How to Help with Reading Homework

Kid carrying giant books

It’s a given that every student has reading homework. No matter what grade level, from kindergarten through college (and even work!), every student has to read. That’s pretty much the foremost point of school, right? Learning how to read! So how can we help our students with their reading homework? Having your student do homework in a quiet, non-distracting environment is only the beginning. Reading comprehension takes time and repetition.

1) Have the student use his own words to tell you what happened in the story. When students use their own words, it builds comprehension and confidence. The best comprehension in any subject is to be able to talk about it to another person. As comprehension increases, so will the student’s confidence.

2) Ask questions to check understanding–throughout the material, not just at the end. Who are the characters? What happened? Why did the character act that way? Why did that event happen? While still in the middle of the story, ask your student to predict what might happen next. For older students, ask what themes are being explored. Use grade-level-appropriate vocabulary for the older students: novel, conflict, theme, resolution, etc.

3) Take notes! This follows the first two tips, especially for older students reading longer stories. Read with a purpose. Some teachers have students keep a reading log or journal. Some specifically want a dialectical journal; here are instructions and a great example. Others call it annotating. Whatever you call it, taking notes keeps the student focused on the reading material. Write down unknown words: look them up and sound them out. Write down important words, ideas, and events from the story.

4) Make connections from the text to life. If the student is writing a dialectical journal, this will already be a part of the journal. Even for younger students though, as the student reads, ask how the story connects to real life or other things. How does the character connect to the student? Does this story connect to or remind the student of another piece she’s read? How does the story relate to the world at large? If the student is younger, how does the story relate to the student’s world (friends, family)?

5) Have your student read aloud to someone. Younger children love bedtime stories. Take turns reading to each other. Students can also read to siblings or the pets. I’ve watched toddlers joyfully “reading” to their baby siblings.

Reading aloud causes the reader to slow down, which helps the student focus. This increases comprehension. It also is a good starting point for conversation or questions.

Bonus: read something fun and interesting! Helping with reading homework includes enjoying reading also. The student doesn’t have to enjoy the reading assignments… and usually doesn’t. So for bedtime reading, choose something fun. Even if it’s “just” a magazine article, reading skills improve only when we read. So read something, anything, everything!

Happy learning!

How to Help with Math Homework

(image: Scholastic.com)

“Why do I need to know this?”

“I don’t know where to start.”

Math can be rough for many students. Whether it’s one lesson or a whole semester of lessons, difficulty in a subject can make learning very frustrating. If your students are struggling in math, here are some good tips to help with their homework.

1) Practice Word Problems. Many students (and adults!) are afraid of word problems “because of all the numbers,” a student said. “I don’t know where to start.” A word problem is just a real life example. There are problems about house painting, creating a garden, ladders, cooking, and plenty others. Help your student by talking about the situation in the problem. Thinking about it in real life helps make the problem easier to understand.

If your student still needs help, here are questions to ask about the problem. What is the problem telling you? What is it asking for? What is the formula needed to find that? Do you have all the pieces for the formula, or do you need to find one of the pieces first? Plug the pieces you already have into the formula, to find the piece you want. And a very important thing: when you get an answer, does it answer the problem’s question?

2) Be aware of how the student is being taught. There are often at least a couple different approaches and techniques to any lesson. Being aware of how the current teacher is teaching a lesson prevents conflicts in methods. It’s ok to show your student a helpful strategy or shortcut, but ONLY do it after your student has learned the lesson the way the teacher wants it done. Otherwise, it creates a lot of confusion. Review the way the teacher is teaching the lesson. It may be different from the way you learned it (especially with today’s Common Core and other standards).

3) Use numbers every day. As I’ve mentioned before, when numbers are a regular part of everyday language, students will see them as normal, not as something to be feared. We use numbers every day, even when we’re not paying attention. When you buy lunch, when you buy gas, when you’re reviewing your bank account, when you’re working out, when you’re counting calories… seriously, every day. Show your student how the household tasks are opportunities for learning math. Activities such as cooking or doing the laundry all reinforce math lessons.

