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Proudly Serving Calgary & Surrounding Areas

Professional Development: An untapped market?

Professional development days are a staple of school life. Students get a day off, parents scramble for childcare, and teachers sit in a stuffy room and become students. In truth, however, professional development (PD) is a huge part of work life for a teacher, with around ten percent of the school year, or 19 days, devoted to training. But much of that effort is wasted, according to a new study [note: report behind paywall]: “By and large, U.S. teachers are receiving professional development that is superficial, short-lived, and incoherent.” Does this present a hidden opportunity for modern trainers and educators?

The point of PD is to ensure that teachers are fully versed in current educational knowledge and techniques. A lot of people tend to think of teaching advancement in terms of generations, with younger teachers picking up new skills when they train for their certificates, and bringing those skills into the classroom while older teachers retire. However if that viewpoint has any basis in reality, it’s a disastrously inefficient way to keep teachers current, especially in this day and age.

The world is full of data and practical experience, and private companies make the most of this through constant skills training — and being profit-making entities, they work hard to ensure that all their training is effective, useful, and is retained by all learners. The study, a

2016 EdNET Insight report entitled The Evolution of Professional Development to Professional Learning, finds essentially no effect on student outcomes by teacher PD, while most teachers believe it has little relevance in their work. Despite this, the report views PD as a huge potential opportunity.

Modern training offers countless venues for picking up, honing and maintaining skills. Micro-credentials, online learning, collaborative learning — the list is long. And the market is huge, with an estimated US$18 billion spent on PD in the United States alone — this totals around $18,000 per teacher per year. Would talented teachers, trainers and tutors outside the education system be able to crack this market and start offering PD to educators? At the moment, few schools would even think of such a thing — but making it happen could have major business ramifications. It’s an opportunity to make a profit, and to make a difference.

Remembering Roald Dahl

September 13th is Roald Dahl Day, and in fact the 2016 version marks 100 years since the author was born. So let’s take a look at the man and his work, and what it all means.

A common thread winding through much of his work is the portrayal of adults, especially teachers, as the enemies of children. In fact, Dahl himself pegged this as a key source of his literary success, since it allowed him to connect with his young readers and make them feel understood. But there’s a bit more to his work — a certain dark edge mixed in with the fantastical storytelling.

In Dahl’s classic novel Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the eponymous head of a candy company brings in some lucky kids to sample his factory’s sweet, sweet wares. However beyond providing candy, Willy Wonka is also there to mete out punishment for misbehaving youngsters. Severe punishment. While the Oompah-Loompahs serve as obedient drones operating the often very dark machinery of Willy Wonka’s world. Some people, when they look at that novel, see a symbol of corporate greed gone wild. Others see a serial killer. But no matter what you see, it’s hard to deny the tale’s innate harshness — a harshness that winds its way through much of Dahl’s work. Where does this darkness come from? What gave Roald Dahl his edge? The answer is quite simple: Trauma.

In his essay Lucky Break, Dahl begins by offering helpful pointers on how to become a writer. He also tells his own story of being discovered (on writing his first article, the respected author C. S. Forester asked him, “did you know you were a writer?”). But the essay also describes the nightmarish suffering he experienced in his life. As a child in the 1920s, he was sent to a British boarding school, and there he lived under a true reign of terror that will be familiar to anyone with knowledge of old British schooling practices. The kids were beaten, and beaten severely, for the slightest infraction. In Lucky Break, Dahl, in excruciating detail, describes this abuse — and it was abuse, let’s not tiptoe around it. Later, during the Second World War, Dahl served in the Royal Air Force, (RAF) and while there barely survived a plane crash in North Africa. His horrific injuries, which included many broken bones (including his pelvis), caused him to be sent home, and served as the subject of his first published piece, as described above.

This suffering is what infuses the work of Roald Dahl. He had an extraordinary imagination, and a gift for original stories, but as a human being he had suffered a great deal. While some may see frightening overtones of evil and cruelty in Dahl’s work, however, it might be more fair to say that a part of Dahl was that frightened, wounded child, calling out to readers with a very simple message: be kind to children. It’s a message that calls out to parents, teachers, tutors — everybody.

That, perhaps, is his finest legacy.

 

Learning to work with Common Core

Of the many controversies in American education, few are more intense than the issue of Common Core. But whether you’re a fan or a critic, Common Core is a thing that exists, and there are some facts every parent should know if they want their youngster to prosper under the new system.

