How Do I Make My Writing Sophisticated?

But, how do I make my writing sophisticated? 

I hear these kinds of questions, especially from high school or university students.  They feel that their writing should now “sound” more intelligent, so they add all kinds of words, clauses, and phrases that tend to do quite the opposite!

Here are better ways to improve the quality of your writing:

Make your writing clear. light-bulb-clear-bayonet-fitting-725x544

Make your writing concise.

Make your writing understandable

Provide support, detail, explanations, anecdotes, and so forth to help the reader understand your argument, point of view, or opinion. Spend time to fully understand your own thoughts and connections to the material so that you can write about the ideas intelligently.

These are far more important than complicating the issue.

When students, or any writers for that matter, force their writing – the quality becomes worse.  Making something “sound” more complicated than it really is does not help the reader (or the teacher ) in any way.

Your ideas can be original and attractive, but they don’t heed to be mired in arcane language or complicated sentence structures that lead the reader nowhere.

I have read students’ essays that aim to impress, but the writing is so convoluted that the meaning is lost.  When I ask them to explain, they often say, “I’m really not sure what I meant, but doesn’t it sound good?” Their hope is that the teacher or professor will find something in that mess to admire.  This is a very poor method!Ernest Hemmingway

Some of the best writers, in fact, make a concerted effort to ensure that their writing is as uncomplicated as possible. That does not mean “dumbing-down” (as one of my students said to me recently).  It means that you are doing your job to help the reader comprehend your intentions.

It is the ideas and thoughts that are important.  You want the reader to be impressed, or at least persuaded, by your argument, opinion, or description.

If the reader does not understand your work, he or she will not be impressed.  (Although I have heard people say, “He must be a great writer, I couldn’t understand a word of it!”)

Work on sentence structure and grammar.  Make sure you follow the basic rules and conventions of writing.  Don’t think of the rules as restrictive. Recognize that they actually free the rest of your mind to be creative in thought, networking ideas, and expounding upon your take on a particular topic.

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Brush up on the basics and apply them well, and you will see higher grades.  Better yet, the quality of your writing will continue to improve.

Of course, as you become more proficient, you might notice that your sentences are longer and more “sophisticated,” but they retain the clarity of purpose as well.

Most of all – keep writing!

As with any skill, you get better with practice, especially if you pay attention to the weak spots.  Try to take on constructive advice and make the necessary adjustments to keep reading-86070_1920improving.

For more information, lessons, and programs check out the website.

Website: www.tutoringcentral.com

This week’s video:  “How Do I Make My Writing Sophisticated?”

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How Can I Help My Child Succeed? The Long Haul!

Be prepared for the long haul.

Learning is a process, and children (adults, too) don’t all learn at the same rate.

In fact, children don’t even mature at the same rate or grow at the same rate physically, so why would we expect them to learn at the same rate?  Why do we think all ten year old’s are ready for the same math or language learning at exactly the same time? It does not make sense.  maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com-Four-Different-Sizes-Colour-Five-Young-Boys-Ball-1300645

Your child might excel in one area and be behind in others.

Your child might be behind in all areas.

Your child might excel in one grade and fall behind in another.

Enough of that.  You get the picture.

The point is that you love your child, and he or she needs your support at any stage and throughout any challenge.  This support needs to be unconditional love but also, at times, a tough love.  You have to be the adult in the relationship because there will be occasions when “I don’t want to” just isn’t an option. Even democracy has limits and rules!

Never give up!

I never give up on my students, so you should definitely never give up.  Oh, believe me – some of my students wish I would give up; but, over the long haul, many of them have thanked me for making them stay on track even when they fought back. 5653340435_e5b7118536_m

No doubt, you will face trying times when you have explained the same concept for the one hundredth time (more than likely what seems like…) and your child looks at you as if he or she has never heard about this concept in his or her life!

Take a deep breath (or ten) and try to think of an alternative way to explain or walk more slowly through each step.

Use the internet to help you.  For example, there are lots of videos that might have a unique way of explaining the material.  Each person has a different learning point and access doors, so alternatives can be helpful.

WARNING – Blatant plug coming here:

Hiring a tutor is a great way to help ameliorate some of these issues.  An independent tutor will often have more tools at his or her disposal. Thinking outside the box is often necessary when you tutor a wide variety of learners and you are not restricted by a bureaucracy.  You can focus on that particular student and his or her own unique learning style.

Your child might have a slow pace that keeps him or her behind others at the same age or grade level.  Don’t panic.  Take a proactive approach, and help your child take a proactive approach as well to make change.  The important point is to keep moving forward.  Despite what you might have heard, this is NOT a horse race!