4) Make learning math fun! There are plenty of games (online, for your console, in books, etc.) for your student to play. Play together. There are also lots of pictures to illustrate math concepts. A popular image that made the rounds this month is the above lego image (from Scholastic.com) illustrating different fractions. Here is the whole article from last year containing that image. Legos and other toys are great ways to relate math to something your student understands.

5) End the myth of “I’m Bad at Math.” As the authors of this article state, “basic ability in the subject isn’t the product of good genes but hard work.” From the authors’ experiences (and my own), math ability is more the product of hard work and practice than it is a genetic given. Just as great athletes have been playing (practicing!) since they were young, so do great students have to start practicing when they’re young also–and CONTINUE practicing, of course. Thus, well-prepared students are the ones who end up “good” at a subject.

AndREMAIN POSITIVE! The adult’s attitude is reflected in the student’s attitude. Adults are the ones who inspire students to be “good” at something.

So, instead of relinquishing math ability to “I’m doomed to stay this way,” encourage your student to practice solving problems and seeing math in everyday activities. Remember to have fun.

Happy learning!

How to Help with Science Homework

(www.funnyshirts.org)

In my last post, I talked about some general tips on how to help with homework. Now, let’s look at ways to help specifically with science lessons. Consistent practice will build a good foundation for students and homework, which will lead to lifelong learning and creating!

1) Discuss the class lessons with your student. Having the student talk about the lesson at home will help the student understand it better. This is because talking about the lesson gives students the chance to put it into their own words, at their own pace. Giving students the time to learn at their own pace is incredibly important to sustainable learning, and the better they can talk about the lesson, they better they understand it.

2) Practice problem-solving. Through all their classes, students will hopefully learn some critical thinking and problem-solving skills. However, problem-solving needs to be practiced at home too. Problem-solving is how students (and adults!) develop the self-sufficiency needed to overcome struggles, whether they are school-related, work-related, or relationship-related. Solving problems well is definitely a skill that will be needed throughout life.

3) Encourage creativity and EXPERIMENT! If you search online, you’ll find that most of the advice for helping with science homework is simply to “do science.” As the National Science Teachers Association states, “The skills of science can and should be practiced everywhere. But it’s clear from research that children’s minds grow best when the environment is rich and varied.” So, encourage your students to take apart things (safely, of course) and find out how they work. Talk with them about how the world around them works (e.g., ice melting or the wheels rolling on the grocery cart). The more you encourage them to think about the things around them, the more their inquisitiveness and learning will grow.

4) Read science articles. Keep up to date about the technology being developed and other science advancements. This doesn’t mean you have to know everything about science or even understand everything you read. However, being aware of what is going on can help you relate your student’s lesson to current events, which can help you both understand the lesson better. Relating current events to science lessons at school show how the school work maintains its relevance, even if you’re not sure how electron orbitals could affect you today.

5) Direct your student to resources. In the end, if you can’t help with the actual understanding of the lesson, direct your student to those who can. In my post about resources, I list several helpful websites and projects that can help explain the science concepts. In addition to websites, you can also direct your student to the teacher or class tutors. They are there to help students understand the material! Of course, there are also professional tutors (such as myself!) who are trained specifically to help with certain subjects. Enlist a tutor’s help!

Note: Encourage boys and girls equally. As many people know, there are far fewer females in math/science fields than there are males. This discrepancy can be traced back to childhood, where boys are encouraged to play with blocks and tools (i.e., building things) while girls are encouraged to play with “pretty” things. All the tips above, especially 2 and 3, are for everyone. It is observed that when girls are given “building” toys, they are as creative and excel just as well as boys do. I highly recommend Roominate and GoldieBlox, as well as the classic Legos and Tinkertoy(now plastic, not wood).

Happy learning!

How to Help with Homework (in general)

In the quest to help our students become better scholars, there are a lot of preparatory things to do. We have to make sure they have the supplies they need to do their work. We have to provide a good study space. However, when our students need help with homework, what are some things we can do to assist them?

1) Be positive about homework. Many parents and caregivers talk about how important school is, but when it comes to homework, there is only an aggressive “do your homework!” bark. Follow up your promotion of school with a positive attitude about homework too (even if you didn’t like it either). It is an important life skill to be able to be positive about something you don’t like to do. The attitude you express will be reflected in the student’s attitude over time.

