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Being Together

Amazing how much reading I have been able to accomplish while taking a hiatus from blogging and posting.  I named my company “Together Academics” to suggest the ways collaborative work, be it from the research perspective or from the working together, tutor and student, parent and child, tutor and family, peer to peer, does incorporate the learning across the disciplines and professions that could extend not only one’s reach, but also one’s commitment to value and growth.  As a reader, I inhale material, digesting it the way a gourmand appreciates a truly well prepared, and thoughtfully executed dinner- though perhaps less critically than one might expect.  Critical analysis I save for the shared learning time, an example of an academic function or skill which students are expected to acquire as they move through any Academic system.  

This first message in a number of months then is one of Gratitude to all those bloggers who manage to generate thoughtful messages on a near daily basis; amazing 🙂 .

Expect to see many new links to sites it is a pleasure to share. And, Please help me to become more interactive by offering your comments, not only regarding upcoming posts but also on the many posts that are here on file.  I have been so blessed to receive positive comments from “strangers” who gradually become colleagues as we, together, attempt to bridge the gaps in education that students themselves share.  Working one-to-one provides a special opportunity to ensure that each session is “enriched”, that all students, regardless of age or background, gain the remedial support and rise to the challenge of a learning activity.  

As always, best regards, 

Ali (Alison)




My wish for 2012-2013; Keep Learning

Bullies: not just in the playground? As adults what do each of us do each and every day to if not stop, then at least curtail the level to which those with supposed authority operate with impunity rather than with equal or more so levels of responsibility? Kudos to Newspaper Reporters, Journalists the world over, Artists in every media, Teachers at all levels and Students who are prepared to take a stand and stop the, if not yet criminal, then potential to be criminal, bullying when they see it-

And a giant thumbs down to those in power who hide behind curtains of Klout to impose only their way of thinking and only their way of acting on others.

As an educator I am blessed with the opportunity to meet and work with a broad variety of younger (K-12) students, their parents, and the adult students who select private tutoring as a means to learn and grow their Reading and Writing – This also means that I am in a position to encourage students of all ages to read the words on a page for surface meaning , and to delve further, to get at deeper text. The curriculum, whether here in Toronto, Ontario, or the Common Core Curriculum in the States or the lauded curriculum in Finland, Japan, the Middle East, China, …, professes to encourage literacy. Many tests are created to determine that students can in fact READ; I wish there were more emphasis on encouraging students to -in fact- feel- feel something for others- we use a fancy term called “empathy” when what we are really after is the ability to care; care about one’s actions; care about one’s commitments; care about building rather than burning bridges; care about railing against complacent acceptance of meanness and cruelty on the part of one group of people to another. Care about Caring.

I am older now; old enough to recognize when students (of any age) are getting excited about ideas, (not to be confused with ideologies) and to be grateful for these exchanges, to know that these exchanges are the “real” teaching moments and to be aware that with each student my goal is to encourage him/her toward independence- so I am careful about using qualifiers, while recognizing that my own ideals of the way the world is “supposed to be” were formed much earlier; engraved when I first began reading and questioning what I was reading – that the learning to question “why” has become second nature, carved into a portion of my brain by all the caring writers of all the texts that I had been privy to as a child. “Great Literature?” — yes, many classics, but also comics and magazines, and “trashy” novels and bestsellers, and what ever printed word I could find. Because each one of these artifacts of someone’s thinking provided me with another way to become more curious-

Parents wonder if their children are reading- and I see kids quick to understand technology but dreading a novel study- “reading” technology is a form of literacy essential and practical. I see kids who can do figures in their heads but struggle with story content because the printed word moves about on the page in front of them yet, when given the oral information. can clearly discern both meaning and moral. I see students who discover that there is a “method” to writing – some run with it, others simply apply it, all realize that words have power and make a difference.

My wish for 2012-2013- health, happiness and a positive learning experience – Share it!







True story:

I’d love to build the kind of school that banned the word “punishment” & replaced it with “here-Read this!”

Do you ever get ” RUSTY? “

If I do, I know its time to change direction-

The rhythm of a school year is quite set- both students and teachers can feel the changes as May arrives- with June, there is a strong sense of completion- down time in the positive sense.  Here, in my place, I have one student graduating High-School, another just returned from studying, 5 months, abroad- and as mom, I love noting how these two young adults continue to challenge each other and themselves.

So…we are celebrating!  

All it takes to feel a little less stiff is a good belly laugh and hugs all around- school systems being what they are- hugs are rarely possible between students and teachers, so we have to hope that our students do indeed recognize the genuine warmth and best wishes that are offered along with the final reports.  Teaching privately to a range of ages gives me the chance to move to a different rhythm, in keeping with a student’s needs, and this in turn keeps me jumping- TRY it! Differentiated direct instruction makes one hyper aware of each student’s challenges and each student brings me a new perspective on what is meant by “learning” objectives.  ‘Cause as they grow- so do I. 

