Sunday, December 23, 2012

Message from Alise--Happy Holidays and Quick Update!

Hello Everyone,

Happy Sunday!

Many of us are on Winter Break here in the USA so that we can have some downtime and spend quality time with family and friends this holiday season.

I just wanted to keep you updated about our blog--starting in January 2013, you will see new blog posts according to our regular blog schedule.

If you want something in particular covered on the blog, please email me at drhollandj (at)

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

As always, happy tutoring!


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Message from Alise--Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello Everyone,

Happy Thursday!

As we take time to celebrate Thanksgiving today here in the USA, I want you to know how thankful I am for having a chance to connect with you and other fellow tutors. 

As you all know, this is my passion and I take this responsibility very seriously to ensure that each of you have what is needed to become a better tutor or tutor business owner. 

I welcome you to take this time to also reflect on the many blessings in your life. 

What are you thankful for? 

Enjoy the rest of the day with your family and friends!

Happy Tutoring,


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Getting from Decoding to Blending--All Skills Connect

Getting from Decoding to Blending--All Skills Connect

By Alexandra Berube,

Decoding and blending are interrelated skills, and some understanding of decoding is necessary before blending can occur. Decoding is breaking down a word into manageable parts (phonemes) so you can sound out the word (c-a-t is the decoded, three-phoneme version of the word cat). A student does not necessarily have to have mastered every letter-sound relationship in order to begin decoding, because some of that skill can be learned along the way with decoding, overlapping and contributing to greater growth in both skills. Children will begin decoding by sounding out the first letter, the initial sound. The medial vowel is often the hardest, because vowels have so many variations in their sounds. The best words to begin decoding with are C-V-C words--consonant-vowel-consonant--that have the most common form of the vowel sound, usually the short vowel sound. So words such as 'sat,' 'cat,' 'bed,' 'dog,' etc. are great to begin with, because each letter has a clear sound or phenome.

It's usually best to start with word families, such as the -at family, and group together a bunch of words with this word ending. This will act as a shortcut, because they will learn that -at is a chunked sound, that they can recognize two letters at a time, rather than letter by letter. This is the basis behind blending.

Many kids get stuck here at decoding, and are sounding words out but not putting them together (this is blending). They need to take 'c-a-t' to 'cat' to make meaning of the word, either by isolating each phenome or by isolating the initial sound and then connecting it to the -at word family. Reading word family mini books, such as in the link provided below, and practice with saying individual letter sounds such as in the games described earlier, will all contribute to growth and the ability to decode and blend.

These skills can all be instructed together, because I am a strong believer that we do not need to instruct on a step-by-step basis, making sure the child completely masters one individual skill before moving onto the next. Many children are still mastering their letter-sound relationships as they continue to decode and blend, and this is okay.

You have to begin working with them on real books, even simple mini books, early in the process, because they have to understand that they are reading for a purpose. They are reading to make meaning of text in front of them. If they learn the letter sounds in isolation from reading text, it serves no purpose after a certain point. The excitement that the child feels from finally being able to make meaning of words in front of them propels them forward and generates greater understanding of all previous skills.

About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Trying Auditory Learning When Nothing Else Works...

Trying Auditory Learning When Nothing Else Works--Finding the Learning Method That Works Best for Your Student
By Alexandra Berube,

I recently met with a preschool teacher who was struggling with a student who was not learning his letters. He wasn't retaining them visually, no matter how many times she had him trace the letters with sandpaper, shaving cream, etc. These Montessori-style instruction methods involve tactile response, which is a great method of literacy instruction. However, in this case it wasn't taking hold.

She mentioned to me that when she does storytelling, she has him repeat back what happened in the story to the best of his ability, and that he had gotten better and better at recalling facts from stories that had been told to him out loud. I suggested he might be an auditory learner based on this information. I suggested that she play a tossing game. She would toss an object to him and say out loud the name of the object. When he caught the object, she would prompt him to name the object as well, focusing on the initial sound. For as many turns as necessary, she could say the word along with him, emphasizing the initial sound until he was able to isolate the initial sound on his own. With each object, he would gain more familiarity with the purpose of reading, which is: everything in the world has a name, and that name can be written with words, and a word is made up of letters, and there is always a first letter in a word.