 

1. Common Core is not a curriculum

Some may think that Common Core consists of learning content that all students must learn. Not quite. Common Core is a set of learning requirements that affect every grade, from kindergarten to grade twelve. Put simply, it doesn’t tell students what they must learn, so much as how they must learn it — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say how they must prove that they have done the learning. The changes, however, are substantial, and will probably make school a great deal more challenging for a great many students. After all the official goal is to ensure America “catches up” with the nations at the top of the global education rankings. It is also intended to make sure that young people are better equipped to handle college and work.

 

2. Guessing is much harder

Questions presented to students will offer a lot less “wiggle room” for those who only have a partial understanding of the material. In other words the questions themselves will sort of be “mini tests” that require analytical thought to comprehend. No, they don’t get a mark just for understanding the questions. The idea is to push students to have increased comprehension in general, rather than just having them study specific facts or formulae.

Here’s a sample Common Core test question:

“Jim uses ribbon to make bookmarks. Jim has 9 feet of ribbon. He uses 1/3 foot of ribbon to make each bookmark. What is the total number of bookmarks Jim makes with all 9 feet of Ribbon?”

This is a fairly straightforward question, one which might appear on any exam, Common Core or not. However the answer isn’t multiple choice; the test-taker has to do the calculation, showing their work, and provide the correct result. Guessing is pretty much a waste of time. A student sitting for this exam, in other words, needs a very thorough understanding of the concepts involved if they want to get a better grade.

 

3. Answering different questions

You might remember studying as involving a whole lot of memorization. Two students sitting on the floor of a busy high school hallway testing their recall of formulae, historical dates and so on. But under Common Core, the idea is, instead, to make sure those students reach a far deeper understanding of the subjects on their timetables — deep enough, perhaps, to be able to teach it to others. That means asking the difficult question “why” a whole lot more. Students will be expected to understand the big picture, and the little picture too.

 

4. Understand and prepare

An awful lot of people have some awfully strong feelings about Common Core. But like it or loathe it, Common Core is sticking around for the time being. As a parent, therefore, you should try to understand all the standards being set by Common Core, and how they apply to your child’s schooling. After that, work with your youngster to make sure they understand what’s expected of them. Check in regularly to make sure he/she is on track. And keep your eyes peeled for mistakes in those tests and assignments! Teachers have to adjust to Common Core as well, and errors will pop up from time to time.

 

There are loads of resources online that will help you better understand Common Core. Indeed there are even apps on the subject. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s teachers if you have any questions or concerns.

The other learning exceptionality: Poverty

Parents, students and educators are well aware of a great many learning exceptionalities nowadays. We’ve all heard of ADD, ADHD, dyslexia and so many more issues that affect academic performance. But often overlooked is one with a source that’s outside the student: poverty. It’s a phenomenon that can, with 100% certainty, have a powerful impact on young learners. Addressing it, however, can be very problematic. It’s a bit puzzling, really, when so much attention is given to other factors that can affect student excellence. Why is this?

There are different kinds of poverty

When we talk about poverty, we generally refer to economic hardship. But some kids also have to deal with emotional poverty, growing up in unhealthy homes; poverty of affection, where they feel unloved or unwanted; poverty of safety, where violence, either at home or in their community (or even both) are all too familiar. In other words, it’s not just about money, it’s about the absence of the kinds of conditions that increase the odds of growing up to be happy, healthy and to test the limits of one’s potential. Being poor in economic terms drastically increases the risks of being poor in other regards as well.
 

Poverty is political

No political debate includes candidates arguing about the causes of, say, ADHD; nor would it result in powerfully opposing arguments about how the government should (or should not) deal with it. Learning exceptionalities are generally not political, but it’s very hard to separate contemporary political debate from the needs of an individual child living in poverty. In truth, though, no child chooses their environment or upbringing, and should be seen like any other child with special needs: a young person in need of help. It takes a bit of extra work to accomplish this perspective.

 

Kids in poverty can be difficult to help

Children who grow up poor are at a far greater risk of behavioral issues, cognitive issues, and unhealthy socialization. This can often make it much more difficult to connect with kids in poverty — there can be a ton of unpleasant behavior to get through. This requires an extra degree of patience and a willingness to persevere, sometimes against the apparent lack of interest on the part of the child.

 

Poverty can cause a great deal of stress

It’s not easy being a child in poverty. The pressures of economic uncertainty and living physical conditions that can sometimes be harsh, not to mention the simple fact that it can be much harder to have hope for the future, all add up to a child living with a great deal of stress. This stress can express itself in many ways, and even cause health problems. It can’t be denied that a child in the grips of stress will have many struggles in school, and if the stress comes out in disruptive ways, that child is more likely to be ejected from class then approached with patience and gentleness (particularly when there are a dozen or two other students in need of attention).

