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!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Awakened Devotional: Week One - How I Learned Everything the Hard Way

This is a devotional for teachers based on biblical scripture; however, it is applicable for both non-Christian believers and those without a faith, too. The purpose of the text is to help re-center educators in their profession. As both faith and a calling to educate are the two driving forces behind Tutors by Base, I wanted to share my deeper study of the two...

Introduction: How I Learned Everything the Hard Way
*Though I strongly encourage proofreading, devotional responses are not edited; they are entirely unfiltered thoughts on the intersection of faith and education. Please keep your grammarian-esque thoughts to yourself. Thanks! :) *

Application Questions
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then given encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Rom 12:6-8)

1.  What is your teaching testimony? How has God grown you and taught you through your work?

Like the author Angela, I was a frustrated brand new teacher. Straight out of college, I was quickly bogged down by administrivia, nonsense that got in the way of my daily purpose—helping the students in my classes. I, too, found that the judgmental part of my nature reared its ugly head far too often; I was mad that parents were not only disinterested in the education of their children, but also that they would have the gall (!) to call me on a regular basis and request that their child not have homework because they had family activities that weekend. I was mad because I, too, would have liked time for family activities each weekend, but instead I spent my time grading and lesson planning. Despite only teaching for 6 hours a day, 5 days per week, my actual workweek ran closer to 80 hours. I wanted to inspire in my students a love of learning. By the time I had reached these 10th and 11th grade students, the majority of whom were described as “struggling” or “below standards,” they had readily dismissed school as an impotent institution in which they were incarcerated for 7 or so hours per day. So many had confidence issues, depression…I had students who were “cutters,” addicts, in and out of juvenile detention centers. I had one student arrested in my classroom (and several more outside of it), one student throw a desk and hurl profanities at me because he didn’t like his seating assignment (he was arrested later that day for selling drugs on campus), and another sweet, 16-year-old girl run away to another state to get married—she wanted her new husband to be able to sign her out of school for the day at any time she wished.

Heck, I should have known better than to go into the classroom. My poor mom was subjected to regular awkward conversations with my teachers on how I “didn’t seem to want to be there” during their classes. I was bored. By high school, the awkward conversations stopped; I had found new ways to entertain myself until the bell rang for freedom each day. I won’t recount my high school days here, though.

Though I love to teach, and have felt a strong calling to inspire and help others gain confidence in their academics—my first “pupil” was a fellow second grader who didn’t understand the word problems; the teacher soon assigned me to “tutor” several other students in the same—I had zero interest in the politics of local school districts (we won’t talk about my first encounter with the teacher’s union here either…) and the shenanigans of school policies and classroom management.  I just want to help students, and it took a lot of prayer to realize that the classroom simply wasn’t the way for me to reach my goal.

Man, that teaching testimony was a lot longer than I had intended it to be!  

As for how God has grown me and taught me through my work, He has taught me that what students truly desire is for an authority figure with whom they have developed a close working relationship to have faith in them. God has given me the skills to understand my student’s academic struggles, and he’s grown my ability to have the patience and empathy that I need to show them I believe that they can succeed in their goals. More so, he’s taught me that grades are not the end goal; learning is, and I’m still learning how to fully impart that to students caught in the quagmire of an education system that fails to accurately measure the intelligence of all learning styles.

Phew. So much for getting this done before the baby wakes up…

22. What are the unique abilities God has given to you which help you do your job well? How is God using your gifts and talents in your work as an educator?

I strongly believe that God has given me the following gifts to help others:
·         Understand – I have an ability to discern how people understand; this is definitely a “fruit of the Spirit,” as it’s something I’ve been able to do from a very early age.
·         Encouraging
·         Supportive
·         A caring spirit – I feel a love that exists that is far greater than myself; it makes me want to serve as a channel for good, helping others to reach their potential.

3. 3. What has God shown you about your purpose in education? Are there are particular areas in which you known He wants to use you to bless others or to make school a better place for kids?

I believe that if we’re listening, God opens doors in ways that He wants to lead us. At other times, I’ve felt called to help individual students in certain challenges in their lives; I have several students in mind whom I believe were the sole reason I was a tutor in a certain location for that period. For the last few years, I’ve increasingly believe that my purpose in education has been to encourage others who feel called to educate to pursue their passion; the classroom isn’t the only place to be an educator, and I believe it’s my purpose to help share that with those who wish to teach, but who don’t wish for the forum of a classroom. I can see how God placed certain jobs in my earlier career to help prepare me for this. Though I merely wanted to encourage others to tutor, He provided me with the toolkit to help others learn how to tutor and to do it well. In whatever I do, it should be for the greater glory of God, and so my purpose is to provide 1) the best possible training for my tutors—a BIG work in progress this month!!, and 2) help each tutor find students to work with so they can put that training into practice.