Sometimes that's the hardest part of getting started in literacy--students have to understand the purpose of what they are doing. They have to understand that they are learning the letter shapes for a purpose, because the shapes represent a letter, which represents the beginning of a word. Children are not going to learn the larger steps of decoding and blending until they understand the purpose of the written word, and its auditory counterpart.

When working with beginning readers, it's important to assess every clue of how they absorb, retain, and output information, because those clues will tell you how they learn and what's the best route to take. Using as many different forms of instruction as possible (auditory, visual, tactile, kinetic) is valuable up until a point, but you may be confusing the child if they don't understand the purpose of what they are doing, and literacy becomes too intangible for them to grasp. Isolating the method of instruction that works best for them and then focusing as much as possible on that method, while emphasizing the purpose of literacy and its meaning in the real world, can yield the best results.

About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Guest Blog Post: What to Do with a Student Who is Not Learning His Letters

What to Do With a Student Who is Not Learning His Letters
By Alexandra Berube,

When I was teaching kindergarten, I had one student who was far behind the others. In kindergarten, there is always a wide spectrum of skills, but he did not know almost any of his letters or his letter-sound relationships, and this is a skill that students are expected to have before entering kindergarten--maybe not completely mastered, but close to it. During the fall of kindergarten, I did everything I could to aid him in gaining familiarity with the visual appearance of letters, as well as the letter sounds. Here are two games that I used so that by January he had finally mastered these skills.

1. Twister

I took a twister board, and used masking tape to make large letters on the colored circles. I used four different letters and repeated them across the board, each letter being a distinct sound: P, A, T, and N. On the spinner, I wrote these letters as well. When you spin the spinner, I changed it to, "put your left foot on the letter that makes the sound 't,'" emphasizing the sound and the tongue placement in the mouth. I did this with a group of students, so the student who was struggling never felt left out, and whenever he didn't know the letter sound, the other students happily showed him. He didn't mind being a student who wasn't sure of the letter sound in this game, because they were all physically moving around, rather than a bunch of students all looking at a whiteboard and one student being singled out as the one who doesn't know the answer.

2. Foam Letters

I have foam letters, about 2 inches in size, that I use for a number of activities. The letters are a great way to physically interpret the shape of letters, in order to gain more familiarity with the letter shapes and the sounds that they make. I had a file folder game, in which there was a trail that each game piece had to move down. On each square along the trail, there was a sticker that corresponded to an initial sound, so there was a sticker with a bee ('b'), dog ('d'), cat ('c'), etc. You would pull a foam letter out of a bag, and move your space to the corresponding sticker that started with that initial sound. So if you pulled a B out of the bag, you would move your game piece onto the sticker of the bee. In playing a group game like this, every student can get involved in sounding out the initial letter sounds, physically touching the letters, and seeing objects that begin with that letter. Any student who is struggling with these skills will see the other students modeling it, and get help from them on any letters they are still struggling with. All of the students want to help each other, so there is no sense (for the struggling child) of feeling like the student who can't get anything right.

After playing many games like these, and through regular private instruction, the student was able to make great strides in his letter recognition. Group games are a great way to allow the students who are struggling to watch other students model the skill for them and to get involved in the process of learning, rather than passively being shown the concepts.

About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Fractions, Decimals, and Percents--Interrelationships in Mathematics, Applied to Test-Taking Strategy

Fractions, Decimals, and Percents--Interrelationships in Mathematics, Applied to Test-Taking Strategy
By Alexandra Berube,

Being able to memorize the most common fractions, decimals, and percents, is key to performing well on standardized tests. I prepare students for the ISEE and SSAT tests regularly, and this is one of the most important concepts for them to mater. In many types of math, you need to be able to manipulate different forms of the same amount, such as 25% =1/4 = .25. Or, 10% =1/10=.1.

Understanding the interrelationship of these will make solving word problems so much easier. Many problems will ask them to find the percent of something, and they need to understand why the word 'of' in this case means 'times' (X). To solve 10% of 100, first I need to show them that 10% is 1/10, because a percent means the number over 100 (such as, 78% means 78/100, or 30% means 30/100)--so 10% means 10/100, which reduces to 1/10.

