Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Transforming Worksheets from Assessments to Learning Tools

Worksheet Correction

It is helpful to remember that worksheets are assessments unless we transform them into learning opportunities. When each item is important, and relates directly to the standard being taught, the worksheet becomes an effective tool for practice and an informal measure of student progress.

Worksheet correction gives valuable information to the instructor regarding how students are integrating and interpreting concepts. Each discussion provides specific information for instructional planning.

Simply telling the student he is wrong does not help at all. The student just feels incompetent and may think he is stupid. In these instances, his thinking world does not match the world of school. For example,
Meaning: a frequent reason for errors is the difference between meanings attached to words in the student's everyday language and the meanings used at school.
Written and Spoken Language: Another can be the difference between written and spoken language. Identifying the reason for the error.  The validation of his thinking helps him build new thinking strategies to apply in new situations.
Point of View: There may be times the student's answer can be considered correct or at least understandable when seen from another point of view. After the student has shared the thinking behind her answer, if the instructor disagrees, he can validate the thinking by saying, "Now I understand how you arrived at your answer." The instructor should then describe the point of view that led to the answer he provided as the correct answer.
At the end of work time students can trade papers or correct their own worksheets. Correct papers, through class discussion, by analyzing questions one at a time.

Read the correct answer or write the information on the board.
  1.  Ask students if anyone has a different answer.
  2.  If students express different answers, ask for the thinking behind the answer.
  3.  When appropriate, conduct a discussion on the differences of opinion.
  4.  Require specific references or thought patterns in order to keep the discussion on point.
Students often arrive at answers that make sense to them and sometimes to nobody else. It is important for the instructor to discover the reasoning behind the error in order to add alternatives to the student's thinking process.

While the Correction of Worksheet process is time intensive, it is well worth the effort. Students transform from being passive recipients of information to actively involved in the learning process. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Linda Lando Guest Blog: Taking a Math Test

Linda Lando is an expert on all things math. Thank you for sharing!


Whether you’re an adult, teenager, or school-age student, taking math tests is a normal part of your school life.  Regardless of your age, you’re busy with multiple commitments between work, family, and extra-curricular activities.  Here are a few tips that will help you to get a strong result by prioritizing, streamlining, and optimizing the precious time that you put into studying and into taking the test itself. 

Math tests are different from history, English, and other exams.  Rather than memorizing a lot of important facts and concepts and then matching or writing or filling-in-the-blanks, math and math tests expect you to perform.  What does that mean?  It’s not enough to just define what something is—although that’s essential to understanding—you have to apply your understanding of those definitions by working through actual math exercises where you absolutely must show your work.

For that reason, you can never cram for a math test or even a quiz.  This bears repeating— CRAMMING FOR MATH TESTS DOES NOT WORK!  It can actually cause more problems as you draw conclusions/hunt for patterns without sufficient background.  It can also lead to misconceptions that take more time to undo than they did to do.

The best way to study for a math test is to keep up with your class work, and to ask for help from your teacher or professor, when needed.  Even if you can’t get your questions answered during the scheduled, class time, most teachers are willing to meet with you outside of class.  Many have office hours or will make an appointment.  Generally speaking, they want to help; they’re not usually in it for the money.  If you show them that you are motivated and current with your work, that goes A LOT further with them than if you’re just trying to find an easy way out. 


Make your homework sessions a priority.  Your study area should be well lit and free of clutter.  Your tummy should not be completely empty or filled with fruit loops or gummy bears.  Give your brain a chance; you know what’s good for it.

As you do your regularly scheduled homework, check your answers in the back of the book.  Don’t check each exercise each time, unless you’re having a lot of difficulty.  Complete each section or sub-section, and then check.  Most textbooks have odd answers in the back.  And it’s not cheating to check your work.  It’s what ethical, smart people do.  It’s like driving at night with your headlights on. 

Keep a list of the exercises/concepts that are giving you some trouble.  Give yourself a chance to process the information.  Math can take a little time to sink in, especially as it gets more challenging.  Go back to those problematic exercises at the end of your homework session or even the next day when you’re fresh.  Your brain processes a lot of difficult information when you’re not thinking directly about it.  So take a break, and then see if it makes more sense.

If you still don’t get it, take your list to class and be sure to ask during the homework review.  If you absolutely can’t get your question answered then, or no one else has asked the same question, contact your teacher/professor ASAP (right after class).  Don’t wait; don’t let it go.  The class will move on, and you’ll remain stuck.  Your teachers want to help you.  Most of them chose their profession for just that reason.

Once you’ve gotten help—although you may still not understand what you were missing completely—find some homework exercises (assigned or not) that are exact replicas of the kind that are giving you trouble.   Try to find the odd numbered exercises, and make sure to look up the answers.  If you still need more help, ask for it.  Try to take some time, and then do some more exercises.  It will come to you.


Learn how to streamline your approach.  Stay focused in class.  Bikram says that this is the most difficult part of yoga.  Your math class may not be at the best time of day for your biological clock.  Welcome to the real world.  Your teacher may not have the best speaking voice, or may not give the greatest/most intriguing presentations.  That’s life. 

Take notes that are neither post-its nor novels.  A good rule of thumb is that if the teacher/professor is writing it, you should too.  You don’t have to copy the board or the power point presentation word-for-word, but pay special attention to what is presented to you in writing, especially the specific examples. Those examples can save you.  Don’t be lazy and think, that it is probably in the text; I’ll look it up later.  The text may not be written in a style that’s all that easy to comprehend.  Your teacher is your translator.  The more you write, listen, and practice, the better and more deeply you’ll understand.   You know the cliché--it’s not “rocket science”.

