An Easy “A” He Might Overlook: Teacher Comments

DSCN2992Teacher comments are gold. Many students ignore them or give them a cursory glance. I’ve seen these students make the same mistakes over and over until I step in and have them look more closely.

So sit him down and look at them together. Why? They’re a specific, straightforward way to raise his grade. Could be for the next paper (if the comments are on the final version of the paper) or for that same paper (if this just a first step or draft).

SOME TIPS Continue Reading…

Making Poetry Analysis Easier – Book Review

I keep a library of books in my car to use with students. And the most beat up looking book in the bunch is Hip-hop Poetry And The Classics by Alan Sitomer and Michael Cirelli.

Let’s face it, many teens (and some adults) hate poetry. And often with reason; it can be a bear. But your teen is expected to understand it, analyze it and then write about it. My copy of Hip-hop Poetry And The Classics is dog-eared because it has been my go-to book for the past fifteen years when I need to make poetry easier and even a bit fun. Continue Reading…

How To Communicate with Your Teen – Book Review

Are you eternally reminding your teen to do his homework? Are you tired of the squabbling, cajoling or threatening you do every night about her grades? Does he tune you out, flare up in anger or ‘yes’ you to death and then ignore your advise entirely?

This kind of dynamic can be incredibly frustrating and heart-breaking. I’ve seen parents try to talk to their teens about school and hit these kinds of walls. If you’re dealing with something like this, I’d like to recommend a book that really helped me shift my relationships with my students.

How To Talk So Kids Can Learn by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish has been a key foundational text for my work as a tutor (and as a mom). It has helped me get past being frustrated by my inability to help kids move through their anger or anxiety and being stymied when they resist our work. The book gave me concrete tools for creating a a comfortable relationship with my students. I became a whole better at steadily shifting a teen’s outlook on what it is like to work with me and to work on school. Continue Reading…

Help Her Annotate Her English Book – Part 1

photo-1443188631128-a1b6b1c5c207Your teen needs to be able to analyze the books, plays or short stories she’s assigned in class in order to write good essays. And this means picking out the juicy, often trickier stuff.

Analytical essay prompts ask her to make connections between texts, discuss the deeper meaning of character actions, analyze use of literary devices and more. So when she reads a text, she should be looking to note (or annotate) things that help do that. Some things to annotate: Continue Reading…

Help Her Annotate Her English Book – Part 2

photo-1443188631128-a1b6b1c5c207It’s a good bet that annotating, or writing notes about an assigned English text, is something your teen avoids like the plague. But it’s one of the ways she can make her life easier.

If she writes down her (and her teacher’s) observations as she’s reading the book it is a heck of a lot easier to use the text later to write an essay. Flipping aimlessly through a 250 page novel the night before an in-class essay test, trying to find important stuff, is a whole lot harder. You can help her avoid this.

In addition to the list from Part 1 of this post, her annotations can: Continue Reading…

Writing a Research Paper: 4 More Pitfalls To Help Him Avoid – Part 2

photo-1423592707957-3b212afa6733This is the second part of a blog tackling that sticky task: writing a research paper for English, science, or history. Here’s some common pitfalls your teen can fall into and how you can help:

He fails to paraphrase enough. He must take the info he’s read and put it in his own words. Yes, this could mean taking a sentence from a book and changing half the words in it. Just remind him to be careful with that, as Turnitin.com catches plagiarized work.

Better is to take actual separate notes on what he has read, putting them into his own words as he writes. That way he avoids any grey area, digests the info fully and learns how to be a better writer. This is more time consuming, so he’ll have to plan accordingly. Check out this link on how to paraphrase.

She skimps on re-reading the paper for errors. Classic oversight for some students! They’re thrilled the final draft is done, figure they caught stuff as they were writing it and want to move on and hand the thing in. Bad idea.

Help her to sit down and give it one last, slow read through – outloud if that helps. Careless grammatical errors or mistakes with autocorrect chip away at a grade. These are silly things she can catch – help her catch them.