Then I show them why 1/10th of something means 1/10 times something. I draw a grid with 10 columns, and I show the student that 1/10 of those is one. So 1/10 of 10 is 1. I have to translate this into 1/10 times 10 is 1. I show this as: 1/10 X 10 is 1/10 X 10/1 (because any integer becomes a fraction if you put it over one--when you divide an integer by one, the result is the original number). 1/10 X 10/1= 10/10 which reduces to one. I do this in a number of ways with a number of percents that have been translated into fractions, until they understand that the percent of something means the percent times that number.

Furthermore, knowing certain concepts and the shortcuts you can use with them is crucial in test-taking strategy. Knowing that 10% of something means you are lopping off the last zero, or moving the decimal place over once to the left, such as in 10% of 80 equals eight. If they can do this in their head, they can save so much time.

In the same way, they should know that any percent of one hundred is that number (25% of 100 is 25). There are a million shortcuts like these that adults who have been using math for decades will not even think about. All adults have our own shortcuts that we apply on a daily basis, but explaining these to students is crucial, because we can never assume they will adopt these shortcuts on their own.

Yet it is extremely important to introduce the shortcuts at the appropriate times, once they already understand the longer way to solve a problem. I will show them that 25% means 25/100, which can be reduced to 1/4. 1/4 of 100 means 1/4 times 100, which is 100/4, which is 25. You can't skip any steps and assume that they will make these leaps on their own.

About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Introducing Multiplication to a Student with Different Learning Needs

Introducing Multiplication to a Student with Different Learning Needs
By Alexandra Berube,

The basis of my math instruction is always to move from one concept that the student firmly understands and then apply that concept to the next level of mathematic reasoning. In working with my favorite third grade student, I found the opportunity to introduce multiplication to him. This student was born with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum (a complete or partial absence of the corpus callosum, the band connecting the two hemispheres in the brain), and I wrote about him in a previous blog post. He learns concepts in a completely different order than most people would expect. He is still solidifying his addition and subtraction facts, and adds and subtracts any amount, including one plus one, on his fingers. And yet I know that he is often ready for more advanced concepts, and that these advanced concepts will actually help solidify previous concepts that he is still working on mastering.

In his third grade class, the student is working on geometry, including perimeter of squares. This was the perfect opportunity to introduce multiplication. In a square, all the sides are the same size. If he has a square with the side length of two, then he will do 2×4. I worked with him on this geometry concept for a while with different shapes such as pentagons, hexagons, and triangles: any shape that has sides of equal length. He quickly grasped this concept and then we moved on. I like to use a dry erase board in my instruction, because it's another form of media (‘media’ used loosely, I suppose) than pen and paper, and it allows the student to draw shapes and manipulate the written material in a new way. I had the student make shapes of his own, and we would see how many sides that shape had. We would give each side a length, and then see what the multiplication problem would be as a result.

We then worked on the worksheet I've included a link to here, which shows pictures of groups of objects (for example, four triangles with three stars in each triangle). It asks the students to write an addition problem (so, in this case, three stars four times, so 3+3+3+3) and then the multiplication problem (3×4). He picked this up very quickly, and so we moved on to the last game of the session.

Using a pair of dice, we played a game to visually show the amounts to be multiplied. First we rolled one die, and then drew the dots shown on the die on a piece of paper. We wrote the number value above the dots. Then we wrote a multiplication symbol, and then we rolled the other die, which would act as the 'multiplier.' The second die dictated how many times the first die would be multiplied by. So if the first die was a four, we drew four dots, put a four over it and then a multiplication symbol next to that. Then if the second die was a three, we wrote the number three next to the multiplication symbol, and then drew four dots two more times for a total of three sets of four dots. This way he could see why we were multiplying--we were adding the same number a multiple of times.

He then added all of the dots on the dice and found out that 4X3=12. Below all the dots we wrote 4+4+4 (the addition problem like on the worksheet I just described), to further enforce that multiplication is an extension of addition. He'd already mastered adding groups of numbers, so this was the next logical step. He smoothly transitioned into a student who understands the basis of multiplication. Of course, he's not going to be memorizing his multiplication tables in the near future, but he understands what multiplication is now, and he grasps that it is an extension of addition that applies in real life.