Use all your resources when doing your homework.  Have the textbook for reference (or even emergencies); have your class notes at hand.  Don’t be afraid/unwilling to take a minute and look something up.  Math is a foreign language, and begins with vocabulary.  Math vocabulary is a technical language at any level, and you won’t be able to either understand or communicate the concepts clearly if you don’t know what the words mean.  If you’re taking geometry or linear algebra for the first time, you should have a specific section in your binder just for vocabulary.  It is key to your understanding!


Optimize your results through preparation.  Hopefully you have plenty of warning before the test.   Whether you do or don’t, there should be a review section at the end of each chapter.  If you’re really lucky, your instructor has given you a review guide or a set of review problems.  Whether a review has been assigned or not, it is up to you to prepare.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that you don’t have to do anything the week or night before the test because the teacher didn’t assign anything.  Hello!  When an instructor doesn’t assign work before a test, it’s because he or she wants you to review on your own.  I know that’s hard to imagine, but some teachers will expect you to be self-regulating, and they don’t have the time to be responsible for you.  But you do have that time.  If you’re wondering what will be covered on the test, ask your teacher.  If a review has not been assigned, take your textbook/notes up to him/her and ask what you should be focusing on in order to prepare well.   

Do your test review in the same, conscious manner you’ve done all your previous homework—regardless of whether or not your review exercises are getting a separate grade.  Make sure to look up anything that looks foreign, or anything that has been giving you more trouble.  Your test grade, which is usually worth more weight than homework, will improve because of your quality time and effort.

After a good night’s sleep and healthy breakfast or lunch, you’re ready to go.  Calmly peruse the exam before you begin.  Check to see how many exercises there are, and estimate the time you’ll need for each.  Don’t be afraid to look at the more difficult exercises.  It’s usually not a good idea to do those first or to leave them for the last minutes.  Don’t let those shake your confidence.  If you read them carefully at the beginning of the test session, and then go back and read them again as you’re taking the test, your wonderful, mysterious brain will begin to process the information in ways that the most sophisticated of scientists cannot understand.   Use the margins of the test to write any formulas you may need and had to memorize.  Show all your work.  If you need more space to show your work, find out if you can use extra paper and make sure to turn it all in together.

Don’t let your time get sucked away by one or two exercises.  If something is giving you trouble, do what you can.  Then go back to it later.

Do not leave early!  Use all your time.  As you go through the test, put a little mark next to any exercises that you could not do or that were giving you trouble.  Then go back to those at the end, when you have time.  Unless it’s the SAT or some other standardized test that deducts more points for a wrong answer than a blank one, don’t leave anything blank.  

Breathe deeply to oxygenate your valuable brain cells.  Feel good about yourself.  No matter what the outcome, you’ve done your personal best.  If you haven’t put in the quality time, make some changes in your schedule and prepare better in the future.

By using these techniques, your grade and understanding will improve.

If you still need more help, give me a call.  I’ve been through all that you are going through now, and I have helped myself and many others to get a strong result.

twitter: @LindaLando 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Writing Prompts-Using Dynamic Images

Thank you Alexandra Berube for this excellent guest post! Boston Tutoring is a valuable resource for parents and teachers.
    Writing Prompts--
Using Dynamic Images to Stimulate Creativity in Writing

When tutoring a student week after week to improve writing skills, it can be challenging to come up with ways to make the content engaging. With a third grade student I've been working with for years, some of our current goals are to encourage fluency, vocabulary use, story development, and structure. These are all large-reaching concepts that can be approached in a number of ways. 

In order to start us off, I went on Google images and printed out an illustration of a giant crab attacking a city. It's not violent, but it is a very visually stimulating, and for a male student, he needs action in his writing or he's not going to stay interested.

I told him our story was going to have a beginning, middle, and end. Three paragraphs. The first would be about how the crab got to be so giant. The second would be, what was it doing in this city and how did it get there. And the third would be about how the story would end: what would become of the crab, and the city underneath it?

The student got to generate an idea for the genesis of this giant crab, and came up with a story about how it broke into a supermarket and climbed into some magic tomato sauce, which made him giant. When working with students, I always promote as much creativity as possible, and ask lots of questions along the way, such as, "What happened to the jar once the crab got giant? Did it break?" Logic within a fantasy world is still important for writers to consider, even if the logic only makes sense in that one world.

As we wrote each paragraph, I focused on using dynamic verbs and sensory adjectives, asking him how he thought things looked, smelled, felt, etc. I asked him question after question to promote development of ideas and logical sequencing, because what's next? And why did that happen after the previous event? are necessary inquiries not just for writing development but for reading comprehension as well. The two skills go hand in hand, and by actively discussing sequencing while writing we can promote comprehension as well.

Another day, I chose three images and asked the student to put them in order. A picture of a boy looking into the woods, a picture of a bear, and a picture of a gingerbread house. I imagined that he would start with the boy, looking at the house, and then encountering a bear. Instead the bear ate the house while the boy watched. Of course, I was happy with any outcome, and each step of the way we discussed logical sequencing in order to develop our story. I believe that images stimulate our senses and our imagination in a way that questions like ‘What would you do if...’ are not able to. And then you just have to see where it takes you.

Alexandra Berube, Managing Director
Boston Tutoring Services, LLC
(781) 248-4558