There’s no approach to helping students in poverty that’s magically easy and straightforward. But then again, that can be said for all learning exceptionalities. All exceptionalities require patience, empathy and tons of hard work — poverty among them. After all, a child is an individual human being in need of support, not simply the sum of their problems. Perhaps most importantly, providing a stable, trustworthy, compassionate presence could have a tremendously positive impact on a young life.

Getting ready for a new school year

Is it back to school time already? Yes it is! But while a lot of people tend to focus on things like school clothes and school supplies, there are some other steps you can take to help ensure a happy and productive school year.

 

1. Set up a calendar

Really, get organized. Your school will probably have a schedule online that’s full of important dates ranging from days off to assemblies. And your teachers will almost certainly have calendars for your courses, listing assignments, tests and more. It will take some work, but try to put all of it onto a single calendar. Doing it on paper, maybe on a whiteboard, offers the advantage of letting you see an entire semester, or even a whole year, at a single glance; a digital version, such as Google Calendars, would let you access it remotely and on your phone (and you’ll be able to share it with parents and tutors). It can be intimidating to see all that work stretching out ahead of you, but if you make it, then pay attention and make the most of it, you’ll be able to stay on top of your schoolwork, and thereby reduce your stress.

 

2. Think about your health

If you don’t look after your health, your grades will suffer. So try putting together a simple list of things to do that will keep you as fit as possible. It can be as simple as a daily or weekly checklist that includes things like a bit of exercise, eating some fruit, having a smoothie once a week, going for a walk or run — healthy stuff like that. Don’t make it too intense or it will add to your stress levels. Just make sure you don’t let yourself slide into an unhealthy lifestyle.

 

3. Get a hobby

Yes, school will keep you plenty busy, but you should still try to find time for something you love, something that’s 100% your choice. There are so many activities out there! From filmmaking to painting to geocaching to long-distance running — not to mention old-fashioned things like reading and writing. Don’t let it get hectic and stressful, but try to find something positive you can do when things get anxious.

4. Come up with a stress management plan

Stress is a huge problem among students, especially as they approach their university applications. Fulfilling all your duties at home and at school (not to mention socially) can trigger stress and anxiety. Everyone experiences stress differently — how does it hit you? What are your personal stress reactions? It’s important to learn how you handle stress. Watch out for unhealthy behavior and physical side-effects, and be ready to give yourself the care and attention you need. Try especially to figure out what eases your stress. You might be surprised how simple it can be — even the simple act of taking a walk, or lying in bed listening to music with your eyes closed, can bring you some peace. It’s also important to talk to people about your stress. Teachers, parents, tutors, all can help you. Don’t suffer alone!

However you prepare for school, we at Tutor Doctor wish you all the success in the world. Go get ‘em!

 

Just what is stress, exactly?

Stress is a huge part of our lives. There’s just no escaping it. Young, old, rich, poor, it doesn’t matter — we all experience it from time to time. Sometimes it affects us very badly. But what exactly is stress? Where does it come from …

It’s time to stop struggling with math

There’s just no getting around it: if you want to go to college or university, you’re going to have to have at least some math credits under your belt. In theory you might be able to find a way of getting around it, but in practical terms math is a necessary part of education. And if nothing else, a shortage of math courses will certainly close off a very long list of college majors, and, by extension, future jobs and careers. So there’s just no choice: even if math causes you fear, frustration or a general sense of hopelessness, you still have to slay that dragon.

If you struggle with math, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Get help. Seriously, no joke: get help

Math is one of those subjects where the answers are very clear and without wiggle room. Some courses allow teachers an opportunity for a bit of subjective interpretation if necessary, but this is really not possible when it comes to math. It’s all about precision and accuracy, which means that if you’re struggling you’re likely to hit a brick wall.

Why suffer alone? There are so many ways you can get help from people who really know their business, whether it’s an in-home tutor, a one-on-one tutor, a study group or just a geeky aunt. You definitely won’t regret it.

Again: don’t go it alone. This applies to all ages, from elementary school through high school and beyond.

2. Always ensure you understand the basics

Math isn’t just about formulas and functions — there are plenty of terms that are very important to comprehend. Sum, mean, limit, polyhedron, sine. There are just so many words that describe so many things. It’s actually an aspect of mathematics that often gets overlooked, so don’t make that mistake. Learn all the terms related to your courses, and understand not just their definitions but what they mean in the context of the work. This will give you a deeper comprehension of math. In turn this will give you more confidence.