About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Introducing New Math Concepts: Algebra

Introducing New Math Concepts: Algebra
By Alexandra Berube,

Introducing a new math concept to students is very exciting for me, because I don't have to try to unravel poorly-defined strategies that students may already have. Many students learn concepts without understanding why those concepts work, and they just take it as a given that they are going to go through these series of steps to make the calculation. This lack of deeper understanding of the basis behind the concept will only be exacerbated in later schooling, resulting in even more lack of understanding. Algebra is one of the most dominant forms of reasoning that students will have to do in their later math development.

When I introduce algebra to a student for the first time, the first thing I show them is how much they already know. For example, they know that 3 + x = 5 will give them the answer of two. Any student over second or third grade will be able to reason this one out in their head. 3 + what equals five?

The larger question that they then have to understand is, ‘how did I know to do that? I filled in the blank myself, but what I really did was subtraction.’ This is where the basis of further algebra begins. They need to understand that they are performing the reverse operation. They see the addition sign, and so they now need to subtract in order to find the value of the variable.

I demonstrate this to the student in a number of ways, with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They need to see that what they already know they can do in their head, such as 3X=9, translates to 9÷3. The more they see that they can figure this out in their head and it corresponds directly to performing the reverse operation on paper, the more comfortable they will be with what algebra means.

But it can be a slow process to gain a deeper comfort level. At first anything that looks remotely different will seem unapproachable. The student might completely understand 3x=9, but 1/3 x =9 already looks a lot harder, even though you are dividing by the coefficient each time. I show the student that what this question means is: 1/3 of what is 9? 1/3 of 27 is 9. It's a reverse process in a way, compared to what students are used to doing in math.

The more they practice, though, the more rote it becomes. It’s highly important to explain to students that the reasoning that they can already do in their head will translate to a process on paper, before trying to just teach them the rules of algebra and asking them to memorize them. Providing this deeper understanding of how all math is intertwined, and how addition and subtraction are reverse operations of each other, just as multiplication and division are reverse operations of each other, yields a deeper understanding that will provide stronger math comprehension for the rest of their education.
About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Message from Alise: Our Popular Guest Blogger is Back!

Happy Monday, Fellow Readers!

I am so happy to report that one of our guest bloggers, Alexandra Berube, will be back both this week and next week with some interesting ideas to share with us. I hope that you continue to find her contributions to our blog helpful.

Please feel free to comment on any of our blog postings.

If you are interested in guest blogging and have wonderful ideas to help our tutoring community, please email me at

Currently, I am looking for additional guest bloggers for the new year.

Have a great week and happy tutoring!

To Your Tutoring Success,

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Eight Online Marketing Ideas to Get Your Tutoring Business Noticed

Getting that light bulb sensation when you have a brilliant idea is slowly becoming rarer and rarer these days because people are contented with what they have at the moment. Thus, people tend to become lax about everything around them, including the brand of your tutoring service. Protecting your brand involves protecting both company and personal entities involved. Your tutoring business must flourish at all times. Moreover, if you do not market often, your tutoring business information may be overshadowed by others who provide alternative service options to your client. To keep yourself in the game, here are 10 tips in online marketing to ensure your tutoring business stays noticed.

1. Content dynamics

Because of the vitality that search engine optimization has brought to the changing internet, you have the helm in your content management. Using press releases, landing pages, and other websites involved, one effective online marketing strategy is to utilize your content on your website to reel in clients who you've piqued the curiosity of.

2. Viral Marketing

One of the most difficult to carry out, viral marketing is a strong online marketing tool strategy where you exert little effort but the results are extreme in nature. The secret behind viral marketing is to create an item or an idea that will provide a lasting impression for your market. When people think about it, they will definitely associate it with your tutoring services.

3. Keyword Management

If you have a blog, website, or if you post articles online, always optimize your content for more than one keyword. Keywords are vital in putting your website on top of search engines. With the proper use of a set of keywords, you will find that when people search for such information, your site comes up first. Use effective keywords to allow more clients to try out your service.

