Tutoring and Test Preparation: Making A Rainbow

Tests are a part of every child's school life.  When I was a child in elementary school (so many years ago!), we took tests A LOT:  There were the usual Friday spelling tests and math quizzes, of course.  Then there were "Weekly Reader" tests in all our subject areas, plus Scholastic Reading Lab tests to progress to the next reading level.  I was very competitive with the spelling and math tests because they were public.  The Scholastic Reading Lab tests were my favorite because we were able to use a special color pencil to fill in a graph with the results.  By the mid-year point my graph looked like it had the potential to be a magnificent rainbow.

Each successive test’s results simply reinforced the picture of potential in my head.  Not everyone has the good fortune to have the opportunity to make their test results into rainbows, but we should.

We're coming up to towards the end of the school year.  This is the season of tests, and it should be a time to think of potential.  This shouldn’t be “stress” time for any of our children. Testing is an organized way to find out what a child knows and how well the child can navigate a test maker’s intention.  Some children are nonchalant about testing events, almost uncaring. Others take on the attitudes of the adults surrounding them during the testing season.  Often these adults are nervous about the test results because the adults attach their own personal accomplishment to the child’s testing outcomes.  

At Karin Diskin, we teach strategies specially tailored to each child.  For the child who appears nonchalant, we help them to learn techniques to use their energy wisely to accomplish their best at the moment of the test.  For the child who gets stressed out just thinking about testing, we teach testing strategies to lessen that anxiety.  For both types of children, the strategies are ones that they can pull out and use throughout their academic career.  

We are all confronted with many tests throughout our academic and work careers - life itself can be one big test sometimes.  Using positive strategies for these events helps to boost confidence and self-assurance, makes for better results, and helps your child to address all the "tests" in their life head on, without fear.  

Here’s an easy tip that I share with all of my students for reading tests:

Scan the questions BEFORE reading the passage or excerpt.  This helps give you the flavor of the test maker’s intent..  It also allows you to work through the passage with confidence because you won’t feel surprised by the questions at the end of the “read.”  

I always tell my students “use what you already know.”  Scanning the questions first helps you to “already know” what the test maker wants from you.  When it comes time to answer the questions, read the question again to make sure that you’ve read it completely.   Then you can be in charge of yourself rather than the test taking charge of you.

Here at Karin Diskin, we have many more strategies for successful test taking.  Call us here in Los Angeles at 310-909-4387 and schedule in-home or online tutoring sessions for test preparation and test-taking strategies.

Teaching Vocabulary: Hamlet as Man, Mystery, and…Delicious Pastry?

Teaching vocabulary helps students’ brains grow and expands their ability to make connections for new information.  It also helps them to do better on tests – whether the test is for language skills, math, or science.  In fact, studies have shown that the depth of a student’s vocabulary is a key indicator of the student’s ability to test successfully.  See, e.g., Marzano, et al., Building Academic Vocabulary: Teacher’s Manual (2005).  Flashcards and workbooks will help a child learn words, but for a child to truly learn vocabulary – that is, how words build context and meaning – children need experience and conversation.  Every time you talk with your child, you have a great opportunity to help them enrich their vocabulary and to help your child bridge the little gaps that may exist.

Several weeks ago, I was Skype tutoring a student to help him with his 9th-grade English assignments.  His class was reading Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Hamlet.  I asked my student to give me a short summary of Act I.  As he spoke, I became very confused: I didn’t remember that Hamlet involved so much eating.  But that’s what my student kept talking about – Hamlet eating.  I asked my student to tell me the exact lines that talked about eating.  He said, “Well, it’s all over!  It’s every time they talk about the danish!”

And that’s when I realized: Danish and danish.  This student only knew about the delicious pastry…not the citizens of Denmark!

When I explained what “Danish” really meant here – what the actual context was -- we both had a good laugh.  After all, Hamlet is pretty hilarious when it’s just baked goods on the line!

This is a funny and somewhat extreme example, but it shows you how important experience and attentive discussion are to building your child’s vocabulary.   As adults, we know how to ask clarifying questions when something is unclear to us.  Children learn how to do this when you ask them questions – whether it’s about something they’re reading, talking about, or observing.  Asking children questions, encouraging them to ask you questions, and responding with varied intonation, phrases, and colloquialisms helps a child’s vocabulary become richer and deeper and helps your child’s brain to make connections and develop the problem-solving skills that will help on tests – and everything else they do.

So, talk with your children.  Read with your children.  Talk with your children about what you’ve read with them.  And…eat danish with your children.  Just don’t eat the Danish.