UniversityTutor.com: Tutoring 2.0

There is a plethora of resources available on the internet to help you or your child succeed in their education.  However, there are some cases in which you may find you still need a face-to-face tutor.  Perhaps you have no idea where to find the resources online that work for you.  It is completely understandable that with such a sea of resources being able to pinpoint the ones you actually need can be difficult.  And some times, you can search for hours on Google to find an answer that a person could have explained to you in 10 minutes.  So in this digital, technology-fused age, where do you find a tutor?  You could try calling the local high school and find out who is on their tutor list.  However, that’s really an “old-school” method.  There are plenty of tutoring websites to connect you with local tutors.

UniversityTutor.com is the best tutoring website.  Why?  It doesn’t require that it be the middle man.  Students pay the tutors directly, not through the website.  So what does it do?  It let’s tutors put up a profile on the website that basically says, “hey, I live here and I tutor in these subjects.  I charge this amount.  Here’s some cool facts about me to see if we may click.”  Tutors can pay a subscription charge for a “premium listing”, but I used the site for two years and never needed a premium listing.  Students search the site and then contact tutors initially through the site.  An email gets sent to the tutor and then after that, the student and tutor can connect using whichever method of communication he or she prefers.

Don’t get fooled by the titled of the site; it’s not for university students, nor are the tutors university students.  I’ve tutored students from the 6th grade through middle-aged adults.  I’ve received emails for students as young as a couple of months old!  I specialize in secondary education, thus I turned those inquiries down, but the fact of the matter was I received emails frequently.  At one time, I was tutoring 8 students.

You can meet wherever you feel comfortable.  You can invite the tutor to your home.  You can meet at a coffee shop (not my personal recommendation, very distracting and loud), at the library, at a park (not optimal in the winter months in the northern state of Michigan), or anywhere the two parties agree on.  The only caveat I say is with public libraries.  Check their guidelines for tutoring/doing business there.  You may have to be discrete in your payment exchange.

I also recommend the tutor keep a folder that records payments and details what transpired in the session.  It is a good safety measure.  Also, you should draw up a contract, even if it’s a simple one that states who the student is, who the tutor is, what the schedule is, where the tutoring will take place, and how much the tutor is to be paid.  Additionally, the contract should have any other policies the tutor might have such as tardiness, not showing up, or cancelling at the last minute and their penalties.  This way, you are all on the same page.

UniversityTutor.com allows students and tutors to connect and tutor how they see fit.  The site doesn’t force students and tutors to fit into their box of payments or certain number of sessions.  It allows students to find tutors in the area without going to great lengths to find them.  It doesn’t involve students signing on to talk to tutors via webcam or using some fancy program that allows tutors and students to share data.  It is tutoring in the digital, technology-fused age in which we live in.  It is tutoring 2.0.

Master the Basics: English

Learning a foreign language has been common in American high schools for quite some time.  I had always been drawn to the Spanish language.  But then again, I’m drawn to all languages as well as the concept of language itself.

When I was in middle school, many of my fellow students did not see the value in learning a foreign language.  We were suburban, middle-class Americans in the Midwest, specifically, suburban Detroit.  There was zero need for Spanish.  And while Canada was so close that we’d forget it was foreign country, Québec was too far away for French to be of any value.  So, people flipped a coin to decide if they should take two years of French or two years of Spanish.  But little did they know that among the “bonjour”s and “hola”s, they would end up learning about their own native American English.

That’s right; I’ve learned more about my own native language by studying a foreign language.  The first thing that smacked me over the head was tenses.  I thought there were three: past, present and future.  Turns out there are actually about 15 of the them and those so-called helping verbs and modals (could, would, should…) are actually changing the tense.  I had no idea just how many irregular, past tense verbs we had in English until one student complained of having to memorize 15 irregulars and the teacher demonstrated that English had over 200.

Plurals!  Spanish has two rules either add an “s” to a consonant or add an “es” to vowels.  This is the opposite of English.  English also has 8 or so rules, and rarely do they make any sense.

American English is a hybrid language.  We’ve stolen words from other languages.  We’ve changed the spelling or meaning of stolen words.  We’ve applied our own plural rules.  We’ve kept their plural rules.  We don’t pluralize “fish”.  The plural of box is boxes; however, the plural of ox is oxen.  Media and data are actually plural words— the singular forms are medium and datum.  And don’t even get me started on pronunciation…

How in the world do you even begin to explain this insanely complicated language to someone who can maybe sing along to the latest pop song or can watch a Hollywood movie in the theater with subtitles?  You can’t, at least, not without help.

Enter in Master the Basics: English (For students of English as a Second Language).  Although the term English as a Second Language (ESL) has become out-of-date in favor of the more accurate English Language Learner (ELL), the book will work for anyone studying English.  English is my native language and I still find it helpful.  Master the Basics: English is written by Jean Yates and published by Barron’s.  It retails for $14.99.  It is also available on Google Books for free.

I could go on and on about how well-written it is for ELL learners.  Several tutoring students I’ve taught who were at varying degrees of English proficiency could read and understand this book.  It is simplistic.  There aren’t colorful, distracting boxes and pictures competing for your attention.  There is one accent color—red—to aid in comprehension.  There are two tests, a pre-and post-test that are aligned with section numbers and skills to help the student know what particular grammar areas need to be focused on.