 4. Be Specific

People enjoy online seldom, especially since it involves patience, where there are little to have patience. If they read something they don't like, then the pursuit is automatically specified to cross through specific individuals. The goal is to provide specific information that is relevant in one's world.

5. Proper Content Structure in your Online Marketing Style

With the right headers and subheadings, your business may be noticed, especially as you cling to effective business practices. Utilize the advantage of your structure to ensure that your message is carried out smoothly throughout each transaction!

6. Getting a Unique Message Out

Companies must have heard what you plan to say, so make sure to shift that phrase every once in a while. Such unique message is something fresh for everyone, especially for prospective clients. This will put your business in the map and in the interest of many prospective clients.

7.  Navigational Management

Getting your website or site linked or connected to the world is a strong point in upholding your website. Through strong or weak connections, it is important to strengthen your navigation as such an audience will be necessary in pointing out educational-connected navigation components.

8. Item Specific Management

Because of the continued rise of item management by computers, item specific management will help narrow down which areas need service and which do not. This is vital in spreading out authenticity of general service appeal.

Until next time, make sure to get your tutoring business in shape. The bottom line is that you should utilize your marketing skills to the best to keep your business in the matter what happens, but let's think positive!!


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What is MentorMob and How it Can Be Used with Your Clients?

In the hustle and bustle of resources that are present for tutors to use for their clients, finding a way to integrate everything seamless has always been a challenge. This can take a long time to do if you simply search and bookmark the links to give to your students. Moreover, it comes out as tacky and lackadaisical of dynamics because who wants to click random strings of links? Don’t worry though, there’s this system known as MentorMob that combines your tutoring aid with your flair for creativity.

What Really is MentorMob?

Whenever you listen to music, you create a playlist so you can simply scroll through it when you want to. Moreover, your music is there right when you need it. This is the principle of MentorMob, but you switch music for study material! MentorMob allows you to create playlists of study material in a certain progression that may vary from article to pop quiz. This way, you’ve got the resources ready for your students to read and the quizzes in check for them to take. These learning playlists are very effective because they provide you with a system that is not boring and not a collection of randomized strings.

How You Can Make the Most out of MentorMob

MentorMob is a knowledge-as-you-go thing where your students can enhance their background on a certain topic as you continue your tutorial. Since it is internet-based, your clients can access the material very readily. MentorMob is a great supplement to the learning process wherein you can provide your students with access as they wish.

How to Use the Service

First of all, you select the sites you want to include in the playlist through the service interface. Then, simply following the guidelines and the four-step process at hand, you can order these sites as you see fit. Moreover, you can insert quizzes in between articles to enhance the learning process you wish your students to engage in. This becomes an effective development potential for your students.

MentorMob is a creative service that benefits your students because of the user-friendliness and the dynamic approach in the learning process involved. The service is very easy to use and it combines the prowess of technology with the development of tutoring.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How Many Tutors Should I Hire? A lot or Just a Few?

When your business starts to pick up its pace and you may feel that things are getting too difficult to manage, it’s time you thought of hiring more tutors to help out. Sure, everything looks great and dandy when you create a team, but to what extent should you hire more tutors? Here are ten reasons to hire few tutors you, and not just loads of them.

1.     Compensation Reduction

Let’s keep it simple: when you have more tutors, you have more people to pay. Thus, your income is reduced because of the tendency of splitting your earnings according to the financial model you propose.

2.   Uncertainty of Workload

Tutoring is a case-to-case basis job where people may or may not request your services. Thus, if you have too much tutors under your belt, then the chances are you may the human power but not the work. Your tutors will simply get disappointed because you weren’t able to give them jobs.

3.   Increased Conflict

When you hire a lot of people, you are bound to face more conflicts than you would with lesser people. Avoid unnecessary work hiccups by keeping the work atmosphere condensed with a few people working with you.

4.   Failure to Establish Connection

Hiring a lot of tutors spreads your business too thin. You may not build effective relationships or connections because different tutors will deal with different people at times. When you’ve got everything together in a small bunch, strong relationships can be formed among clients to enhance business transactions.

5.    You Spend more time validating

When you hire a lot of people, you do a lot of background checks. This can be tedious at times, especially if you’ve got to make sure your tutors have the right credentials to back up what they do.

