Tag Archives: tutoring

interactive and comments

Hello to all readers and enormous hugs-

I will be moving this blog to a BLUEHOST location during the summer and upgrading it to make it more interactive and to allow students and families to offer suggestions and post their own updates.  In the interim will not be able to respond to any comments directly nor will I be able to show your thoughtfulness in “liking” my blog- 100 plus followers! Amazing and tons of gratitude to you ALL!

as always, best regards,


Approaching Learning Intelligently; Achieving Learning Ideals

TOGETHER ACADEMICS   “learning together makes learning better”


Sometimes songs and words and singers simply enter our brains and remain there like material on a computer and then at the right time the words resurface or the sounds reappear, making the day a little brighter and reminding one of how very much past, present and future can be intertwined.

Yesterday evening I had been entering material into my “journal”, a “private” entry, not a public blog; and wondering if my personal rhymes and real expressions – not academic but indeed philosophical – were of the type that I could compile and self publish.  Then this morning all I could hear was this:

Karen Carpenter endorses the rest of us to :Sing a Song, …Sing a song- “dont worry that it’s not good enough…” How beautiful, and how tragic to read the words at the end of the UTube Video. That anyone with such talent and genuine love for others as expressed in the vocals could also have had such an untimely ending.  Some may equate the melody and the tune with Sesame Street as indeed the song was shared on their popular station.  To me it recalls the shock to learn of a world famous singer whose insecurity about her physical looks overtook her knowledge about her vocal talent and her musical blessings.

Today we have a slightly better understanding about eating disorders- but only slightly.  We do not yet understand how the body could turn on itself, anymore than we have a full understanding about addiction, or about poverty.  And to readers who are wondering how I can put three separate issues in one sentence, their overlapping “venn diagrams”  connections are our collective ignorance about how to genuinly reach out and offer help to one another rather than imposing – name an “ism” here, that would encircle how those who profess to know more than others denigrate rather than empower when supplying prescriptives, and enclose rather than opening up options for others.  I have left this last statement broad for a reason; I can’t solve the world’s problems.  But I am going to play the song again, and again, and hear why it could become an anthem for preschoolers of the Sesame Street age, and consider how “hope” for those same “limitless horizons” touched on in the last blog post must not be trampled on via education systems, social systems, cultural systems, medical systems, and above all by one another- we owe it to each other to encourage the singing- So this summer whether in the shower, in the car, on the street, at camp, or at your cubicle- SING- Sing out loud- and share your voice with the rest of us.

Second Sunday in May? Mother’s Day

Playing Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and wondering how these four men managed to capture beautifully in lyric and score the feelings of parents; so deeply moving when we do “look at them and sigh, and know they love you…”

Grace and beauty just walked out the door together, intent on a project and pleased to share – and I feeling truly blessed have the afternoon “free”, and time to catch up with writing, reading, cleaning (housework rarely takes care of itself), and Yes, Thinking.  So often we are deluged with activities that simple “quiet time” now comes at a premium, to be cherished and appreciated.

Mother’s day for me began the minute I knew I was pregnant with each of them, and has continued daily since; blessed with a son and a daughter, each uniquely capable and caring, and filled with that exuberance of personality that needn’t be restricted but ought to be unleashed- “Hello World”- they are ready for you!  And as a Mom, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

And as always, special good wishes to the parents of the children I am fortunate to have taught and  those I continue to work with- You are Amazing

Enjoy the day!  And if you have the minute- give a listen to “Teach the Children”

Red Herrings and Holiday Musings

In mystery writing, the red herring is the suggestion of a clue- it also misleads the reader as well as the mystery solver. In real life people too are given red herrings- that is – led astray with diversions – tactics meant to exhaust rather than help and which over time wear a person out. When I was beginning my divorce, so many games ensued until I finally stood up in court and said “stop.” But a few years later the very agency claiming to “help” me also created games, of an even nastier nature. When my children were little, I had the energy to be up at 5:30 on a Sunday morning and out the door with two kids in tow hoisting a hockey bag and all the needed equipment for a 7:am practice- we became very familiar with the early am bus drivers! And I grew adept at juggling as many a new parent learns; to organize as much as possible the evening before, to have snacks and treats already in the bag, to bring an activity for the one not playing, and to be ready to cheer for the one on the ice.

Slowly the children do grow up and being able to communicate with their teachers was a blessing. My own background combined education and anthropology, the former allowed me to practice and be hands-on in encouraging, hands-off when it came to the doing of the homework and the practical matters, the latter was a reminder that there is more than one system of learning, and that learning is how all skills are acquired.

