are a part-time tutor with a reasonable number of students. We'll say that you have 6 students. 
  • Using subscription service: 5 minutes x 4 weeks x 6 students = 120 minutes.
  • Using freemium service: 15 minutes x 4 weeks x 6 students = 360 minutes.
You can see the time discrepancy really develop here. Again, with you tutoring rate of $35 per hour, using the subscription model would have cost you $70. We also need to consider the $50 charge for the subscription; however, to be fair, the subscription is for the year, and not for the month, so we should divide it by 12. The average tutor only tutors about 9 months of the year, though (Hey! What's wrong with a little time off for your mental health?), so we'll divide it by 9 to get about $6 per month. Your total cost for lesson planning this month is $76.
With the freemium model, your cost for lesson planning is $105 for the month. 
Even those numbers are still a little misleading, though, because unless you are tutoring online, the $35 an hour reflects drive time and administrative time, so your hourly rate isn't exactly $35; it's probably closer to $25. Assuming that, using the paid subscription, your cost for the month would have been $56 while the freemium would have been $75. It's still more expensive to use the freemium model. I also didn't account for any tax deductions for paying for the subscription service, but I'm not an accountant so I'll leave that to them! 
This is just my experience and my number crunching. If you disagree, I'd love to learn why! Please share below!
For more tutoring resources, check out these Pinterest boards:

* Tutor Resources 
* Tutoring Tips 
* Study Tips

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How Young Is Too Young to Take the SAT?

Check out my new post on Homefront United! It's called Should a 7th Grader Take the SAT? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
What?! I'm a smart kid!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Case of the Februarys

Do you have a case of the Februarys?

Happy February, Fellow Tutors!

I say that with all the love and understanding in knowing that February has a way of beating everyone up just a little bit. You’re tired. Your students are tired. Your student’s parents are tired. Heck, your dog is tired, and this awful weather isn’t helping anything one bit.

Here’s what happened –
  •         The holidays are over.
  •          New Year’s resolutions have worn thin.
  •          Mid-terms are a comin’.
  •         There just aren’t enough 3 day weekends happening.
  •         Summer break is nowhere in sight!

Basically, it’s a case of the Februarys. It’s like a case of the Mondays, but it lasts for an entire month.

The good news? February is about over.

As a key extrinsic motivator for your student, it can be tough to pull it together to help him or her summon the will to push through this month, but once mid-terms are over and the sun starts to shine again, you’ll see sweet smiles reappear on your students again. Summer is on their horizon! Keep this in mind while you tough it out for the next few weeks!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

4 Clues a Student Can't Read for Understanding

For the Love of Reading

Here are 4 easy tips to help determine if a reading level is appropriate for a child.

1) The Five Finger Rule

Perhaps the easiest one is what teachers refer to as the “five finger rule.” To use this rule, have the child read two pages from a reading novel (or the equivalent amount of text in a textbook or article) while holding up a hand with all five fingers stretched out. Ask the child to read silently, and tell him that whenever he encounters a word he doesn’t understand, then he should put down one finger. If he has made an “angry fist” by the time he has completed the two pages, then the book is too challenging and he will need to read at a lower level.
...Students who attempt to read material in which they don’t understand 10% of a combination of the vocabulary and sentence structure will not be able to comprehend the piece as a whole.
2) Pausing while Reading

Studies consistently show that students who attempt to read material in which they don’t understand 10% of a combination of the vocabulary and sentence structure will not be able to comprehend the piece as a whole. Now, this doesn’t mean that if you attempt to read a challenging piece of material outside of your discipline that you won’t comprehend the piece as a whole; your literacy skills are developed enough that you have sufficient reading strategies to allow you to see the confusing words as meaningful symbols. You can infer the intended meaning of the word from context. If your younger students are pausing regularly in their reading, not understanding vocabulary, or stumbling over words, then the comprehension of the entire piece has likely been lost. 

3) Finding Math Word Problems Challenging in 4th Grade

If you have a student struggling with word problems in math, the problem is likely a reading comprehension problem and not a math problem. Students first tend to encounter challenges with word problems in 4th grade. Unfortunately, what happens is that too few school retain 3rd grade students who have not displayed the level of literacy required to move onto the more complex sentence structures they encounter in 4th grade. As a result, these students who may display a degree of competency with language—they read without stumbling and can pronounce their words—can’t necessarily translate that literacy competency into actual comprehension of the word problem.

4) When AP and College Students are Making Poor Grades

If your higher level—high school and college—students are struggling with their honors and even AP classes, it may be that they simply don’t understand what they’re reading. Though these same students will tell you that they either a) don’t have homework, or b) have homework, but it’s only simple reading, they are giving you a key warning sign that they are finding comprehension of the dense textbooks challenging. While they may be able to read with fluency—without pausing or stumbling over words—they likely don’t have the strategies developed to tackle this difficult material in their textbooks. These same students will listen to their teacher and take notes, but that interaction with the material can’t replace their own engagement with the textbook for comprehension and—particularly for the AP students—for preparation for their exams.