6.   Things get more difficult to manage

Managing 30 people is not easy. If you are hands-on in what you do, you will find it quite tedious to satisfy each tutor with their demands and of course keep everything in balance. When you work with a few, though, everything changes as you are able to help your tutors out in every aspect they need help in.

7.    It requires extensive consideration

Instead of easily meeting your client’s needs, you’ll have to focus on ensuring your tutors’ welfare is met with every aspect to consider. You may even spend more time to take management lessons and this can deviate from your original goal with so much to consider.

8.   Your Tutors will develop too narrowly

When you’ve got a lot of tutors under your wing, you’d naturally put them in specific subject areas. This can be a negative approach in the sense that your tutors would be specialized in those areas. Although, it’s a good thing to narrow down your tutor focus, but, sometimes, versatility has its advantages over a concentrated subject area.

9.   Expenses are exponentially increased

Salary demand not only increases after each financial period, but also the expenses that will incur. This can put you in a tight spot if you can’t handle the amount of tutors.

10.                      Focus on Relationships and not just Workforce

To top it all off, having few tutors will allow you to establish strong interpersonal relationships, thus enhancing the work flow and the overall work atmosphere that your tutoring company deserves.

From the highs and lows of tutoring, always keep in mind that although the more the merrier, keeping things sweet and simple through a few tutors can make your tutoring business more than what it is to what it could very well be. The bottom line is that you should always place a huge focus on quality rather than quantity, even when it comes to hiring tutors for your learning organization.

What are your suggestions for hiring tutors?


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Guest Blog Posting: How to Support a Student with Unique Learning Needs

How to Support a Student with Unique Learning Needs
By Alexandra Berube,

Teaching my second year of Kindergarten, one of my students came in with a rare condition: Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum. This is a complete or partial absence of the corpus callosum, the band connecting the two hemispheres in the brain. It was not known how deeply this would affect his development, but his learning would clearly be shaped entirely by his brain’s ability to share, process, and store information. 

I should explain that I am not a teacher with a Special Education background--I have a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and I am certified in this field; however, I was not trained to teach students with Special Needs beyond how to incorporate modifications into lesson plans and how to read an IEP. I had worked with students with Asperger’s, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Autism, but never had I had complete responsibility for the education of a student with needs such as these. 

This student is now in 3rd grade, and I have had the honor of being able to watch him grow, tutoring him on and off ever since he graduated from my classroom. Tutors are often assigned students to work with, not knowing what to expect, and they are being given the opportunity to test the limits of their creativity and their patience. It is truly an opportunity, a gift, to have this chance to bring out what this child has to offer. 

Over the years I have watched this student learn everything backwards. By that I mean, in order to hear a rhyme, he had to be able to read the word first: Do cat and hat rhyme? They both visually end in ‘-at,’ so yes. But he couldn’t hear the rhyme. 

He can do multi-digit addition and subtraction, with carrying and borrowing. But he has to count on his fingers, even to subtract 3 from 3. Theoretically, he can’t do math facts in his head at all. Each year, we have retaught him how to add and subtract, and he has several strategies that work for him--he physically ‘catches’ the small number and counts up to the big number to subtract, and ‘catches’ the big number and adds the small number from there for addition. It’s tactile, and that’s how his brain allows him to add and subtract. But it does seem illogical to watch a student add 2 plus 3 on his fingers and then see him add 23,908 to 13,208 with carrying, with ease.  

This is not how children are supposed to learn, according to common belief. You are supposed to teach children in a certain order, because that’s how their brain develops. But what if their brain needs to develop a different way? What if their brain makes connections in a completely new and circuitous way, that leaves you, the tutor, baffled time and time again? What if that’s okay?

Tutoring a student who learns differently, for any reason, means shedding your beliefs of what is the right order to teach content. It means not drilling in one concept over and over until they get it, because you think they can’t move onto the next concept until they get this one. 

All students learn in leaps and bounds, which may mean skipping over one concept, moving onto the next one, and weaving back around, ‘absorbing’ that ‘previous’ concept into their learning schema long after it logically makes sense for them to do so. 

Every student deserves the chance to learn at their own pace, and it takes understanding on the part of the tutor that this may be the right way for them. 

