We Can Talk as Long as You Want

Meeting one-one with 40+ high school students on their writing has been a challenge – but also a joy. We have had AHA! moments that would have never happened in a classroom of 25 students.

The Pain of Digital Injustice

I teach an Early College high school class in an urban area that has been hit hard by COVID-19. It’s been extremely painful for me to receive emails from those students who are struggling to get online to access our classroom platform and our Zoom class. Emergency remote teaching was supposed to be the answer – “just go online.” But for many students and teachers the digital divide opens up glaring injustices that were silently hidden while students were coming to school for technology.

Early College High Schools are schools designed to give equal access to students who want to go to college. The school and its donors remove the financial burdens of community college while the teachers, administrators, and college professors work tirelessly to keep students engaged in high school while simultaneously taking college courses. It’s hard work for everyone, but we do it because we want to see these students succeed. Only now, the digital wall makes us all feel like our plans for equal opportunity education was a false idea.

What plans do we have to overcome this? Which of our state and educational leaders will step up? Staring us in the face is only one of the many consequences of this devastating public health emergency, but we can not ethically ignore what has happened. The question that arises: what kind of educators do we want to be as we come out of this crises?

I don’t assume to have the quick answers but know we can not begin solving the problem until we recognize it.


Owner/Operator Broad Star Tutoring, LLC

What about our older students?

I’m hearing a lot about elementary-age students (thank goodness!), but today I want to talk about the needs of our middle school and high school students. As we know, the habits of tweens and teens can be moody (no kidding) and less cooperative when it comes to school work. The same suggestions and schedules are not meant for older siblings, so what do you do?

First of all, I would not try to control their schedule, but at the same time, monitor their sleep patterns and screen time. Finding ways for your teens to exercise will also be helpful. As for academics, this age group needs as much guidance from their teachers as our younger students. Do they have required reading? Reading activities for middle school could include keeping a log of characters and events in their books or researching countries and places that make up the settings in their books. For instance, I am working with a middle school student now who is reading a book about the Vietnam War. It’s been fun for both of us to look up the culture of Vietnam in 1967 and the counter-culture in the United States. What a meaningful way to teach about the student demonstrations against the war and the marches for civil rights!

Do you have a high school junior or senior preparing for college? College essays to write? What about other academic requirements to finish requirements for graduation? This is a perfect time to do that research for the end-of-the-year research papers.

If your student is going off to college next year, now is the perfect time to work on time management when it comes to project work and balancing four or more college courses. Building these habits of mind now will give your high school senior a head start for the demands of college.

Missing out on college visits? Get in touch with the admissions department of each school and inquire about virtual tours or one-on-one video-conferencing appointments. Schools will be accommodating to their incoming students.

Lastly, I have spent my entire career helping high school students prepare for college and supporting first year students once they get there. Most students are not prepared for the college reading and writing that will be expected of them.

Please let me now if you would like to set up a Zoom conference on middle school, high school, or college reading and writing skills.

You can message me here, Facebook, or Care.com.

Hang in there!


Reading Comprehension Strategies

Elaine Hays

Elaine Hays, Teacher Tutor

Comprehension Monitoring

You may have heard of the literacy organization Keys for Literacy founded by Joan Sedita. In her program, The Key Comprehension Routine, includes main idea skills, two-column notes, and question generation to support comprehension monitoring.

Main Idea Skills – One of the most common requests that I receive from parents is “help my child get organized!” No matter age or ability, we all struggle with organization whether it be organizing our thoughts, our tasks, or our lives! Working one-on-one with students can be a productive way to teach these skills. With younger children, I often use blocks or plastic food pieces from their favorite play kitchen. What’s important is the smile on their faces when they realize that they already know how to organize! From this activity we can try out text and picture examples.

For older students who struggle with recognizing main and supporting ideas I like to talk with them about other everyday activities that involve recognizing levels of information: websites, computer games, favorite TV shows, chapters in books.

Once your child has experienced some success, then the idea of main ideas does not seem so daunting. Scaffolding learning is key.

Does your child need Academic Support?

Let’s face it.  Classroom teachers, at any level, do not have time to tutor each student.  True, there are teachers who give of themselves indefatigably and then there are those whose doors are closed at the end of the day.  If your school has extra funding for tutors (usually because they have not met state and federal testing goals), there may be after school tutoring programs, but this is not the norm.  As parents and grandparents we need to be able to evaluate our student’s progress and happiness with school.