On several occasions, I have seen a student suddenly blossom.

Anecdote warning!

One young student of mine did not read anything beyond his name (first name only – three letters long) and a very few memorized words until he was nearly eleven years old! The so-called “window” should have been closed; however, I am a firm believer that our brains are receiving information even when we are not always fully engaged or able.  The instruction he received must have been making connections because he suddenly started to read.  He found out that books have a lot to offer; and, before you know it, he was reading more and more – and not basic learners, but stories only a little below his age level.  Yes, he read slowly and needed lots of help at first, but he was reading!  It wasn’t long before his pace improved as well.

Other students I have seen have not made quite the same dramatic improvements, but many have suddenly boosted their performance after a long plateau.  Parents sometimes think it is a miracle.  It is not a miracle; it is staying the course and never giving up.

Cautionary note:

The plateau (or plateaus) should not be left dormant.  Keep the information coming and the practice schedule on track.  Remember that sometimes change comes suddenly in a burst, but in reality all that “drip, drip, drip” of information was working and making connections in the brain at some level all along the way.

Never give up.

What if your child is never going to be an A+ student? school-2

So what.  That is not important.  Lots of students who don’t reach the A’s or even B’s manage to do amazing things in the world and in their lives – but not if they don’t try. You should still encourage your children to do as much as possible – reach for their highest achievement.  Just because they won’t be the top student does not mean that you or they should give up or coast.  They don’t know what they can do until they try.  The don’t know how high they can get unless they reach for it.  They don’t even know for sure that the A is impossible!

Prepare yourself for the long haul with your children, and never give up.  Don’t despair.  Keep helping them work toward their goals and instill in them the desire to keep trying.

You might be pleasantly surprised with the outcome even if it isn’t exactly as you initially imagined!

I know you can do it. And I know your child can as well. If you need help, please get in touch.  Tutoring Central blog

Website: www.tutoringcentral.com

Video: The Long Haul

How Can I Help My Child Succeed? Don’t Be Too Helpful!

Yes, there is such a thing as being too helpful.

Don’t be too helpful!

When you are sitting with your children and helping with homework, try to be more Socratic.philosophy-2603284_640

Ask questions.

Wait for answers.  Sometimes, you might need to wait for a long time – but that’s okay.

Lead them to the right path if possible with questions or suggestions or comments, but let them explore and discover more. Yes, you will need to watch or listen to them going in the wrong direction sometimes, but let that run itself out for a while to see if they capture some of the essence.

Of course, there are times when you need to “walk them” all the way through and maybe even show them the final answer – or an example of a suitable final answer.  Most of the time, however, you will want them to arrive at the answers through their own explorations.

Discovering how to find appropriate answers by making mistakes, falling down, getting up (metaphorically at least), and trying again helps learners remember the procedures -if for no other reason than they don’t want to have to go through all the missteps again.)

If you give them the answer all of the time or show them the steps for every question, then they will never remember for long.

Anecdote warning! stop sign

Here is an example.  Theo’s mom came to me and exclaimed that her son knew how to complete the fractions questions perfectly when doing them at home; however, he always scored terribly on the quizzes at school.  She was convinced that he had some sort of block when it came to tests or quizzes.  Now, this is a possibility, but I have found that the “block” is usually caused by a lack of knowledge.

Once I started working with Theo, it was clear that he had no idea which steps to use in each case.  At home, mom was constantly providing reminders, “Now multiply the numerator by the same number.”  “Add the numerators.”  “Oh, no, no – don’t add the denominators – only the numerators.”  Etc.

The poor boy had never managed to get all the way through one question on his own!

If your child can’t do a few questions from step 1 to step 10 on his or her own, then he or she does not know the material.  This applies to any subject.

If mom or dad or a poorly informed tutor is providing hints or answers when preparing for a science test or history exam, then the learner does not fully know the information yet.

Of course, using hints and leading questions as mentioned before can be helpful during the learning process. Just make sure that your child can complete questions independently at the end of this process. gold_question_mark

This is also a teacher’s job and a tutor’s job.  It is NOT to give answers.  It is to teach learners how to get answers!

Everyone wants to be helpful, but the truth is you are not being helpful if you don’t let your children struggle to make their own discoveries.  They need to do the work to get the best reward.

As a parent (or teacher or tutor) is it difficult to watch your children squirm and struggle?

Yes!

Parenting is a difficult task; however, by being tough and helping only when needed, you will be giving your children the very best assistance.