2) Relate the homework to “real life.” Show the student how the skills from the homework apply to things we do as adults. If your student has a reading assignment, explain how reading relates to your job. If your student is doing math homework, explain how the math applies to life. Don’t know how math relates? Hint: look at a word problem.

3) Stay informed. Today’s technology provides more opportunities than ever to stay involved. As I’ve mentioned before, many schools are now on SchoolLoop.com and Schoology.com where teachers post assignments. Knowing what needs to be done helps everyone stay on top of the assignments.

4) Take breaks. This is so important! Often, adults want to push students through the fatigue of studying. Trust me, it is difficult for students to concentrate for much longer than 60 minutes at a time. That’s why most of my sessions are one hour long. For sessions longer than an hour, I always make sure to have us stand up and take a quick break (bathroom, water, stretch, whatever) to “get the blood flowing” and recharge the mind.

5) Reward progress. As I’ve mentioned before, incentives go a long way. Not every homework assignment needs a reward, but it’s always nice to relax with a nice bowl of ice cream after a long project, isn’t it? Rewards help keep a positive attitude going and give a distinct endpoint to an assignment. Otherwise, homework can become just one long series of unpleasant tasks, from the student’s point of view.

There are many other ways to help with homework, of course. Stay tuned for future posts on how to help with homework in specific subjects. Until then, happy learning!

Make Creativity a Part of Your Lives

Helping our students become better scholars isn’t just about helping with homework or passing a class. It’s also about helping them learn how to understand the world and how to be better problem solvers. A great scholar is someone who understands different techniques and when to use them. Those who succeed are ones who have learned how to be creative to solve problems. However, creativity is not often emphasized in our learning environments. How can we integrate more creativity into our lives?

1) Engage in the arts. Whether it’s music, art/drawing, or theatre, being creative usually starts here. The arts engage different parts of the brain, and so they open up a different way of looking at things. Unfortunately, many public schools do not have the funding, and private lessons are often expensive. Have no fear. The internet has many resources. Meanwhile, even drawing on the sidewalk is a start.

An interesting anecdote: in my experience, the students who were more artistically inclined have been the ones who understood geometry better.

2) Playing is learning!Be it organized sports or just plain old playing in the sand, playing teaches creativity. Running carefree in the backyard or park is great too. The freedom in playing gives students the opportunity to let their minds wander, which often leads to more creative, “outside the box” thoughts. Adults should try it too!

3) Use metaphors. Metaphors link different items using a creatively-perceived similarity. They show our brains the connections between different things. One of my colleagues, an English and Creative Writing teacher in central Los Angeles, challenged his students to a metaphor-writing contest. While it was no surprise that the students came up with brilliant pieces, the pleasant surprise was the students’ enthusiasm to show their creative sides. It goes to show that even in gritty central L.A., creativity abounds and wants to be heard.

4) Experiment. Children are natural, instinctual experimenters. What do you think playing is? They test their boundaries and abilities every day as they grow. Creativity is the secret to excelling in scientific fields. Encourage their curiosity and creativity by showing them how their questions about the world (“why is the sky blue?”) are science experiments waiting to happen. The Gravity Design Challenge(contest winner announced on Oct 1, 2013) at Curiosity Machine is one such creative-thought-experiment. After all, a scientist is just someone with a creative question to solve.

5) Understand pictures, charts, graphs, tables, maps, etc. These graphics engage the artistic/creative parts of the brain, so learning how to understand them is a great way to integrate creativity. In addition, interpreting data teaches how to assess the chaos of information every day. Textbooks often use charts and pictures to explain their topics. Being able to understand a graphic gives the student an additional way of learning (and remembering!) the material.

Cultivating a good scholar is an ongoing, daily mission. As a tutor, I only have 1-2 hours each week to work on this, so most of the work needs to be done in the home. However, providing the right environment for learning can be a difficult task in a large or loud household. Sometimes, there’s never a “right moment” to start something. Do it anyway, and do it together. The family that learns together, grows together. Being creative can change how you see and approach everything.