Happiness?  How do we measure happiness?  I use the term happiness here not as a valid measurement of academic achievement but rather as a way of  taking your child’s temperature – or, measuring your child’s temperament for school.  Does your child look forward to going to school or is it a fight to get her on the bus every morning?

What is Literacy?

The word literacy gets thrown around quite a bit these days. There’s computer literacy, math literacy, and financial literacy — usually meaning to gain competence in any subject area. In many cases, gaining competence also means being able to read, write, and speak about any subject area. For me, literacy means teaching the skills necessary to communicate your ideas academically and professionally.

For education this requires scaffolded, differentiated instruction which in some cases is best acquired with a literacy specialist. For a first grader learning reading comprehension, literacy means being competent in letters and sounds that work together to make words, sentences, paragraphs, and finally stories.

For a third grader, literacy may mean writing her own stories with illustrations followed by showing and telling (or sharing) with teachers and classmates. As a child develops, reading and writing skills can waiver as other literacies compete for a child’s attention. If unnoticed, gaps in literacy skills can be detrimental to a child’s education.

Children read and write in EVERY SUBJECT.

Next time: learn how a literacy specialist can help close the gap in early literacy learning.

Teaching the Stories of the Civil War

I recently had the good fortune of helping an 8th grader study for a test on the Civil War. Now I have spent many hours reading about the “actors” of the Civil War.  I guess I would call myself an amateur historian although I am more interested in learning about the people involved than war tactics.  This time in our history has always fascinated me.  How did we get there?  How were decisions made?  Why did our ancestors decide the only way out was war against ourselves.  I dive into personal journals, biographies, and autobiography trying to uncover an inkling of insight.  Of course, I have been accused of romanticizing history and I suppose I do, but I love to let my imagination follow the stories.

When asked by my student if I knew anything about the civil war, I of course beamed with excitement.  I love talking about Gettysburg even though it was a horrific three days.  Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain led a famous bayonet charge and took Confederate prisoners with no ammunition.  James Longstreet argued relentlessly with General Lee claiming there was no way that their soldiers could march a mile on open ground without being slaughtered.  Lee did not listen.  Then there was Pickett’s charge across the cornfield.  I’ve read that General George Pickett never recovered from losing all his men.  These are the stories I love to tell and think about.

When I finally ended my heroic storytelling, I noticed that my i-hate-history-student was listening intently.  On my cell phone, I pulled up a video clip of the movie Gettysbury so she could witness an reenactment of Little Round Top and the final march. She was captured just as I was.

Efforts grow to help students evaluate what they see online — Fox17

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Alarmed by the proliferation of false content online, state lawmakers around the country are pushing schools to put more emphasis on teaching students how to tell fact from fiction. Lawmakers in several states have introduced or passed bills calling on public school systems to do more to teach media literacy skills that they say are critical to democracy. The effort has been bipartisan but has received little attention despite successful legislation in Washington state, Connecticut, […]

via Efforts grow to help students evaluate what they see online — Fox17

Reading for the SAT

Elaine Hays

Ah, one of my favorite subjects.  Why?  Because many of our high school sophomores and juniors are lacking strong literacy skills, especially the type of skills needed for college and beyond.   Our students need to be well-read in multiple subject areas.  When working with high school students, I often recommend they read both print and digital media, e.g., Science Digest, Science Today, The New Yorker Magazine, The Atlantic, Technology, Business, and a variety of print newspapers.  I encourage then to visit their school and town libraries for more than video games (although games have their own set of skills) and to find books and novels that hold their interest.  But all of this is only the beginning. Students who want to do well on the Reading section of the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) will want to learn the needed reading skills as well as the reliable test-taking strategies.

For this reason, I think the focus of most SAT and ACT prep courses is lacking.  Students will not be successful at the strategy of Process of Elimination if they do not comprehend, contain, and quickly analyze what they are reading.  A focused test prep is beneficial only if your student has acquired advanced reading skills prior to test prep.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Does your daughter or son read for pleasure?  Read over the summer?
  • Talk to friends about what he/she is reading?
  • Is your teenager aware of current events?  Does she ask questions about what is going on in the world?

Academic Reading is an acquired skill and one that does not come naturally for many students (and adults).  Possibly, your son or daughter has not quite acquired this skill during English class and could use a bit of 1:1 tutoring.  A few private reading sessions could be well worth the expense.

Call Elaine today to set up a free consultation.