If this sounds like your student, then it’s time to step back from enrichment tutoring and pull out the textbook. Your student won’t be too happy with you at first because he likely finds the textbook intimidating; it challenges his understanding of his own competence. However, once he’s learned to apply effective textbook reading strategies, you’ll have a taught him a skill that he’ll find forever useful.

 For reading comprehension strategies, check out Reading Rockets. This site is a wealth of resources, strategies, and information on helping struggling readers.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tutoring in the ER - Wife of a Cluster Headache Sufferer

Poor Gargoyle Has a Headache!

I'm typing in a darkened room in the ER where we've been for the last 6 hours while doctors are "treating" my poor husband for cluster headaches. We've been dancing our way through ER's at each military duty station for the past decade; I know them all too intimately from many nights spent curled up in an uncomfortable chair in the dark waiting until some medications bring him relief. Back when I was teaching, I'd leave to (hopefully) find time to shower and head straight to the classroom to either pull a lesson from my emergency file or attempt to wing it with history simulations. As the weeks of each cluster headache period wore on, the less creative I grew. Supporting a cluster headache sufferer is emotionally and physically draining. At one point, I resorted to showing videos for a week straight. I'm pretty sure that's not Common Core friendly...

As a new teacher with no leave time available and no lesson prep from previous classes available, I was stuck. And, with my only excuse of having a husband who had to go to the hospital for a headache (!!), I had little support sympathy either. As I think back, the lack of support during that difficult period (coupled closely with my disgust at a bully union, overcrowded classrooms and a curriculum that de-professionalized the role of a teacher to that of a glorified babysitter) only strengthened my resolve to resign from teaching. Forever. How can you support a chronic pain sufferer while working in a inflexible job? I am a firm believer that where there's a will there's a way, though...I guess there just wasn't the will anymore, and for that I am glad. Without resigning from teaching, I couldn't have devoted myself to tutoring, a position I have loved and in which I have had  the autonomy to help students thrive. I've also had the flexibility of schedule to be able to reschedule lessons during my husband's cluster periods (and my own migraines, for that matter), or when I really could not meet with students, I've still been able to support them by editing their papers and chatting with them online to make sure they understand their work.

Thank God for iPads with cellular service.

Right now, the only light in the room comes from the dim light on my iPad and the monitor showing a terrifyingly high blood pressure rate. Though I've encountered many wonderful military doctors over the years (it takes a bit of research...), little has changed in either their understanding or treatment of cluster headache sufferer, so we'll have to wait and see what kind of progress we can make tonight.

The term "headache" is misleading. The other name for a Cluster Headache is a Suicide Headache, a colloquial term that reflects the thoughts that sufferers experience at the height of each "headache." There is a reason after all for the "10" on the smiley-sad face wall poster in triage! Gallows humor, bear with's been a long few weeks. Robert Shapiro, a leading professor of neurology describes the pain as,
Cluster headache is...widely regarded as the most severe pain a human can experience — that's not hyperbole. It has a population prevalence that's approximately the same as multiple sclerosis.
And yet despite its prevalence, the National Institutes of Health have only accorded less than $2 million in research for CH over the past 25 years. Meanwhile, close to $2 billion has been spent on MS research in the past decade alone.

It seems then that CH apparently needs a little help in the marketing and awareness campaign, so here's my effort.

A cluster headache is a neurological condition that affects the hypothalamus, or the portion of the brain which controls the circadian rythm. DH's are episodic clusters, which means he can get 3-4 debilitating headaches in a day for a period of a couple of months. This is the cluster. In the month or two preceding the cluster, he has shadows or pressure akin to what migraine sufferers (myself included) experience as an aura. In the month or two following his cluster, he has pressure similar to the couple of months preceding the cluster. It occupies a good portion of our year.

Cluster headaches affect less than 0.2% of the population, or approximately 1 in 1,000. From purely anecdotal research over the past decade, it appears that the rate of CH sufferers in the military are increasing, though it's possible that simply more sufferers are either getting increased to treatment or are more willing to seek help. From what I've experienced DH go through, and from all of my research, a CH suffer will do just about anything to get help--even the Big Tough Military men. While some research suggests that TBI can cause CH, the research is not conclusive; the connection between military service and CH seems to relate to the disruption of circadian rhythm patterns through emotional stress and crazy work hours.