Happy learning!

Give them resources to use!

“This is going to be the best year ever!”

“I’m going to do better this year.”

School is back in full swing, and almost everyone is optimistic about how the semester and school year are going to go. Students are doing a great job of staying on task so far. A few of them even have some kind of plan, which is great.

As teachers, parents, and caregivers, how can you help? In addition to my posts on Tips to Help with Reading and Writing and Tips to Help with Math, there are many other resources to help students catch up or get ahead in their subjects. Here are some of my online recommendations for practice or inspiration…

MATH
As stated in Tips To Help with Math, Bright Hub Education has plenty of math help lessons. They also have other subjects, but I like their math sections best. There’s also some great information at Free Math Help. And since multiplication is still my most requested subject, also check out Multiplication.com for fun ways to hone multiplication skills.

Did you know that YouTube also has educational videos? A lot of people don’t. There are some great educational channels that can help students get started or refreshed in any subject. In Math, we have Vi Hart’s YouTube channel. Ms. Hart does a great job of making math interesting by telling stories about the concepts. She doesn’t have videos about every math topic, but what she does have is fun. You or your student may have seen her video about hexaflexagons, which went viral last year.

SCIENCE

From Biology to Chemistry to Physics and more, there are many topics to get confused about in Science.

For Biology, one of my favorite sites is The Biology Corner. There are explanations to all the usual lessons and lab experiments you can think of, along with worksheets and sample problems, because this site is a resource for teachers also. The Biology Corner covers all levels of topics from Intro Science to AP Biology.

Speaking of fantastic notes, handouts, and explanations, www.Chemmybear.com has all these for Chemistry. He also has this awesome page of animated molecule drawings.

Physics can be tough, but the Physics Classroom has great explanations, sometimes with funny or cute examples. The language is easy to understand… at least, as easy as physics gets.

As mentioned before, Google has an annual online science fair that I highly recommend. Although this year’s competition is coming to a close (the Finalist Event is Sept 23rd), that means this is the perfect time to start on the project for next year’s competition! For science project ideas, check out Science Project or Science Buddies.

If your student isn’t quite so interested in science, show them rapper GZA supporting Science Genius, an educational science program introduced to some inner-city New York schools earlier this year. It’s not just some hack celebrity tie-in either: GZA has always been interested in science, weaving science concepts into his lyrics, most prominently highlighted in his new album Dark Matter.
Alex Dainis runs the YouTube channel Bite Sci-zed where she talks about science-y things that she finds interesting. For other random interesting science ideas, check out the TED Talks YouTube channel TED Ed.

ENGLISH

For English Literature, nothing beats reading the book. I know that a lot of students use Cliffs Notes or Spark Notes, and while I don’t recommend them–not by themselves–they can help students understand the material better.
I recommend Shmoop for English. Shmoop.com, like some others on here, has information videos about almost every subject, but I think their material for English/Language Arts is most useful.

Lastly, many people have heard of Khan Academy and their YouTube channel. Khan Academy is an excellent virtual tutor for any of the above subjects. “Doesn’t that take away from your job?” a student asked. Ah haha, no. While Khan Academy and others on this list are incredibly informative and useful for some students, most students still need a live tutor like me. So I will always recommend education sites. My job is to give students as many tools as possible to help them learn. The more resources, the better!

When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter what your background is. Everyone can use these resources to understand school subjects better. Even if there’s been difficulty in particular subjects in the past, by integrating these helpful resources into your lives, your students (and everyone!) can have a better understanding of the things around them.
Good luck and happy learning!

Encouraging your student's success

As stated in my last post, school is back! Many parents and guardians are scrambling to make sure their students are ready. After buying supplies and preparing for school schedules, what else can you do to help the students in your life?

1) Take advantage of school programs. In the last few years, several schools have split their students into specialized learning groups, communities, or academies. This is to help students think about their interests, future careers, etc. Each program has specialized counselors to guide your students in their fields of interest. Take part in your student’s education by checking out what programs your school has.

