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Proudly Serving Calgary & Surrounding Areas

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.

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.

Looking at volunteering? Think big!

Volunteering can be a huge part of a high schooler’s life — indeed many school boards won’t graduate you if you haven’t put in your hours. But instead of simply signing up with a local charity and putting in your time, how about setting up your own charity and making a go of it yourself? You’ll still end up doing some good, and end up with a nice portfolio piece (not to mention valuable experience) as well.

First, come up with your idea. Maybe there’s a child in your neighborhood who has medical expenses. Or maybe an old person who has fallen behind in her bills. Maybe a playground needs to be cleaned up or repaired. Maybe you could line up several projects over the course of a school year. Chances are you’ll find all kinds of need right in your community that you never knew about. Ask around. Maybe a small group would be willing to put you in charge of a specific project.

Second, make sure you’ll get credit for the activities you’re planning, assuming your school requires volunteer hours. Talk to the staff at your high school, or even the school board. Explain what you’re hoping to do, and include all of it: fundraising, publicity, goals, everything. Don’t do a single thing unless you’ve got the green light.

Third, if money is involved, make sure you document everything. Every nickel should go on a spreadsheet and be documented with bank balances and receipts. Chances are your project won’t be big enough to require tax information, but make sure you don’t break any tax laws.

Now it gets fun. Build a website, start a Facebook group, take photos, make videos. Come up with a name for your little nonprofit, maybe come up with a cool logo. Think about fundraisers if you need money, such as race sponsoring, local concerts, you name it. Document all of it online.

Yes, it sounds like a lot of work, and it’s not for everyone. But it’s a fantastic way to meet people, and you’ll get tons of real-world experience that will serve you well down the road as you apply for college. It will also help your job hunt.

The key is to do everything by the book. Watch any money that’s involved, follow any and all rules and regulations. The great thing is, pulling it off will be proof to the world that you have ideals and that you can handle responsibility. Go for it!

 

Is something up with the ACT exam?

In a recent Washington Post article, students expressed dismay in the scores reported for the essay section of the ACT exam. Many young people who have previously reported good grades and positive feedback on their writing say they were graded much worse on the ACT’s essay portion than seemed reasonable to them.

The reported solution to the low grades? Paying extra $50 to ACT for a re-scoring of their essays:

“One Rhode Island student took the ACT in September, getting a 19 on the writing section and 30s on the rest of the test. ‘He’s a pretty good writer,’ one of this student’s parents said. ‘I thought the 19 was odd.’ The student asked for a re-score and was rewarded with a huge bump, to 31. There was no explanation for what the parent called a ‘very dramatic’ change. ‘I was a little disconcerted.’”

The paranoid among us might wonder if there was a sneaky cash grab going on, a backdoor solicitation of funds in exchange for a higher score. Certainly, that is an accusation being thrown about in social media in a big way.

However, there are a couple of factors to consider. First, the policy of ACT is to refund that extra “re-scoring” money if the score is revised upward. In other words, ACT doesn’t benefit financially from boosting scores.

Secondly, the essay portion is separate from other portions of the exam. Indeed, many colleges don’t even consider the essay portion (though many ivy league schools most definitely do). It’s an optional portion of the test, even though around half of all test-takers do write the essay. What’s more, the current writing prompt is new, and may well be taking people by surprise:

“The new essay requires students to ‘develop an argument that puts their own perspective in dialogue with others’ in response to a contemporary issue. A sample topic on the ACT website is the influence of ‘intelligent machines.’”

That’s quite different from the previous essay format, which required students to explain an opinion on a given topic.

Finally, the essay is graded by two separate people, using a documented rubric. In other words, while it may be upsetting to get a lower score than expected, don’t jump to conclusions as to the cause, because as things are set up, ACT has no financial motive to push your score lower. There’s no reason therefore, to believe that anything is amiss.