3. Don’t just study — drill

Methods for mastering other subjects might not work a well with math. Staring at a math textbook is unlikely to help you understand if you’re struggling. So in addition to studying, try practicing as well. Math drills are easily available online, and your teacher will probably be more than happy to provide worksheets. There are also a ton of phone apps that will do the job. If you think of math as a skill — like carpentry or drawing or basketball — then you’ll understand the need for practice. That’s how you get good at something, right? Practice! Doing so will not only improve your skill, but reduce any intimidation you feel.

 

4. Be gentle with yourself!

If you’re stressed, find ways of relaxing. If you’re feeling like a failure, find ways to increase your confidence. Actually dealing with stress, struggle and failure is a key part of life. Let’s face it, life is going to throw a lot of obstacles in your way, and as strange as it sounds, overcoming your math struggles can improve your life overall, as well as your prospects for happiness and confidence. In other words, conquering math can help you conquer life.

Don’t start stressing about college too early

We’re used to high school seniors to feel stress about the college application process. It can seem overwhelming: the ACT, the SAT, extracurriculars, charity work, tests, assignments, presentations, projects … it’s all so real, not…

News Item: Helping with homework usually backfires

It may seem like a perfectly reasonable thing to do: your kid has homework and needs help, so you sit down with them and provide a helping hand. Many of us can remember sitting with our own parents and puzzling through some tricky bit of schoolwork. But a new study by Tutor Doctor suggests that rather than helping, this “assistance” may wind up hurting.

According to the research:

“In the study, 8 out of 10 parents actually attempted to help their children with homework and the number of parents who reported their children as ‘easily frustrated’ was nearly 75 percent. As a result, nearly 93 percent of families reported that homework has had some impact on the overall stress levels of their home. Regarding specific subject areas children find most challenging, more than half of the respondents reported math as the most difficult subject area for their children.”

In other words, helping with homework makes the whole experience a more stressful experience. As if it wasn’t difficult enough to start with!

In these days when both parents work, it can be hard to find the time to really give students the kind of help and support they need. And in fact, the data suggests that helping might only make things worse.

As Tutor Doctor’s president, Frank Milner said in the above-quoted article, “When parents attempt to help their children with difficult homework, they have all the right intentions … They just want their child to succeed in school. The problem is that it usually backfires. The parent is tired from a long day at work. Their patience runs thin. Both the parent and the child get frustrated. That’s when we get the call.”

Stress can be such an integral part of education that we don’t even notice it. But as our skilled one-to-one tutors know, it doesn’t have to be this way. The help of a talented, personalized tutor, especially one employing a personalized academic game plan, can work wonders on a struggling student.

The pros and cons of taking a year to travel

Many countries have a “gap year” tradition, whether it involves backpacking across a foreign country or getting a job and saving money. Mostly the idea is to gain practical experience of living and working in the world, and hopefully to meet people, and, of course, have fun. But is it a good idea? What are the risks involved? The answers depend on what you’re hoping to get out of it.

First off, while it might seem as though a gap year might help a subsequent college application, such is usually not the case. Colleges get mountains of applications and they simply can’t sit and sift through your life-affirming experiences — they focus primarily on grades and test scores. So if you’re hoping to improve your desirability as a college applicant, you might want to think of something else (preferably something that directly affects your application).

That being said, it could help your college application if you could show you got a job and saved money for school. This would indicate that you’re industrious and take your education seriously, and a job related to your major would also demonstrate passion for that field (and you might make some contacts that could serve as references). And even if you’re not trying to impress anyone at an applications department, it can feel mighty good to have a little nest egg when you’re young.

One big reason to consider a gap year is to just plain take a break from school. By the time high school ends you might well be exhausted and dreading the prospect of jumping right into the next stage of your academic career. In that case, putting some time as a traveller or a volunteer might leave you recharged and rarin’ to go. At the same time, you might prefer to put it off till later — chances are you might need a break before starting your senior year of college, and there are options your school can help you with, such as completing a semester abroad.

Don’t forget that taking a year off will very likely put you a year behind your friends. This might not be too big a problem, as your friends will (hopefully) always be your friends, while a gap year can end up with you making new friends. But it is something to keep in mind. And be careful financially — the last thing you want is to get into debt before you even start college.

In the end, it really comes down to what you want, because a gap year will mostly benefit your inner life. Whether working or wandering, you can expect to meet new people, have new experiences and build some new ways of looking at the world. There will always be pressure to focus on school, and there are always financial issues to consider. So weigh the decision, and go with what works best for you.

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