Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Optimism for 2018

Optimism for 2018 -
The World is a Better Place than Ever

Does it ever seem like the state of the world is going downhill?  Luckily, current facts and statistics demonstrate that this is not at all true.  In fact, there is every reason to believe that the world is improving, and this is because of the many hard workers who constantly strive to make the world a better place.

According to Nicholas Kristoff in his January 6th article in the New York Times Sunday Review, “2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity….Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water….As recently as the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 15 percent are illiterate, and fewer than 10 percent live in extreme poverty.” See full post here

These gains are extraordinary.  Mr. Kristoff goes on to say that last year he wrote an article saying that 2016 was the best year in human history.  And next year he expects even more gains.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been instrumental in improving lives in the developing world.   Through the data and first-person accounts from six contributors, the 2017 Gates Foundation report showcases the stunning progress the world has made in the past generation: cutting extreme poverty and child deaths in half and reducing HIV deaths and maternal deaths by nearly half, among many other accomplishments.

Like me, perhaps you read and watch the news too often, and too much of it is terrible – earthquakes, mud slides, fires, hurricanes, etc.  The latest politics is often depicted as horrific, and war with North Korea may be imminent.  But then we see that North Korea is talking to South Korea and will join the Olympics.  And many companies, foundations, and leaders throughout the world have been taking steps and making progress towards combating climate change and improving lives throughout the world.

Almost none of us have the extensive resources of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, however, we all can do something to contribute to society, through our jobs, volunteer work, and monetary contributions.  To make a difference, we need to find our passions and invest our energies towards improving the world.

Our family did one small thing to help local families in 2016, which is ongoing.  Through a non-profit organization called “A Simple Gesture – Reston (www.coolgreenbag.org),” we contribute one stocked grocery bag, which is picked up at our front porch, every two months to help fill the food banks in our local area.  There are so many contributions that families and individuals of all ages can make to make a difference, and giving usually feels better than getting.

So this new year, we can put in our best efforts, and it will make a difference.  Happy New Year!

Cheryl Gedzelman, President, Tutoring For Success

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What does soccer have to do with reading?

What does soccer have to do with reading?

I am an excellent reader, primarily because reading is one of my hobbies.  However, if you give me instructions on how to build a piece of furniture, I may not understand it.  I not only have no experience building furniture, but I don’t know the names of the parts.

According to Daniel T. Willingham, who recently wrote an editorial for The New York Times called “How to Get Your Mind to Read,” reading comprehension has more to do with factual knowledge than general reading ability.  Most people can sound out words alright, but making meaning of them is another story.  The reason wealthier students do better on IQ tests and standardized tests are their greater knowledge of various topics.  For example, I once took an IQ test, and one of the questions I got wrong was a question about farming.  Needless to say, I had no experience of farms.

Professor Willingham sited an experiment on third graders.  The readers who were identified as “poor” readers were “three times as likely to make accurate inferences about” a passage on soccer as readers identified as “good” readers who didn’t know much about soccer. “This implies that students who score well on reading tests are those with broad knowledge; they usually know at least a little about the topics of the passages on the test.”  He concludes that “comprehension is intimately intertwined with knowledge.”

Professor Willingham advises that education officials write “content-rich grade level standards” and using “high-information texts in early elementary grades,” which “historically have been light in content.”  In other words, children need to be taught general knowledge throughout their lives.

The best thing you can do to help your own children is to read to them daily when they are little and encourage independent daily reading when they get older.  They should read about topics that interest them on an appropriate level so that reading will be a joy, not a chore.  I recently gave my 11- year old niece Guinness World Records 2018, which she and her siblings devoured, just as my own children had at that age.  Children should choose their own books, but can also gain broad knowledge by reading magazines and newspapers, going on historic trips and to museums, and by having family discussions about various topics.  Children absorb new information like sponges – parents can take the initiative to help them broaden their minds.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Building Relationships with Teachers

Setting up Parent-Teacher Conferences
Building Relationships with Teachers

Now that first quarter report cards have come out, some parents may have questions about the grades.  While most elementary schools have November parent-teacher conferences, this is not true for most middle and high schools.  However, it is still important to be connected with the teachers, who play a large part in your children’s lives. 

One of the most important things I learned at Teachers College was to emphasize positive first, whether meeting with parents or writing student evaluations.  No one wants to open a report card or attend a parent-teacher conference to be bombarded with negatives about their child. So we teachers start off by talking about what the child is doing well, and then lead to ways the student can improve, being constructive and positive.  I learned the flip side at my 2 ½ year old daughter’s conference at her pre-school.  We were told that she wouldn’t go to circle time, had difficulty with transitions, bla, bla, bla, nothing positive whatsoever.  This felt terrible.  The following year, we sent her to a different pre-school. 

