What distinguishes me
The way I achieve results is by forming unique relationships with my students--both for writing support and test prep--that are built around words. Everything depends on our shared language.
Ultimately, my work is individualized, a matter of how I am with my students. The key to achieving results is the process. I focus on the student's qualitative understanding, which emerges in an atmosphere of trust and empathy.
Communication operates on the expressive, or outward, level and beneath the surface. To discover and remove blocks to a student's comprehension and expressive capacities, I listen actively, using all of my senses to gain a deep awareness of how the student thinks and derives meaning. I teach students to "read" themselves in learning to respond to texts.
A few examples are in order. Many students are reluctant readers and writers. They complain of being bored by texts that don't relate to them. Often, these issues arise because students don't know how to connect to what they read--a problem that results from a lack of word power. By drilling down into the associations and colorations of words, I am able to awaken these students to levels of a text that were previously out of reach for them.
As well, students feel frustrated in expressing themselves. They can't find the right words to say what they mean, both in class and on paper. Through a process of mirroring, I help students build confidence in their ideas. By listening and rephrasing what I've heard students say, I give them a way to enter the discussion.
Putting their ideas together is often overwhelming for students. I use a method that demystifies the process of idea formation for essay writing that builds on our mirroring and conversation. I stress note-taking and outlining to break down large tasks into manageable segments. We map out assignments in stages. We begin by talking and organizing ideas into logical chains; as we work, I point out relationships such as cause and effect, sequence, and evidence for assertions that can direct the structure of essays, paragraphs and sentences.
Most of all, I encourage them to write. One barrier to getting ideas down is the need for sentences and paragraphs to be perfect. Letting go of perfectionism paves the way for revision, where sentences and the final product can be refined.
The same edge applies to my work with test prep. The most important piece is analyzing mistakes, which are the best teaching tool. I focus on how a student has misread a question or approached a passage to illuminate what is being asked and how and where to find the answers. The area of misunderstanding reveals the faulty thought process, which can have emotional sources. For example, a student who doubts his grasp of a science experiment, or is thrown by irrelevant jargon, may overlook obvious clues. I also use the passages to impart writing lessons that can help students read more actively by anticipating an author's purpose and rhetorical strategies.
I rely on past actual tests as my materials. The key to success on standardized tests is familiarity; therefore, I expose students to myriad samples so they get to know the categories of questions and readings they'll encounter on test day. There are predictable question types; repetition helps students spot and handle each kind with ease.
In concert with understanding errors, I engage in a form of attitude adjustment with my students. Many dread the tests, which they regard as the adversary; they adopt a warrior stance that they believe will help them defeat the enemy. This approach is energy-intensive and leads to over-thinking, self-doubt and errors in judgment. Rather, I coach my students to view the test as a support system that exists to guide them to the answers. With this outlook, students can begin to find the clues and the guideposts that abound. As well, I encourage them to have an open mind and allow themselves to learn and enjoy what they're reading.