Teachers fired for bad-mouthing students

Ah, the staffroom. It is a special place. A refuge for teachers, a place for them to relax, have a coffee or eat their lunch, and chat with other teachers. And what do they talk about? Oh, the usual things one might find in a modern workplace: family matters, politics, sports, that sort of thing. But one thing that is not so well known is that while teachers do talk about their students, that talk is not always appreciative and flattering; it’s sometimes very negative. Indeed new teachers are frequently shocked by the negative, even insulting tone that sometimes invades the staffroom. Again, it’s not a universal phenomenon by any means, and it’s really not something you would encounter from anyone employed by Tutor Doctor, but it does happen.

And now, because times have changed, that sort of talk is entering social media too.

In the staffroom, the fear is of being overheard by a student. But social media is a particularly dangerous medium, as a group of teachers recently found out:

“The conversations were at times profane and disparaging of students or parents. In one conversation, a teacher, apparently angry at a student’s mother, writes ‘I CANNOT WITH HER I HOPE HER STUPID SON FAILS ALL HIS CLASSES.’ In another, a teacher calls a student a ‘dumb a–.'”

The teachers were using Slack, a chat app that is widely used for workplace collaboration — and was used at the school itself, located in Rhode Island. They frequently posted the staffroom griping on the app. But then someone hacked the app, pasted all the disparaging comments into a Google Doc, then shared it with the whole school. In the blink of an eye the doc was being read by students, parents, administrators, everyone.Three teachers have resigned in disgrace, though their names have not been released to the public.

Social media has exploded with outrage; it appears most parents were unaware that teachers were even capable of the statements revealed by the hack. Some veteran teachers have shaken their heads in dismay, believing the staff in this case were incredibly sloppy in documenting their opinions. Others are questioning whether this sort of talk should be as routine as it is.

One thing that is certain, however: living in the age of social media makes teacher complaining a far dicier proposition.

 

“Finding Dory” and the exceptional child

[WARNING: this post contains tons of spoilers!]

Dory is a fish, and she has a problem. You see, she doesn’t really have any short-term memory. That means you can have a conversation with her, but within second she forgets it — and has the same conversation again. And again. She forgets so many important things, such as the fact that sea anemones sting, and she has to be very careful not to get lost. She’s well loved in her community, but her friends and loved ones clearly see her as a burden. The constant, repetitive conversations are annoying. She causes a great deal of annoyance and she requires a fair bit of looking after to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself — but her memory issues lead her astray anyhow.

Dory, voiced by comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, is sweet, happy and very open about herself. She constantly tells those around her that she has short-term memory loss. She knows who she is and it doesn’t get her down.

As the film progresses, however, Dory’s perspective begins to shift. She begins to remember her childhood and her parents, in scenes that are often super cute. But other memories begin to return as well, mostly centered around her parents. They struggle to get her socialized; her memory issues clearly make it hard to make friends. They practice playing with other kids in a failed attempt to mix it up with the other little fish — something she desperately wants to do. They constantly work to bolster her self-esteem. The image of the forgetful but happy-go-lucky little fish begins to crack.

Finally, Dory has a very sharp and agonizing memory that makes it clear that more is going on with her parents than their endlessly patient encouragement — the burden placed on those around her by her disability is finally revealed, and she’s devastated. It is a truly painful moment.

In the end, Dory realizes not only that she is loved and accepted by everyone in her life, but that she has had a powerful positive impact on many folk she has met. She relates to people in her own unique way, emotionally connecting even with a grouchy, misanthropic acquaintance (well, the octopus equivalent of misanthropic). Most of all, her memory issues means she lives in the moment and follows her heart — an example admired by her family and friends. Dory does, in other words, have her struggles, but she also shines in her individuality.

In the end, Dory’s disability is not something that holds her back or makes her a “broken toy” — rather, it’s something that does, in words that have become so cliche around the world but in words that will forever be true, make her special. Educators who work with kids, including of course private tutors and in-home tutors, have an intimate understanding of all the exceptionalities and the struggles faced by the young people who have them. Indeed Tutor Doctor is guided by the knowledge that one-on-one, tailor-made tutoring can bring immense benefits to students with exceptionalities.

To sum up: Finding Dory is a super-entertaining (and highly successful) movie about the adventures of a fish and her pals, but it’s also a loving portrait of someone with special needs. Our society could use more such portraits.

 

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