About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Guest Blog Posting: A Parent's Role in Tutoring

A Parent’s Role in Tutoring
By Alexandra Berube, 

When I tutor students, parents’ involvement ranges from sitting in on the session and being completely a part of the instruction, to complete absence. What’s the best amount of parent involvement? 

In my experience, when working with very young students, having the parent present for part of each session, so that I can model for the parent how I instruct the students, can be a great learning experience for all involved. The parent sees how I approach the material, the student sees that the parent cares and is interested in what they are doing, and the tutor can see how the parent and child interact in learning. The last point can be the most telling--do the parent and child enjoy the task, or are they at odds? Are the parent’s expectations realistic? Does the child brighten when sharing instruction with the parent, or do they shut down? 

Knowing how students and their parents interact in learning when I’m not present makes a huge difference in my instruction style--if the parent is very demanding, I will go out of my way (even more than usual) to work on confidence-boosting. If the parent expects the child to be way beyond their current abilities, I can moderate the parent expectations and make everyone feel more comfortable with the student’s pace. 

I’ve also dealt with parents who are so hands-off that their feeling seems to be, “not my problem.” They feel like they are paying a tutor to do the work, and that’s where their responsibility ends. I understand when parents have busy lives, and clearly as the tutor, it is my role to instruct. But without some parent involvement, the student has far less incentive to try to improve, try to push themselves, or even try to behave. 

The most I can do in these situations is encourage the parents with very specific ways they can get involved. Can they use flashcards for vocabulary instruction during breakfast? Can reading for 15 minutes be a prerequisite for TV or internet--with the parent present and engaged, either reading at the same time, or discussing the reading material along the way?

Learning has to be a part of daily life, and the tutor cannot instill this in an hour a week. Even if the parent doesn’t know the material the tutor is instructing (Calculus, for example), the parent needs to demonstrate that they value the child’s learning and growth, and tutoring is not just for a grade.

About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Guest Blog Posting: Giving Writing Purpose: 3 Ways to Get Beginners Excited About Writing

Giving Writing Purpose: 3 Ways to Get Beginners Excited About Writing
By Alexandra Berube,

After teaching Pre-K, Kindergarten, and First Grade, I’ve had the opportunity to watch writers from the very first solitary ‘m’ (“Look, I wrote a story about my mom!”), to chapter books about dinosaurs and princesses. The key moments are those times when children have the opportunity to make meaning of writing, to take writing out of a task or a worksheet and put it into the world. 

Comic Strips
When children are beginning to understand that letters carry meaning, they will use one or two letters to convey an idea--usually the first letter and/or the last. It is very tiring for children to try to write long ideas if this is their current skill capacity. 

Children love to draw, whether it’s representational (“That’s a tree with a rainbow”), or symbolic/action-based (“That’s how I run around and that’s where I jump from...”). If you give them a comic book template (blank squares side by side, large enough that they can draw in each one), they can ‘write’ out their story. 

Once they’ve drawn in each square, they can narrate what’s happening. Depending on their ability, you can either write for them, sounding it out as you go (modeling); you can help them sound out key words and then write the other words yourself; or you can help them sound out all the words to their best ability of invented spelling. 

This builds meaning into the process of writing, because it serves the purpose of narrating their story. Young children often forget what they are trying to write about as they go, because they are so focused on the letters. This gives them the chance to first put down their story in pictures, and then write the best they can without losing their idea. 

Labeling the Room
Children love to make their written work visible, out there in the world for all to see. With just a pad of sticky notes, have them label everything they can. Again, their abilities will vary--some will be able to just write the beginning sound of t for table; some can write beginning and ending sounds; some can add in medial vowels. It’s a great assessment tool of how much they can do. They can run around the house and label everything they can see. It gets them up and moving, interacting with their world, and showing the purpose of writing--to inform, or share meaning.  

Scavenger Hunts
First, they have to hide something somewhere--this gets them up and moving and is just fun. There are a few ways to do this. For a simple treasure hunt, they would write a clue and you would use the clue to find the item. This can just be a letter, a word, or a sentence, depending on the student’s level. 