If you're a service member or spouse who suffers from CH, one treatment option that you may have read about is breathing pure oxygen. Unfortunately, the treatment is only effective for pain management if taken right away. If you wait until you're checked into the ER, it's too late. You're in for a cockail of drugs that any junkie would love to get his hands on. Since it was too late for us, and I've had a little time on my hands...I've found a few options for you to get in home oxygen treatment through the Tricare system.

Oxygen and Tricare:;num=1301004920
Fantastic help on how to talk to your doc about oxygen:

If you've any experience with CH and the military, please share. We--and the other silent sufferers and those who love them--would be grateful to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

SAT Magic Tricks!

Reading and interpreting an SAT score report isn't as magical or as complicated as it looks.

 Let’s look at the score report itself.

You’ll see that the test was divided into 3 sections: 

  • Critical Reading
  • Writing 
  •  Math

Next to each of the section titles of the test, you’ll see scores ranging between 200 and 800 for each section. You’ll also see an essay score that ranges from 00 to 12. These scores provide you with a general, holistic review of how your student performed on the test compared to her peers.

Who are your student’s peers?
Each year approximately 2 million students sit for the SAT. Each student takes the test an average of two times. Of those students who take the test, the average score for each section is: ·         
Critical Reading: 501      
Writing: 493
Math: 515

The elusive perfect score is rare. A mere 493 students achieved this score in 2013. That’s only 1/3 of 1% of all test-takers!
While the holistic score provides one measure by which your student can improve, it’s the actual breakdown below that’s the key to understanding how your student truly did on the test.

Of the three sections we mentioned above, you’ll also see that each section was divided into sub-sections.

Critical Reading breaks down into sentence completion (C) and reading passages (R).   

Writing breaks down into identifying sentence errors (E), improving sentences (S), and improving paragraphs (P). There’s also an essay component of writing that represents one-third of the writing section.

 Math breaks down into numbers and operations (N); algebra and functions (A); geometry and measurement (G); and data analysis, statistics, and probability (D).
It’s important to identify each of these types of questions because they’ll help you make better sense of the score that your student received in each section. Once you understand exactly where you child did well in the test and where your child did not perform as well, you’ll be able to better target where to improve.

Most students score between a 6 and 10 on the SAT essay. This number is pretty cut and dry; the essay is scored holistically, so it’s impossible to tell why your student achieved the score she did without seeing the essay itself. A writing consultant or SAT writing tutor would be able to quickly analyze a sample of your student’s writing to identify areas of improvement for bumping her score up in that section.

But let’s move down to the types of questions and their difficulty levels. Note how your student did in each particular type of question.

Let’s look, for example, at the Critical Reading section, and within that section we’ll only look at the questions labeled C. Those are the sentence completion questions otherwise known as fill-in-the-blanks. You’ll see that these vary in difficulty from a 1 to a 5. If your student correctly answered most of the 1’s and 2’s, several of the 3s, less of the 4s, and even less of the 5s, that’s a pretty good place to start. This means that your student likely rushed on some of the level 1 and 2 questions; these are easy areas for improvement. The same is likely true of the level 3 questions. The level 4 questions were likely more challenging for your student, and the level 5 questions could probably have been omitted.

Yes, omitted. The SAT is a reasoning test. One measure of a student’s intelligence is the student’s ability to reason and identify if she absolutely does not know the answer to a question. Given how challenging the level 4 and 5 question words are for this section of the SAT, a little practice can help a student easily determine which questions are too challenging to attempt to answer. By choosing to omit, the student does not lose points; if the student does choose to answer, but answers incorrectly, then she loses points. Guessing, unless it’s a truly educated guess by a student with a strong repertoire of test taking strategies to draw from, is not advisable. One too many of such guesses will clearly be reflected by a large smattering of incorrect responses to level 4 and 5 questions. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

SAT Prep Course at Fort Belvoir!

We are excited to announce that we have been approved to offer 8 week long SAT Prep courses on Fort Belvoir in Alexandria, VA, beginning in March! This is big news for us, as we’ve been waiting to hear about this since last March!

We had decided to apply after receiving many requests for small group test prep on Fort Belvoir. We initiated our application to offer SAT Prep with the Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration, & Skills through the Army’s Child, Youth and School Services Program in early March. Finally, after competing with several other companies (and jumping through many, many hoops), we were offered the opportunity by the Army to have our great tutors lead the test prep classes.

We’re so excited to be able to both share our SAT curriculum with military students and offer additional employment opportunities for our many talented military spouse and veteran tutors. 

  • The classes will take place over an 8 week period, culminating in a full-length practice SAT. 
  • The tutor-student ratio is only 1:5.

If you know of any military children in the Alexandria area who are planning to take the SAT in March, please let them know that they can sign up for our test prep courses through the SKIES program.

If you are interested in bringing test prep classes to your community, please don’t hesitate to contact us to see if we can be of service!