And so I once again accepted delayed gratification and put the personal pursuit of higher level credentials on a back burner while accepting almost any and every type of work that would still offer the much needed flexibility a single parent requires. To paraphrase Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) I never let schooling get in the way of real life. And with every day providing further challenges, and positive reinforcement by way of those oh so meaningful little, and sometimes big, gestures which our children offer to us, I turn now and marvel at my young adult children who generously and caringly offer love and affection.

I won’t pretend it was a cake walk- not at all. When we as parents see a child in pain, all caution goes out the window; and each of us can probably recall or if your children are young and growing through the growing pains, can relate to the feeling of pure helplessness at times when one or the other is unwell, and the prayers sent to all the heavens above until the danger is passed. However prayer is only one part of it- action here on earth being as necessary, it seems this long weekend of spiritual experiences and traditions steeped in tales of action and renewal, is a genuine reminder of how much each of us as adults were indeed influenced by personal tales of experiences and challenges that ultimately were overcome.

That other red herring mentioned above? It was an ugly, nasty business that caused headache and heartache, money and time- but- like red herrings in novels, I am able to realize now that it was a diversion and while not yet ready to “laugh about it” am able to recognize that the blessings of friends and genuine caring made me never lose sight of the big picture goals. People ask me why I teach, and I have realized that it is more complicated than a quick surface response would allow. When a learner gains confidence – be it a child in the early grades or an adult changing professions, I am grateful that the experiences I am able to share can actually help another. And it is such a genuine treat to learn with them- to continue to share in the excitement and frustrations that learning any activity may provide; if educating means encouraging thinking and while supplying possible solutions also giving way to a learner’s discovery of a personal path, then one can’t expect every lesson to be ‘magical’ nor every paper to be polished- one can however relish the surprise twists in the learning challenges, be ready to pivot when a student requires it, and if lucky – be there when they surprise themselves with their own achievements.

Holiday and ritual practice may attempt to take the “mystery” out of life by prescribing a set of practices- red herrings as they provide a type of clue, and a diversion from the everyday – they link us to the past and when about redemption or rebirth, remind us how the power of story can transcend a time and a place, can provide hope, and does share the wisdom of experience. But life itself- to me anyhow, remains wonderfully mysterious.

Holiday Cheer


should be a “no-brainer”- as in “obviously” but there are still people who think this only applies to themselves

so they continue with a “carrot and stick”  and create instead

a resentful at best and a punitive at worst -culture

————————This weekend marks the start of two major holidays that deal with the spirit- Passover beginning Friday evening, and Easter which begins the same day- April 3, 2015

—————Perhaps in the spirit of “good faith” communities in general might consider the message within the TEDx talk  (link offered above) – aimed at educators and the general public (most of us have made our way through a school system) as a reminder that “Happy” is more than a song sung by Pharrel and is an action that flows throughout one’s system; let’s spread a little – shall we?

( and because a little music might indeed help: pharrell williams happy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM  )

Music to teach by:

Early morning, and as light flashed through the blinds and the sounds of a new day began with the street rumble my brain kept hearing David Bowie singing “Ch-Ch changes”, and I found myself marveling at how the singer’s vocals had so captured the feelings of worry and confusion major changes might bring on.  The near stutter evoked palpable fear- and the lyrics continue to suggest why and how major social upheavals will produce this worry.  We have mottoes today such as “change is good” and websites “teaching” how to be a disruptor, yet if people were actually to follow a blueprint for disruption then the bandwagon effect of everyone doing pretty much the same thing happens, and little “ch-ch change ” actually occurs.

Technology and education go together and regardless of what age or grade level one may be  working with, most educators do make use of various forms of “equipment”- computer, phone, i-pad, smart board, digital cameras, and even the lesser in vogue today but which schools may have on hand, audiovisual equipment such as TVs, and overhead projectors.  But the change today is to almost insist that the students are the ones offering the lesson in order to have them demonstrate some understanding of subject matter.   Academics still demands testing, be it in the form of board wide generated formal exams that are meant to provide a summative overview of where a group of students may fit within the big picture perspective of “learning goals” ( formally called objectives) or in the everyone”must” first acquire testing that either welcomes or eliminates students from moving to new levels  (any pre – program assessment test from the SAT through the GRE).