Tutoring also puts into practice the current “new phrase”,  bringing a “flipped” classroom experience to every session.  Students bring their questions, their curiousity and even their irritation to a lesson.  And while I would like them to “nail it” on quizzes and tests and any form of assignments they may have, I’m most impressed when they exhibit “polish” and shine with excitement as they share ideas-

“Polished”, “refined”, “sophisticated”; all antonyms to the original adjective in question; and the changes that I see over the course of months when working with writing skills.  But not at all “done”.  The challenge I give myself? To instill a genuine interest in improving, from an evolutionary perspective- at times. stochastic leaps, at other times, subtle, incremental steps towards a genuine understanding of self; not only how one learns best, but also how to keep learning.   

Tomorow I will be posting links to annotated book lists, by age, and to interactive websites.  So many students bring their cell phones to camp- I wish everyone would bring an empty journal and fill it with …what ever appeals. 

I teach throughout the summer, and bring a little bit of the outdoors inside whenever possible.  I also am known for encouraging my students and my children to recognize the truly symbiotic relationships between science and art; both require: dedication to a craft, working with tools and technology, practice and experimentation. 

Here is a link to an article featuring an artist who is combining the two fields and a potent reminder about the serendipity of innovation.

Honour your kids

A friend sent me an email with a link to an older article published in The Chronicle for Higher Education in 2010- two years ago when I was starting this Tutoring venture.  The link opens to a story on a tutor who happily is a ghost writer for students- the friend had been worried that I might grow disillusioned quickly as this trend to hire tutors specifically to cheat on behalf of students appeared to be growing.  Fortunately I continue to connect with parents who wish to have their children grow and develop their own skills in Academics and Socially- not to merely purchase a paper or have me “just sit beside the student throughout his/her online exam” – as one parent did (not- so- subtly) request.   

Have you listened to your children lately? Have you heard them when they say things like “so and so is in the smart group”  and aren’t referring to themselves? If yes, please find an activity that you know the child excels at- or if not excels, then actually enjoys- for it is far more important to continue to help your child grow in his/her best fashion than to be grade focused.  I have heard students excitedly share insights about topics that they have become curious about but which weren’t directly on the school curriculum, and definitely weren’t going to be featured on a standardized test.  And I wished I could bottle that excitement and display it so the child would receive credit.

All of us are constantly picking up subtle clues about where we fit within different systems.  K-12, is a lengthy expanse of time and thankfully one in which students will be exposed to a variety of situations, teachers, classmates, and I hope, challenged by ideas.  With the “new” buzzword being “innovation” and the suggestion that perhaps emphasis on standardized tests doesn’t in fact encourage lateral thinking because, to do well on these tests students must respond to the tests in a particular fashion, problem solving is being seen only from one perspective.  Problem solving is not just the ability to combine ideas and “create” new methodologies- problem solving is also the ability to work through a problem – as basic as this sounds.  There is an irony in this situation for the student who is outspoken, who is generating personal connections, who may try to challenge a teacher or, without trying, be seen as challenging to the teacher, can find the confines of the classroom, stifling.  If your child does complain about the above, respect the complaint.  Recognize the grade for a score on activities presented within a classroom and not as a mark that a student (like the Scarlet Letter!) must bear. 

If your child’s “problem” is getting through the school year, some questions to ask the teacher(s) as this term comes to close:

1) Could you tell me something positive about my child?

2) What have you noticed my child enjoying in your class? Which activities did He/She seem most engaged with?

3) Have you any suggestions for what gaps you are noticing in his/her learning?

and finally 4) What could we do to organize differently for the coming September?

Thank you for honouring me with the opportunity to work with your children: I love tutoring and feel lucky being able to share this excitement for learning, together with students and their families.




Weekend wishes and summer dreams

Oh my goodness, the day has slipped away and I understand how a student can be surprised when deadlines loom and a project is not near done.  “Busywork”- that is what it is called; when one is truly hustling yet has little for others to take note of – despite the energy expended.  

Must be seasonal.  Confession: I enjoy summer school and have for years, participating as a student, teaching as an adult.  Now that it is May, I have the same sense many experience during the last weeks of  August, an expectation of classes and a renewal of sorts. 

With the beautiful weather expected to hold over the weekend and all sorts of local events happening I wish everyone a super pleasant Mother’s Day – if you are celebrating and, if not- a great weekend regardless.