What I really, really love about this book is how helpful it can be to struggling students who natively speak English.  Master the Basics is a reference guide.  Pages 30-31 have all 8 plural rules together in a quick reference format.  There is a list of why the rules are what they are and how to apply them.  The book has a lot of why explanations.  Many students who struggle in school don’t struggle because they do not know how do something, rather they don’t know why.  Some people need that “why?” answer in order to engage certain sections of their brain.

The book’s preposition section contains graphical representations for common prepositions.  How do you explain what “behind” means?  The book shows the explanation with two simple chairs, ABC labels and arrows.  It also writes a sentence next to the graphic to help further understanding.  There are pages and pages of definitions for verbs with prepositions.  For example, what is the difference between “listening to” and “listening with?”  This book can explain that.

What is the difference between “say” and “tell?”  How do you know when you use “say” and when you use “tell”?  For many native English speakers, the answer is, “I just know.”  What’s even more problematic is that many native speakers cannot explain the difference to an ELL student.  For example, when Pedro says, “…and he says me…” and his new friend Johnny corrects him, “No no, it’s ‘..and he tells me’…”.  Pedro wants to know why he made the mistake.  Unfortunately, Johnny has no idea why it’s “tell” instead of “say”.  He just knows it’s wrong.

This book gives native speakers the quick answers to explain to ELL friends why their grammar is wrong.  This book gives teachers quick answers to explain to their diverse learners (thus, increasing classroom efficiency).  This book is cost-effective.  This book doesn’t look like an English textbook, nor does it look like English for Dummies®.  It’s a quick-reference, to-the-point, English essentials book that will teach anyone something he or she did not know about English.

If you haven’t guessed already, I HIGHLY recommend this book.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”

Today was a hard day.  I had to say good-bye to one of my tutoring students whom I’ve been helping for the last 14 months.  We’ve met nearly 6 hours a week (3 days a week) for most of those months.  We had grown close over the hours of conversation practice.  We both tried not to get misty-eyed.  Didn’t work though.  I’ve seen her graduate high school, helped her study for her driver’s test (and got a wonderful text message after she passed it!) and been a part of her family’s life.  She was one of the students that make the late hours of tutoring worth it.  She was one of those students who teachers say “I’d come here every day to teach this person, even if I wasn’t being paid because of her dedication to learning and her spirit.”  There has only been one other tutoring student that I’ve gotten misty-eyed at saying good-bye; however, we’ve kept in touch.

I am excited to start working in the classroom full-time next Monday.  I have enjoyed being a private tutor and working closely with students of all ages at different levels of English.

And just for tonight I take comfort in the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic with the line, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Cheers, to all my tutoring students, wherever they may be now and in the future.  You have all touched my heart and re-affirmed my decision to teach.  Thank you.

Weebly and the Class Website

As I wind down my English Language Learners tutoring in preparation for student teaching, I have come to realize most of my student resources are for ESL/ELL students.  I have also come to realize that using Moodle for keeping resources available to students will no longer be my best option.  Additionally, I have found that my tutoring students rarely logged into Moodle.  I want to make class and English/Language Arts resources available to all my students as well as all high school students in the world.  I’ve heard some good things about Weebly, a website that makes website developing and blog posting easy, and its market towards classroom websites.  So I’ve spent some time re-working my Moodle database and learning Weebly.

In my opinion, Weebly is great for someone who needs something to look professional, who has no idea what s/he is doing, and needs a blog-like format.  But for me, Weebly just doesn’t work for my needs as classroom website.

Weebly can effectively integrate blog and standard webpages.  You can have a static homepage and contact page, but a dynamic blog for each class.  If you utilize Weebly to its full potential, students and teachers can log in and interact, posting videos and content from iPhones.  You can have the site hosted on Weebly’s servers or you can buy your own domain for your Weebly-built site.  There are tons of “you can do this or that” with Weebly.  But when you really look at it, what Weebly offers is a ton of “services” but the user-experience and customization is limited.  And that’s its downfall for me.  I may use Weebly in the future for a class blog, but for the purposes of a class website where I can list resources upon resources?  I’ll keep searching.

Browsing for resources will be difficult.  Students don’t want to scroll and scroll down long pages.  Thus, I’ll either have to eliminate resources or create pages upon pages and I just don’t think that it’s practical.  I want to be able to create modules that can have links to documents to download as well as other websites without having so much space in between (take a look at what I mean).

I am also restricted to their customizations.  Sure, I have quite a bit of breathing room to change out pictures and choose from over 30ish templates–but that’s only 30 templates.  I’m used to having a bit more freedom when I use Dreamweaver.  Sure, I love clicking a button and having all the code done for me (it saves hours, maybe even days in the long run), but I’ve run into a few instances where I wanted to deleted something or move something to the left or right and I was unable to do so.  I became frustrated quickly with titles in particular as well as modules not moving to where I wanted them to go.

In essence, Weebly is great for a class blog, but not for a class website which typically is more of a database of resources.

Check out my “work in progress” Weebly/Class Website.