How She Can Tackle an Essay Question

photo-1444201716572-c60ec66d0494Essay questions for English and history class essays come in different flavors – level of complexity, type, etc. Here are some tips to help her get through the prompt effectively so she can devote the most time to the actual writing part.

Trying to write an essay with a prompt that confuses her is a very bad way to go. She should try to figure out words she doesn’t know. Some prompts are worded in a challenging way. In that case she could actually rewrite the question so that she has a clear sense of what’s being asking.

Example: Assess the effectiveness of socialism, anti-trust and unionism at the turn of the 20th century in America and how they each reflected central ideologies of the progressive movement.

Translated: Talk about the extent to which it is true that socialism (getting rid of poverty and injustice by fixing struggles between the classes), anti-trust (getting rid of big monopolies and corporate trusts) and unionism (improving conditions for workers) reached their goals. Also talk about how the key ideas of all three movements were lined up with getting rid of corruption through social and political change.

To help remember to hit all the parts, particularly in a time crunch for an in-class essay, it helps to number or underline each part he needs to answer. Continue Reading…

Grammar Help – Book Review

When your teen writes an essay, grammar can be either a snap or the bane of his existence. An easy guide can help out.

Two books I have used over the years to help my high school students with grammar for writing papers are Barron’s Painless Grammar and CliffsNotes Writing: Grammar, Usage, and Style). I like them because they provide short, easy to use explanations and drills on most of the grammar bits that trip students up.

This is key because often students find grammar drills in school as exciting as watching paint dry but end up making the same mistakes over and over again in their writing. And most kids have some sense about where they’re guessing about grammar (i.e. comma usage). Either one of these books provides easy access to mini-lessons to help fill those gaps in their knowledge. Plus, you don’t have to be an expert on grammar yourself to help them use them. Continue Reading…

Writing a Research Paper: 4 Pitfalls To Help Him Avoid – Part 1

photo-1423592707957-3b212afa6733Writing a research paper can be a bear – it takes planning steps over a long period of time, reading longish articles and maybe even a book, and can involve unfamiliar territory like an annotated bibliography or footnotes. They can range from 3-5 pages to something much longer and can be assigned in English, science, history, or other classes.

Some common pitfalls your teen can fall into and how you can help:

He leaves each assigned step till the last minute. This can be a major stressor for a student. A large project like a research paper tends to be overwhelming and some teens end up avoiding each part and cramming them last minute. This can stress him (and you) out.

You can help by talking about the procrastinating. Try to find out why he’s putting it off and see if he’s willing to let you help him plan it out and stick to a schedule. If so, help him put the due dates in his planner or smart phone (usually thesis/outline, bibliography, 30 quotes, rough draft, final draft). Then plan backwards from each due date for what has to be done to complete that step and put that in the planner/phone as well. Finally, set up to check in on certain days to see how each step is going to see if you can help adjust the plan or troubleshoot something sticky.

She fails to read enough about the topic and has a hard time writing the rough draft. Students generally want to avoid having to read a lot for a research paper, and the assigned 20-40 quotes are usually not enough info. They want to jump around and grab the minimum for what they need and move on. They may be overwhelmed, dislike the assignment or just feel unmotivated. Continue Reading…

Pacing Herself When Writing In Class

irish-handsIn-class writing for English or history has its stresses and fear of running out of time is top of the list. Help her out by talking about how to pace herself so she isn’t scrambling to finish or having to stop two thirds of the way through.

The typical high school period can be from 45 to 55 minutes. Tests can range in format from one fat essay for the whole test to 25 multiple choice questions, two short answers and one short-ish essay.

Whatever the test format, she should break down the time period based on what she thinks she needs for each section. If she guesses she needs about 25 minutes to do the multiple choice, she can then plan to use the remaining 20 or so minutes to write the essay (perhaps 1 short intro and 2 body paragraphs). And then she can think about how to use that 20 minutes to write the essay. Say, 5 minutes to plan, 3 minutes for the intro and the rest of the time to write the essay (using the last minute to scan for errors if she has it). Continue Reading…

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