How to destroy a student’s interest in School:

Take one student

Make sure the student you choose has an active,engaged, outgoing, participatory character

Instead of making note of all the above, instead of praising the student for his/her positive contributions to the school latch onto to a minor indiscretion and then, blow that indiscretion sky high

It is easy- it is happening at a school near you..,






The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.,
U.S. Supreme Court justice

 To me the quote suggests that wisdom sees the individual in a situation and is able to listen and put reason and context into a judgement.  

I joined Mothers against Drunk Driving before I became a mom.  I am the last person to be in a position to defend a student for being slightly under the influence- but I also know kids- and know that schools inadvertently encourage drinking when they set up rules and arbitrarily decide who will be punished.  I also know that kids have their own code of honour and expecting one student to call out fifty more is a ridiculous notion.   

“Zero Tolerance”- imagine if that really were put into place beyond the school system- no need for a legal profession then/ after all, no need to weigh the crime of a stealing of a loaf of bread ( Victor Hugo – yes- Les Miserables) against the crime of cold blooded murder- no need to weigh anything at all- no need for perspective, understanding-balance- just… punishment.    And no worries if the punishment fit the crime- OH – but that’s a dystopia-  can’t possibly be what one wants from or for an education system.  

Teach Literature to students really offering them an understanding of the issues at hand and sit back and listen to how much kids do care- and stop sending mixed messages.  As a mom, I know the difference between a small infraction and a major one, and silently or vocally as the occasion demands praise the positive and give thanks that the testing the waters of adolescents is, in the grand scheme of things, about generally safe exposure to new ideas and sometimes, new tastes.

Change-  Kids change – when adults let them; over punishment doesn’t allow for change and may in fact push the student in the opposite direction.  People -and kids are people too- need to feel a sense of control over their lives.  Remove that sense and all that is encouraged is rebellion.  I know of a beautiful young student whose participation at her High School has been exemplary, whose one indiscretion is being held up without being weighed or even set beside the four years of non-stop team school participatory action.  Zero-tolerance? As adults, as educators, as parents, we ought to be fighting tooth and nail against such an empty slogan; a zero-tolerance society is not going to create future leaders who are capable of recognizing exceptions. 

Responsive Leadership and Values in Practice

When I participated in a teacher training program a number of years ago, I was fortunate in being assigned to a magnet school on Manhatten’s Upper West Side- where I worked with two very different and very original teachers.  The two classes of grade four students were deemed gifted and housed within a regular neighbourhood school.  In reading recently about the rush of parents in New York to sign students up for  gifted programs I had the wonderful experience of recalling those days at the beginning of the Sarah Anderson School for the Gifted, when the school was still in its growth stage and when Principal and teachers maintained open doors.  I now live in Toronto, Canada,  and was pleased to note how this school, then occupying a few floors within the PS 9 building is today one of the most established programs for the Gifted and Talented in Manhattan.  Kudos to the Principal I worked with during that practicum period. 

– In one of the classes was a young fellow named Adam whose parents were NYC police offiers- the father had been killed in action, the mother, a single parent brought him daily to the school, entering the side doors as all parents of the magnet community did.  Young Adam was on the school’s cafeteria meal plan.  This meant that at lunch time he had to wait until the elementary classes were served- and would sit and watch the PS 9 students hungrily, while his classmates in the Sarah Anderson program ate their brought from home lunches- Adam was daily out of sync- and aware of it.  When I brought this observation to the Principle she acted immeadiately, arranging for Adam to be served upon entering the cafeteria and allowing him to eat with his classmates; a small gesture, but a strong one.  I as student, had access to the Principal, a Principal who valued input from her staff- even staff that was transient- the way a student is bound to be.  The concept of collaborative leadership had been applied directly- removing it from an ideal in a textbook to a living demonstration of care.  Not only Adam, but I too benefited from this example of responsive leadership. 

simply wishing

“Too much too little too late- went a popular song” – I’m guessing it was a love song- I could look it up – but it isn’t important – what’s important is what those words do convey- the negative impact of too much- the ridiculousness of too little and the fact that once a negative situation is experienced even hearing “sorry” doesn’t matter- it IS too late.

Schools teach many lessons and for those of us who have been involved in education for years and have consciously remained learners- that is- learning together with students, learning on our own as researchers for better practice, and learning in a formal setting, do know that there is always a hidden curriculum; an agenda that is promoted by the actions and attitudes of the educators in a learning environment. Ideally, these actions ought to be singularly focused – to promote the health and welfare of the students. In reality many actions promote only one thing, an individual or an administrator within a complex.

I wish I had the answers- I wish I could write that as we go through life we will all meet intractable individuals whose focus on maintaining control is stronger than their focus on sharing a lesson.

I wish I could teach the whole world to recognize the difference between standing for something big and simply refusing to budge.

Sometimes I wonder if it would have made a difference if I had said “why did you think this would be helpful”- then I remember that I have asked-