So what really has changed?  The day to day encouragement which in some ways may be reminiscent of apprenticeships of old, with a slight slant.  Many of the younger generation are technologically “gifted” that is swift learners when it comes to using and applying new technology, however this technology to “make sense” of Academic goals is still applied as a “tool” for learning, rather than the end means in and of itself.  Learning coding becomes a new strand neatly placed alongside IT courses, when really it could be right up there with Language Arts- coding is a form of communication – not only do computers speak with one another, but the person versed in code understands a language as does the person using vocabulary specific to any field of study.  And like the acquisition of any new skill, some basics must be learned /applied/understood, before the “creative” aspect that leads to “ch-ch changes” or real innovation will be demonstrated.

Bowie’s  song with its direct appeal that we ought to “turn and face the strange”  continues to be of value- when listening to ( “but I”) “can’t trace time” , the clear concept of a younger generation not becoming a carbon copy of its predecessors but instead further innovating and adding to the picture as a whole is both “disruptive” and positive-the singer readily acknowledging that time itself  may change him-allowing for his own growing and changing, as a reminder that it is not mere rebellion but is new direction.

Has education really changed? Or are we merely participating in that ripple effect which technological changes create? Bottom line, as educators, we are compelled to encourage the students to question-when they do so -like Bowie-they too may “ch-ch-change” things up.

To Learn to question “Why”

Yes.  As Educators many of us have already become familiar with the idea that the pendulum swings back and forth and that “new” may not be as “new” a concept as current in vogue proclamations may suggest- what then may have happened in between the suggestion that questioning is basic to inquiry and the present full scale onslaught of “change in education” means “pursue inquiry”…on blogs, tweets, news reports etc- reminiscent  of the “new/improved”  labels on breakfast cereals; when DO the changes really- really- become “REAL” ?

Technology is great- and one of its best uses is the simply fast way it can connect so many of us, allowing for the spread of ideas (unfortunately negative ideas spread quickly too) and the rapid growth of online communities, sharing of resources, and ability to engage with people whom we may not otherwise have been able to connect with.  Professional Learning Networks (PLN) may indeed provide for cross cultural exploration of ideas, a chance to openly reflect on best practices, and provide support and encouragement in developing one’s own set of better practices.  For the concept of “best” practices is now a bit of a conundrum. 

      Engaging with a variety of students allows for different levels of reflection and interaction:

Elementary students learn: Albert Einstein suggested imagination may be more important than knowledge:  The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.   Albert Einstein    

However- lack of knowledge may make it difficult to apply one’s imaginary concepts…

-High School students made note of the following:

     Amazingly they did not feel hopeless in the face of such a discovery  –

and middle school students enjoyed this:

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. Benjamin Franklin   ( said the man attempting to understand electricity by experimenting with lightning and kites, among other things)

What then are we encouraging when the latest bandwagon suggests “teach inquiry”- wasn’t this part of the learning process before? If not- why not? When we share a bit of history rather than merely proclaiming newest is best- we automatically enable students to begin making connections and developing an inquiring mindset.  But if we don’t put the historical event into context we are only providing a series of facts – yesterday was “International Women’s Day” and it was truly exciting to read how many people cared to get involved and how across countries and cultures via the internet so many, male and female, could share their hopes for a future that allowed for the pursuit of knowledge on the part of ALL global citizens.  To me- that single word “ALL” becomes central- removing an “us versus them” gender bias, and replacing the goal with the hope that inquiry based learning- learning that indeed asks questions and admits to a lack of answers-  which is inquiry based learning at its best, will give voice to “if not- why not” thinking; thinking that would lead to action and possibilities for education.  Because one thing did become clear- the lack of p0ssibilites for what is seen as formal education was one of the reasons behind needing such an event as International Women’s Day in the first place.
Our students = the future, and their world will have new challenges, in ALL fields, and being allowed to question how something may be improved is as important as being encouraged to value the notion of questioning. 
Maria Montessori, best known for the schools that offer her name in their title, took seriously the purpose behind “learning through doing”:

asking “For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?

To borrow that inquiry and place it in today’s context: what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s opportunity for development lags behind?
Students recognize both purpose and potential and when we as educators discuss concepts such as how to engage a group we are really asking how can this lesson, this demonstration, this activity prove meaningful.  When a student (regardless of gender) sees no future use value from the inquiry that is when we as educators must worry- and question the social structure itself – a structure that has made thinking, questioning, caring, and potential for improving non existent to whole communities of people be it due to economic, cultural, or political issues.  Why?
(I have benefited from working with an extraordinary range of students and their communities, extending my own concepts of inquiry, and what it may mean to encourage curiousity)

Answers and more questions

Groundhog Day- and being originally from the midwest I and my neighbours knew, regardless of what the groundhog displayed, there WAS going to be a lot more winter weather!