2) Encourage interests. No matter what your student’s interests, encourage them. Whether it’s art, performing, math, science, reading–whatever. Encouragement is the expression of approval and support, and it gives students the courage to try something new or challenging. When you encourage your student’s individual interests, you are fostering passion for life.

3) Teach life skills. Students who succeed are ones who know how to apply school lessons to life in general. Skills such as critical thinking, personal interaction, and problem-solving will get your student further than memorizing any chapter in any class. How can students hone these skills? By reading, writing, math, and science, of course! Any of the core classes can teach these skills, but it takes a role model to teach how to use these skills.

4) Understand that failure leads to growth. There is so much pressure to succeed, and of course we want our students to succeed. However, they also need to understand how to handle mistakes and failure. It’s okay not to know all the answers. Overcoming mistakes is how we learn. Success.com (and Success magazine) had a great article on “Why Failure is Good for Success.” Understanding how to deal with mistakes and failure leads to less shame and more successful students!

5) Help them forge their own paths. Parents often want their children to “become” some career, because as adults, we see that some careers are simply more lucrative than others. And while it’s nice to point out those careers, remember that our students are not our clones nor should we push them towards careers we wish we had done. Help your students figure out their own career paths, because that will lead to better success.

Success is just the accomplishment of one’s goals. Help your students figure out what their goals are, both in the short-term and long-term, and everyone will be on the road to success. If you’re not sure how to figure out goals, stay tuned for my post on goal-setting! Until then, happy learning!

Prepare for BACK TO SCHOOL!

“Back to school already?!” my students have asked incredulously. Yes, indeed it is. Stores are already promoting sales on clothes and school supplies. What are some ways to help every student in your household prepare for “back to school”?

1) The most important thing you can do for your student is to provide an encouraging learning atmosphere. To help your student become a better scholar, you have to provide the right environment. Have a consistent (and well-lit!) study space. Your student needs your moral support also. Encourage different ways to learn and think critically.

2) Remember that, as you buy new things for your student, just as new clothes are important, so are school supplies! Notebooks, pencils, pens, binders, loose-leaf paper… I know it sounds like a lot (or maybe it doesn’t) but every student needs these supplies to succeed! You wouldn’t believe how many homes I tutor don’t have these ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY supplies. As adults, if we didn’t have pens or paper, most of us wouldn’t be able to do our jobs! Learning is your student’s job; make sure he or she is prepared!

3) Get started on a more regular, school-appropriate sleep schedule. Most parents and caregivers let students sleep in over the summer, which is fine, but then they don’t accommodate for back-to-school until just a couple days before. The body needs time to adjust, so moving the schedule little by little each week for a few weeks before school starts is much better for the body… and the student’s mood.

4) Prepare for upcoming classes, especially the ones your student finds difficult. Is that Math, Science, English? Many tutors (myself included; contact me!) have refresher programs for students to rebuild those lessons that the students may have forgotten over the summer. Brushing up on last year’s lessons definitely give your student a head start on the new school year.

5) Has your student started on the summer reading assignment yet? If not, check out my tips on how to tackle that summer reading. If there are other summer assignments, make sure those are underway also. (Some science classes assign a summer science project.) I’ve helped several students this summer work on their reading, projects, and essays.

Here are some other great tips on getting ready to go back to school. Enjoy the rest of summer as you move into “back to school”! Happy learning!

Tackle summer reading assignments!

“zzzzz…BORING!” my students tell me. Even though students received their summer reading assignments weeks ago, no one’s started yet. If your student is one of these, now’s the time to start! Many English classes assign books to read over the summer, in an attempt for classes to “jump right in” when school starts. Summer reading is designed to stimulate the mind and jumpstart the themes for the coming school year. Check out these helpful tips on how to begin (and make it through!) that “boring” summer reading.

1) Have a reading buddy. Just as with exercising or eating healthier, it really helps to have a buddy. Not only does a reading buddy help keep both students accountable, but there’s someone to help understand the material also. Discussing the novel with each other will help each of them understand the assignment much better than reading on each’s own.