Teachers are human too, and they do not want hear all complaints from parents.  In fact, complaints tend to put people on the defensive, which is not productive or helpful to your child.  So it is important to build a positive relationship with your children’s teachers from the beginning.  This includes showing up at school events and conferences, volunteering for at least one activity, and thanking the teacher in some way for what she does.  When I was a classroom teacher, I received and appreciated many useless gifts during December holidays, but what I appreciated the most was a heartfelt note.  I had become a teacher from the business world, to more work and less pay.  In fact, I worked way harder and longer hours as a teacher than I did at my previous office job.  Like most teachers, I did it because it was fulfilling, and I wanted to make a difference.  Being appreciated enhanced my job a great deal.

 If you are concerned about anything at school, you should not be shy in contacting the teacher with your concern.  You can do this by email, phone call, or by setting up a meeting.  It is your job as a parent to advocate for your child, which you can do in a constructive way.  

  1. Start the conversation with something positive. 
  2. Plan what you want to say in a non-accusatory way.  
  3. State your perspective, ask for the teacher’s perspective, and work with the teacher to find solutions.  Have a pleasant and relaxed expression. 

Then the teacher will want to help.  Be sure to pick your battles.  A teacher will be more likely to make the extra effort for a child whose parent rarely complains than for a constant complainer. 
As your child gets older, you should teach him to advocate for himself.  He can address the teacher with his concerns, and if this doesn’t work, you can then intervene.  In our family, by 10th grade I stayed out of the picture.  If something extreme had happened, however, I would have intervened.

If you do have a concern that you want to personally address, always go to the teacher first.  Teachers get very annoyed with parents who go to an administrator without approaching them first.  

I can tell you from personal experience that educators are there because they want to make a difference.  We can best help our children by building positive relationships with their teachers and by appreciating the teachers’ tremendous efforts to educate our children.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Apps for Meditation

Meditation is a helpful tool for kids. Many parents and specialists use it as a tool to help kids deal with stress and frustration. Apps are a great way of introducing the idea of meditation to your children. Here are 8 of the top rated mindfulness/meditation apps. 

All 8 of these apps have been recommended by ADHD & Wellness Coach, Elizabeth Ahmann, ScD, RN, ACC.
For more information on Elizabeth visit her webpage at www.lizahmann.com

Insight Timer

Home to more than 1,700,000 meditators, Insight Timer is rated as the top free meditation app on the Android and iOS stores
Rating: 4.9 stars

Stop, Breathe & Think

Stop, Breathe & Think is an award-winning mindfulness and meditation app that is simple, fun and easy to use. Check in to how you are thinking and feeling, and get recommended guided meditations or yoga and acupressure videos tuned to your emotions.
Rating: 4.9 stars


Popular, but in-app purchases add up cost-wise. Guided meditations suitable for all levels from Headspace.
Rating: 5 stars


Nice app, also subscription based. Join the millions experiencing less anxiety and better sleep with our guided meditations, breathing programs and Sleep Stories. Recommended by top psychologists and mental health experts to help you de-stress.
Rating: 4.9 stars


Activities and games for stress and anxiety. Whether you're feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or you're dealing with constant negative thoughts, Happify brings you effective tools and programs to take control of your emotional wellbeing.
Rating: 4 stars

Breathing Bubbles

Emotional well-being is critical for children. Breathing Bubbles is an app that helps kids practice releasing worries and focusing on good feelings.
Ages 5+ - Release worries
Rating: 4 stars

Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame

This is a resource app for you to share with your child to help teach skills such as problem solving, self-control, planning, and task persistence.
Has both kid and parent section
Rating: 5 stars

10% Happier

First seven days are a free course for skeptics. Clear and simple meditation. Learn to meditate and improve your practice with New York Times bestselling author Dan Harris and some of the most respected (and cool) meditation teachers. Designed for skeptics, built for a lifetime of mindfulness.
Rating: 4.7 stars

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Streamlining the Homework Experience

Is homework a battleground in your house? 
Does it take too long to complete? 
Are assignments not being written down? 

Organization and time management are serious challenges for many students, impeding their ability to get their work done efficiently.  Here are some tips that might help.

Organizing Materials

It is imperative for students to have separate binders/folders/notebooks for each subject or one or two large binders that are separated by tabs for each subject.  Students who do not file away their papers have trouble finding their homework and staying current with assignments.  

Here are some more filing tips:
  •       Backpack – there should be no loose papers.  If necessary, students should go through their       backpacks each day to make sure all papers are filed properly.
  •       Organizing papers – Teachers continue to hand out numerous papers.  Students need to find       personalized systems that work best for organizing them.
o   Binders with tabs – students must hole punch papers or use binders that come with folders
o   Folders and spiral notebooks color coded by subject
o   Homework folder with an unfinished side and a finished side
o   At the end of each quarter, go through papers and either file away for later or recycle
  •  Load homework folder and pack backpack at night.