The next step up is having them write a clue to one spot, and then write another clue from there to the item. It’s going to depend on the abilities of the student--a Kindergartener should only do one or two steps, but a 2nd or 3rd grader could do much more elaborate scavenger hunts. 
For older students, this is a great opportunity to introduce rhyme and poems--for each clue, they need to write a simple rhyme. You can take this up through every grade level. 

If there is a parent who can join in, you can have the student write out the clues, help them place them in each location, and have the parent follow the clues. This is a lot of fun for young kids, and again gives them purpose for writing. 

About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Message from Alise--"Read for the Record Day"

Happy Thursday, Tutoring Family!

One of my colleagues forwarded me information about today, October 4th.

It is actually "Read for the Record Day" so please make sure that you go and read one of the free books available at the website below.

Check out the information from Pearson Education's President--Mark Nieker!


Don’t forget…Today is Read for the Record Day!    

Read Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad to a Child

We Give Books Helps Children Read - Give and Share Books by Supporting Jumpstart’s Read for the Record

Just a reminder.  We hope you are planning to Read for the Record wherever you are today.  Even if you haven’t signed up for your local event, We Give Books’ newly redesigned website makes it even easier to read, while you give and share children’s books online.

Anyone with access to the Internet can visit the site - to read one of the free books available in our digital library; for each book read online, We Give Books donates a print book to a leading literacy group.

By “joining the Bug Squad,” readers unlock a collection of children’s books for iPads and other mobile devices – including Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad by David Soman and Jacky Davis, this year’s official Read for the Record Campaign book.

We Give Books’ digital library is provided by Penguin in an effort to spread the word about the important role of reading in shaping a lifetime of learning. Since We Give Books launched in 2010, the Pearson Foundation and Penguin have donated more than a million books, with a goal of donating a million more by the end of this school year.

Have fun today!
Mark Nieker, President
Pearson Foundation

Monday, October 1, 2012

Message from Alise--October 2012 Update

Happy Monday, Readers!

It's already October and the weather is beginning to change here in Texas. I look forward to seeing the colorful leaves as Autumn is my favorite time of the year.

I want to apologize for not being about to write in September 2012 as it has been a hectic month with the school year beginning, along with the new tutoring season. 

Please know that I will be making regular posts this month and we may have one or two guest bloggers as well. If you are interested in being a guest on our blog, please email me at and we can discuss the possibility.

How are your tutoring sessions going thus far? What is your game plan for the spring tutoring season?

Sound off and let us know!

As always, have a blessed week!

Many Blessings,

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Guest Blog Post: How the Internet Can Be Your Friend in Tutoring

How the Internet Can Be Your Friend in Tutoring
By John Surico,

In an earlier post, we mentioned that you should bring your laptop or some sort of computer to the lessons, strictly for research purposes. But, in an age where education is rapidly being digitized, a tutor must embrace the Internet as an academic ally, not a distracting pest. In that sense, the Web can be great for your lessons. Here’s why:


No matter how much you argue it, it’s indisputable at this point that the Internet has the answer to pretty much every question in the book, sans “what is life?” Whether it’s Google, Wikipedia or even AskJeeves, that awkward moment when your student asks you something you are unsure of the answer to is now easily erased. Also, it makes for a great dictionary and thesaurus.

       2. FUN

FYI: we’re not talking about Angry Birds. To supplement your lessons, games can be a great way for your student to learn the material in an unconventional way. Sometimes, that is the best method to learn. Just make sure your student doesn’t get too comfortable; all that fun can take away from the main lesson at hand.


One amazing way to transmit a lesson plan on a specific subject is to watch a video on that area of study. Enter YouTube. Here’s a great example: for tutoring lessons in history, there are countless time lapse videos to watch, like the ‘Rise and Fall of Rome,’ ‘History of Europe in 60 Seconds,’ and a whole bunch of others. These can be wonderful graphics to get a snapshot of your lesson in visual form.

So, do not be weary of the Internet. But keep in mind that the Internet cannot be your be-all and end-all in lessons; you are a tutor, after all. For any lessons, instructors or other tutor-related activities, check us out at HeyKiki. Now, time to start learning!

Image via

About John Surico
Hailing from Long Island, John is a recent transplant to New York. On a typical Wednesday night, you can find him walking around, staring up at the skyscrapers.