If your student doesn’t know anyone else who has to read the book, you or someone else (a relative or tutor!) can be the buddy. I’m often the reading buddy for my students, especially with books that are new to me. This way, we both stay on task and we can discuss the book as we go along.

2) Schedule the reading time. To keep the reading from feeling overwhelming, or to keep from simply running out of time, students should have structured reading time. Some schools have a “reading period” for students, and time at home should have reading scheduled also. If your student already enjoys reading, great. If not, scheduling time (such as, each day from 2-3 p.m.) helps immensely.

3) Annotate. Some people call this journaling; some people call it annotating. Whatever it’s called in your student’s class, it’s a matter of taking notes while reading. As suggested in “Ten Tips to Help Your Child with Reading and Writing,” reading actively improves reading skills and comprehension. Have paper or a notebook ready at all times. That way, when something interesting or worth noting (or confusing) happens, the reader can jot it down with comments immediately.

4) Read the interesting one first. Even students who like to read tend to find summer reading lists difficult to tackle. If there’s more than one book on the list, start with the one that looks somewhat interesting. (Do all of them look uninteresting? Sorry, pick one anyway.) Slightly interesting books will go by quickly, and the student will feel accomplished and motivated to move on to the next one.

…or read the least interesting one first. Once that one’s done, all the rest should go by much quicker!

5) Plan rewards. As stated in “Overcome procrastination!” incentives are a great way of encouraging students to finish tasks. While rewards and incentives can’t be given for everything, they can help motivate a student to start (and finish) a task.

These tips have helped my students start their summer reading. Hopefully, they’ll help yours too. If not, let me know and we’ll see what else we can do! Remember that themes in our reading books are important to understanding cultures and society. Taking care of summer reading lists really does give the student a boost with following along during the school year. Happy learning!

Playing is learning!

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play IS serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” –Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers)

Summer is upon us. It’s amusing to me how, in the last week, I have heard students declare “freedom!” while various stay-at-home parents bemoan “the loss of a quiet house” until school starts again. Students are eager to go play. However, as Mr. Rogers said in the above quotation, play is actually serious learning. It is not (and shouldn’t be seen as) a break from learning! Life is an on-going learning experience. For children to go far, play and learning should go hand-in-hand.

1) Be curious. The world is full of amazing things. Explore it. Ask questions to learn how things work. As parents and caregivers, being curious about the world teaches students how to be curious also–and a curious mind leads to imaginative and creative minds.

2) Encourage learning. Everything we encounter is a way to learn something. Whether it’s accidental or deliberate, questions should be encouraged. Advancements in technology and society all happen because someone asks questions. Attitudes towards learning start at home with the parents and caregivers. So encourage your students to play and learn, and they’ll do it all their lives.

3) Provide stimulating toys to students. Tools (toys) make anything easier, and learning is definitely one of those things. Many people are kinesthetic learners; they learn better hands-on. So a toy is the ideal avenue for learning. Even if your student’s learning style is different, a toy is always fun and provides a different way to approach a concept.

Note: when giving your students toys, promote them in a gender-neutral way. Males and females should be encouraged to play with whatever toy they want. Growing up, my siblings and I had to share all our toys so we never realized that some toys were apparently “boys’ toys” and some were “girls’ toys.” Society’s gender bias in toys has led our culture to believe that certain jobs are “only for a man” or “only for a woman” but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Roominate is a great new toy that promotes STEM learning; I highly recommend it.

4) Take a class. As stated in the last post, find a local class or sports team to join. A class can teach a new skill or hone a current skill. Students can pick up new hobbies or get healthy with different physical activities. Learn how to play an instrument, swim, or dance! It’s all up to the student.

5) Participate in a summer camp. This is similar to taking a class but gives students a greater chance to explore. Summer camps provide growth opportunities for all ages. Just as with a class or sports team, students will meet new people and try new things, but summer camp also provides a new location for students to play in. (This is an added bonus for those parents who want a quieter house for a week.) Students learn about nature, self-reliance, and cooperation.

With the First Day of Summer just passed, students should be out there exploring, playing, and learning. Summer’s less-structured learning is as vital as school-year education. Let students find what they’re interested in, and the excitement will grow. Happy learning!