So, pull back once in a while.  Remember the Learning Space?  Perhaps leave that space to your child sometimes. See if Johnny or Ingrid can complete the task on his or her own.  Let them fail occasionally, and use that failure as a lesson moving forward.  What went wrong?  How can the approach be improved?  What was missing from the final answer?

We learn so much from our mistakes as long as we keep working to change the path.

I know you can do it.  I have faith in you and your children.

For more help, check out the website or sign up for some lessons. Resize of photo_50494_20110720

Website:   www.tutoringcentral.com

Video:  Don’t Be Too Helpful!

Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!

Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!

At the beginning.

In blogs, videos, and my courses, I have often mentioned that the topic sentence of a sunrise-1756274_640paragraph should be at the beginning of the paragraph – often the first sentence.

While this is true in many cases, it does not HAVE to be the first sentence of a paragraph.  When writing essays for grade school or secondary school, teachers generally expect the topic sentence of body paragraphs to come at the beginning. The concluding paragraph has a restated or modified thesis statement at the beginning, and this serves as its topic sentence. Of course, the introductory paragraph is a bit of an exception.  It often starts with a “grabber” and/or focus statement, and the thesis statement (serving as the overarching topic sentence) comes at the end of the paragraph.

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For most stand-alone paragraph writing exercises in school, the expectation is for a topic sentence at or near the very beginning of the paragraph as well.

Whew!

Having said all that, topic sentences can come at any point within a paragraph – even in academic writing at times.

At the end.

You can place the central idea at the end after several supporting sentences that have end-812226_640made the case for your argument or point of view. This can be especially useful in argument paragraphs because it leads the reader to your conclusion drawing them in with your amazing proofs and supports.

You knew you were amazing, right?  Of course.

Placing the topic sentence at the end of your paragraph can be effective in expository paragraphs as well. Leaving the central idea until the end can have a dramatic effect that attracts the reader to keep reading.

Of course, even if your topic sentence or central idea is withheld until the end of the paragraph, you still need to ensure that you have unity and coherence.  All the supports that come before the topic sentence need to be relevant and transition from one to another in order for the whole package to have the desired impact on the reader.  Remember that you have to “lead” them to your central idea and convince them with your message.

Nowhere – and everywhere.

Even more bizarre!

Some paragraphs don’t have the central idea explicitly stated at all! nowhere

This is often the case with narrative writing (relating a sequence of events) and sometimes descriptive writing.  This is especially true in fiction writing where many academic rules are “stretched” or broken.  You can imply the central idea with descriptions, action, dialogue, and so on. This is not to say that you never use topic sentences in fiction, but one topic sentence might serve several paragraphs rather than just one.  The continuity is important and, frankly, trying to generate a new topic sentence in the midst of a “flow” of description does not always make sense.

There you have it.  Topic sentences are not as stable as you thought.  They can move around from place to place.  Sometimes there are a couple of introductory sentences before a topic sentence as well.  Generally, I wouldn’t say the topic sentence comes in the middle of a paragraph, but it can be within it.

Still, for most academic writing, I recommend sticking to having the topic sentence at the beginning of most paragraphs.  It will serve you well.

When writing fiction, you have more freedom – but keep in mind that you still need to help the reader find your central idea using whatever techniques you choose.

Do you want to write more?  Do you want to improve your writing? Contact me, and I will set up a personal program for you. reading-86070_1920

Website: www.tutoringcentral.com

This week’s video: Topic Sentences

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Steps to Working Out a Math Problem – or Steps to Loving Math!

Remember that you do not need to hate math! 

Taking a proactive approach, you can conquer any math question. shield-108065_640

Below are several steps to get you on the right path. 

Steps to Working Out a Math Problem

  1.  What does the question ask me to do? 
  2. Are there any further directions for the question? (Look above, to the left, to the right)
  3. Are there any practice examples that show the steps?
  4. Do I have notes about this particular section? 
  5. What do I already know about this math section? (Take the time to re-learn the parts you have forgotten.  For example, if you need to divide fractions for part of the question, and you have forgotten how to do this, go back and re-teach yourself.) 
  6. Try different methods to solve the problem – don’t be afraid to turn the problem around and look at it from different angles. 
  7. Break the problem down into separate units. (I.e., What do I need to do first – second – etc.?) 
  8. If you are using a calculator, record the steps as you go.  (It is very frustrating to start back at step 1 when something goes wrong with step 5!) 
  9. Check to see if your answer “makes sense.” (Is the number reasonable or is it too large or too small?  Does your answer meet the requirements of the problem?) 