Writing Down Homework
While to parents, it may seem like writing down homework should be an easy task, students often find this a struggle.  For older students having supplies on hand make staying on task easier.  I found that the zipper pouch was a valuable asset to store essentials as well as my day to day needs.  Having the calendar made it easy to jot down when assignments were due when as well as social engagements.  

These days, there are many ways to record homework:
  •          Use an official homework planner.
  •          Use a small notebook to record each day’s homework, chores, events, and tasks.
  •          Take a picture of the homework assignments.
  •          Talk into your phone to tell yourself the assignments.
  •          Use a homework app.
  •          Go to Blackboard to find the assignments.
  •          If stuck, ask a friend.

With guidance, each student can find a system that works best.  The trickiest part is writing down assignments that have multiple parts or planning which days to study for a test.  A Google calendar works well for recording long term assignments and the days scheduled for working on them.  The calendar should also have sports practices and other activities that might limit homework time.  A Google calendar can be color coded by subject or by family member.

Organizing Time
For time challenged people, everything takes longer than you think.  How many times do you hear, “This will just take a second”?  Really, does anything take just take a second?
  •         Predict how long a task will take and then see how long it really takes.
  •         Use a schedule or check-off list.
  •          Break down homework into small, manageable chunks with planned breaks
o   Example: Homework 25-40 minutes
   Break 3-8 minutes – take a mini-walk, stretch, snack, pet dog
  •         Eliminate distractions.
  •          Schedule homework time each day with a parent on call.

Visualize Yourself – The sooner you complete homework, the more time you have for fun.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Advantages of Taking the Summer SAT

For high school students looking to take the SAT this upcoming year, the NEW summer SAT provides an amazing opportunity to better prepare! 

Whether your child has never taken the SAT and is looking to do so next school year OR your child has taken it and is looking to improve his scores, summer could not be a better time to tackle the SAT. It is no secret that taking the SAT is a huge undertaking. When you add that to your child’s already heavy school work load, it can be very overwhelming. Imagine having time to focus, without the obligation of homework, being able to do a practice test earlier in the day, and having time to analyze the answers. Since summer is free of the normal school year academic burdens, the August 26th test date gives students an opportunity to take full advantage of their summer by making the SAT a prime focus.

Here are the best ways to use the summer to prepare for the SAT:

1.      Do the practice tests from the Official Study Guide, by the College Board.  Just complete one section at a time, and then go over the answer explanations for the problems you got wrong.  While there are many SAT prep books, the College Board book uses material from real SAT’s or very similar questions.  At first, don’t worry about timing yourself.  With more practice, you will get faster.

2.      Narrow down where you need the most help, and focus on those areas.  This may be math, reading, or grammar.  Within the math section, you may need to focus on geometry, algebra, or trigonometry.

3.      Work with a tutor to prepare an SAT Prep program.  An experienced tutor can help you focus on the areas that you need to work on most, give you similar problems to practice focus areas, and teach you unique SAT strategies to solve problems quickly and more efficiently. The tutor can additionally help you work on timing so that you can finish all or most of the SAT in the time allotted, and develop a plan to review and practice each section. Finally, an expert tutor can assist with motivation and confidence building.

4.      When you sign up for the SAT or ACT, pay a little extra to receive student answer verification.  Then you will be able to go over the questions that were incorrect.

Take advantage of your summer!

Call the Tutoring for Success team today for more information on how to set up a SAT prep program!

(703) 390-9220

              Friday, March 17, 2017

              Who Controls your Life, you or your Phone?

              I love my iPhone and the multitude of things that it does.  However, I have noticed that smart phones can be pretty addicting and all-consuming.  Have you noticed:

              • people walking down the street and driving (yikes!) looking at their phones

              • your child/teen/spouse keeping his or her face glued to the phone while you are trying to have a conversation

              • increased addiction to social media and news that may be real or fake due to the easy proximity of the phone

              • family dinners that consist of phone engagement rather that family engagement

              • procrastination of homework and chores due to the endless fascination with the phone

              •    forfeiting of real life activities and events in favor of just sitting around with the phone
              • that your child texts all night instead of sleeping 

              The list goes on.  Let’s think about setting limits.  Perhaps phones should get down time so conversations and real human interactions can flow.  We don’t need phones at meal time.  We can put away phones before bed, possibly in a separate room if the phone is too irresistible.  We can even declare a day or part of a day as phone free, and put all the phones in a basket, and maybe play a board game or go for a walk.

              If you think perhaps your phone controls your life, and maybe your kids’ lives, take pause and re-take control of your life.  Set a good example for your kids and nudge them into activities that are so much fun, they won’t miss their phones.