“To Do” Challenge
Make a chart of what I’m good at and what tasks are harder for me to enjoy, and then pray over the tasks.
Aspects of education that
I’m naturally good at…
Tasks that are either harder
or harder for me to enjoy…
Understanding student’s needs
Responding to email
Talking through concerns
Creating curriculum from scratch
Academic coaching
Socratic-style tutoring
Making uninspired curriculum more engaging
Keeping a clean, organized workspace
Engaging students in 1-on-1 learning
Keeping a work-life balance

Photo Source: Letterpress/69553732

The Parasitic Leech in the Marriage?

Let's digress a little from tutoring for today...

Given the pervasive use of the word “dependent” within the military community, it’s no wonder the oversized playground bullies of our community have turned the word into DEPENDAPOTAMUS, the rotund, animalized version of a military spouse. Y’know, the one who sits at home waiting for payday so she can head to the mall and spend all her man’s money?! Heyyyy!

Words have meaning.

I make a point of correcting every offending user of the word “dependent,” by ‘gently’ affirming “spouse” in response. I ain't nobody's "dependent." After 7 years, it’s second nature now; “spouse,” an affirmation of the one word question “dependent?” simply rolls off the tongue. The response is terse in the same way I'd respond “I did well” to a small child (and my sister) who tells me how “good” he did at something. I expect the eye-rolling. Whatever.

I'd sooner describe myself as independent--I've worked since I was 14, I put myself through college, and I can damn sure take care of myself, but independent isn't quite accurate either. I don't want it to be how I describe myself; at 30, I think I've matured past my Ms. Independent days. In a way, I have grown to develop a dependence on both my husband and the sisterhood of military spouses, my friends; I see this as a positive. But that doesn't make me a dependent.

Again, words have meaning.

For all intents and purposes, the DoD has given their own meaning to the word “dependent.” They’ve lumped all military spouses under that odious term along with their children and any other of the service member’s beneficiaries.

But their use of the word is inaccurate. They've stripped "dependent" of its meaning. 

Dependent is a loaded term. Though the admin clerk at the MTF or the receptionist at the CDC may not realize it, they’re asking if I am the inferior partner in my marriage—the parasitic leech partner, that is. They’re asking if I rely solely on my husband for financial support, for health care benefits; the simple question implies that I am a ward of my husband akin to a child, for in the eyes of the DoD, a child falls under the same category of personnel—dependent; my child and I are one and the same. I might believe that the sun shines out of my 4-month-old’s caboose, but that little wriggling ball of sunshine and I have vastly different capacities for independence.

Well, that’s unless I sign him up for some baby modeling gigs; he’d definitely out-earn me then. Anyone need a ridiculously cute 4-month-old for a campaign?

Words have meaning, and the choice of the word "dependent" subliminally (if not directly) influences other members of our community to perceive us as such. It draws out the weaker, judgmental side of our nature. That woman in the commissary with her messy hair, yoga pants, and bedraggled kids? Her image has probably been blasted all over Instagram or Facebook under #Dependa, the root of the very word that the military community perpetuates. Her husband may be deployed, she may have just come from the hospital, or maybe she's just really damn tired because she's working all the time and doesn't see a need to curl her eyelashes and her hair just to please your delicate sensibilities. Don't you have anything better to do, #Dependa stalkers?

Who you callin' blood sucker?
What the hell?

We’re dependent because we receive family healthcare as an employer benefit? Are spouses in civilian marriages ascribed the same derogatory term? We wouldn’t deign to relegate the spouse of the member of Congress as a “dependent” simply because she receives healthcare as part of her spouse’s employment compensation package. Was Laura Bush a “dependent” when W. was president because she received employer-provided housing? What about Michelle?

I personally don’t know any military spouses whom I would call dependent. I can list dozens of empowered military spouse women—and a few men—who are successful not only despite the obstacles that the uncertainties of military life throw in their way but BECAUSE of the obstacles; the challenges made them stronger. ‘Nuff said.

Dependency isn't entirely a bad thing though.

We’re just not dependent in the way that the DoD defines us. Dependent also means that we rely on others for support that goes beyond financial need; we rely on others for emotional support. As military spouses, we’re stripped of our traditional social support networks; we don’t live near the people we grew up with, our family, our friends. We don’t step directly into a new support when we PCS to a new installation; the service member in the relationship does when he (or she) walks into his new unit. He has a squadron, office mates, and built in support. We have…an FRG? Blech! Military spouses depend on other military spouses as their battle buddies during deployments, TDYs, and whatever other erratic military schedule keeps their partner away from home. And, yes, we depend on our spouse—the service member—for emotional support and friendship. Our dependence brings us together.

So cut the crap with the the dependent, dependa, dependapotamus nonsense. 

The last thing I want my son to grow up hearing though is that his mother is a “dependent” because she--and her military spouse friends--are anything but. 

Photo Source: mosquito lying and drinking blood/37373492