In step 8, I mentioned a calculator, and using one is fine (if you are permitted to), but trycalculator-2391810_640 to keep doing a few questions long-hand as well.  It uses the brain differently for basic skills.  You will gain a much stronger understanding of “how” the math works.  Of course there are complex calculations for which the calculator is required. 

Always “think” about the math.  Often people see math as strictly numbers and forget that those symbols and operations have a purpose in real life! 

You might simply need a total for a grocery list. 

You might need to calculate whether or not you can afford a new car or how long it will take to pay off the mortgage under various scenarios. 

Of course, if you are an engineer or architect – or want to be – there are all kinds of mathematical calculations that will determine outcomes for your next bridge or building. 

Math is used in so many careers and so many “real-life” situations that it should not be seen as mere numbers. 

Do not fear math any more.  Jump in, follow the steps above, and keep at it.  

I know you can master the skills you need. 

As always, if you need help, I am available. 

reading-86070_1920

Website: www.tutoringcentral.com

This week’s video:  Steps to Loving Math!

Don’t Hate Math!

Many students say they hate math.

Don’t hate math!

Math can be your friend.

Really.

For one thing, math always works, if you work it well.

A.   1 + 1 always = 2

B.   5 + 8 – 3(9) – 6 x 4 always equals -38

If you “plug in” the right numbers and do the right operations, you will win!plug-1459663_640

That is a great comfort.

It means that you can get 100% on a math quiz or test.  Yes – YOU!

Try to do that on an essay.  It’s tough.

Numbers don’t lie That is why they can be your friend.  They are reliable.  (Of course, people can use numbers to help them lie.  I realize that.)

Build a foundation.

Math skills are built one upon another, so starting with a strong foundation will always help you. 

Trying to multiply fractions will give you a headache if you don’t know how to emotions-2167461_640multiply whole numbers.

Trying to complete question B above will give you grief if you did not learn about order of operations.

Yes, it does take some time to strengthen the foundation and work your way toward the more complex questions.  Unfortunately, students often find themselves in a grade that they cannot handle, and this is the frustration.  They feel like they are banging their heads against the wall, working harder and harder and falling further behind.  Until they have the opportunity to step back (perhaps more than a few steps) and establish that base, they will never truly grasp math.  Worse, they will continue to hate it for the rest of their lives perhaps!

What a shame because…

You can conquer math.  The following tips are taken from my Student Survival Guide.  This free booklet is available for registering on the website.  Just click on the title above.

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Strategies to help you get started on your LOVE of math

Read all explanations, directions, and examples carefully. 

Take a piece of scrap paper and write out a couple of the example questions, write out each step, write out the conclusion following the example in the book.  This procedure ensures that you really do know each step. 

Use scrap paper to do many rough calculations

You can always transfer your work to “show your work” once the question has been roughed out.

(If you are using a calculator, record each step on a piece of scrap as well, so you don’t lose your place within a longer question.)

Whenever possible connect new material to tasks already learned.

Monitor frequently.

Keep monitoring yourself to make sure you are understanding the passages or directions and examples you just read.

Stop, re-read, self-test – as often as necessary to grasp the concepts.

Frequent reviews, while important for all academic courses, are especially important for math.

Do not skip over entire sections you don’t understand

Mathematics tends to be cumulative (one skill built upon another), leaving out one of these building blocks will inevitably bring your entire construction down. 

In other words, you will be lost when it comes to more complex math later this term or next year. 

Get help if you need it.

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If you are unable to “work out” the math problem using your notes and textbook, ask someone, a teacher is best. 

Teachers know how they want you to approach certain tasks, so they are the best   teacher-2985521_640          resource for explaining the procedure. 

However, if the teacher is not available, a parent, another knowledgeable student, or a tutor may be able to help you. 

Don’t be afraid to tell someone that you don’t understand.

Having said this, don’t give up right away.  Make sure you have honestly tried to figure out the procedure.  The best way to truly learn mathematics is to work with it. 

Nobody simply looks at numbers and immediately grasps the concepts of algebra or geometry.  You must learn to be patient and spend time with the procedures, rules, and steps.

Many students think math is boring.  They think it is boring because they are trying to memorize everything rather than work with the numbers and concepts, understanding mathematics more holistically.

Try to get comfortable with math; bring it closer to you – it won’t bite.  Once you see how stable and reliable it is, you might find yourself falling in love with math after all. 

Next week, I will be writing Steps to Working Out a Math Problem

As always, I am here to help.  Check out the website and feel free to e-mail, ask questions, or leave a comment. 

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This week’s video:  Don’t Hate Math!

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