Still, this mini-event, televised and discussed, makes for reflection: halfway through a school year- the typical, “why do you teach?” question arises.  

In a nutshell: the reflection of pure thinking, joy in recognition of understanding, comfort when an idea registers, communication without guile-it is a total delight to hear a learner puzzling over an idea, considering a new concept, and when the struggling occurs- working through the problem towards some level of resolution.   As a result the joy I take in sharing my education, and the comfort learners experience when the lessons lead to results – here I will clarify- results on “standardized” tests – yes- but more importantly results in desire to learn more…

It is after all- that desire to learn more, that pushes the educators I have been blessed with meeting and working with to continue to not only teach but also-Learn.  Yes, today I offer private lessons, based on years of accumulated instruction in public and private institutions, working with both children and adults.  That statement was made to offset any suggestions that tutoring is “easier” than teaching to the class within a formal/traditional setting.  In fact tutoring done well, is extremely challenging, for the student and for the tutor.  Both must be prepared to recognize when challenges occur and to directly change direction if a particular course of study bogs down; for communication to be both given and received, an openness is necessary.

Little is expected of that groundhog- it appears, photos are taken, and Nature continues its course regardless of what was “predicted”.  And so I throw away the crystal ball, forgoing predictions and focusing on the student, the practical and abstract aspect of a lesson, the shy smile, the deep belly laugh, the drawings and sketches, doodles, and comments.  Because one day at a time, change is happening, we need only be open to noticing it.  And to reflecting anew on the questions our students offer, and to remembering that they in fact may be the ones who best supply the answers.

Using Visuals to Enhance Writing Skills



Sometimes it is the simplicity and the symmetry that draws the eye. When students are asked to create a story, offering a picture prompt plus open brainstorming together will allow students to recognize what is meant when asking for a written “thick” description and students may create a background or plot for?

Who might be coming to dinner? Is it an ordinary occasion? Where is the setting? At home or elsewhere? Could they add a mystery/suspense to their short vignette?

Image, plot, character study, setting, use of adjectives, vocabulary enhancer- all ages/levels, writing skills

Image from La vie et Belle hollymdunning.blogspot.ca spring eggrolls, Vietnam

Shake it up!

Once upon a time, in an enchanted__________(forest, pond, stream, house, castle,garden…) lived a little______________(prince, princess, horse, pony, goat, duck…?) and this little_______________decided to join everyone around the _____________?  campfire!  Because campfires are good places to share stories and hot chocolate.  And stories and cold juice.  And stories and popcorn.

The night was clear.  The moon was bright.  Everyone was pleased to take part in the ? making of a brand new KITE! And so the ________________ joined in and discovered______________________________????

Reading involves a full body practice- peek into a kindergarten room and observe the need for movement; some of us continue to need that opportunity to use our bodies in motion while the learning process grows- yet – we have a strong image impacted of reading and writing practice being a solitary studious pursuit.  If you have the time, and inclination, rummage through a children’s section at the library or the bookstore or within your own home collection.  And see if you can really sit still or if at times the words on the page conjure up images that make you not only truly laugh out loud, but also seem to get you swaying to the rhythm – words on the page leaping and colliding and having fun.

Learning- of anything- is a time consuming series of repetitions and practices until a learner feels a smidgen of control, slowly leading to mastery.  And which some remain determined may have less to do with “grit” or “mindset” and more to do with circumstances and options.  If however, we, as educators wish to open up a few doors or at least a window into what various aspects of learning may offer, then we will be needing to demonstrate how and why skills are building blocks for movement forward.  Direct communication – making time for this – becomes essential, so instead of lamenting the fast pace and disconnect of modern times, or extolling the virtues of technology and flipped classrooms, let’s remember that if we present testing or reviews in a positive frame, then the likelihood of students responding in a positive manner improves.

Personalities- we each have one- and we no more wish to be lumped into a “type” then do the students in a learning environment.  That is “mindset” in a nutshell; the suggestion that people may be allowed to think outside the box requires people not to be boxed in or restricted by academic labels-  a label may allow for clearer organization within an institution, but at times denies the learner the very thing education is meant to encourage- growth and change.  Movement: across disciplines, within communities, throughout a learning system, demands numerous skill sets including the ability to fill in the blanks, to extend the story, to make it one’s own, to develop, to grow and to become.

And so they lived…which always struck me as suggestive of more to come…

Standing desks, musical chairs, reading buddies, writing conferences, on and off line; shake it up, and find the mix that works best in your student’s frame.