Category Archives: Featured

Brenda & Her Mom Don’t See Eye-to-Eye on Her School Work

Brenda & Her MomMeet Brenda & her mom.

They both know that parenting a teen through middle and high school isn’t always easy. And being a teen isn’t always easy, either.

At the A+ Club, we provide academic coaching, mentoring & tutoring in order to help parents of middle & high school and college students track their work, get tutoring and homework help when needed, and engage in the positive processes of goal setting, problem solving, and academic self-advocacy.

We can help!

Please meet Brenda and her Mom. They’re really nice people, and they love each other very much. But sometimes mother and high-school age daughter don’t see eye-to-eye over homework, grades, and school. We can help them both!

Click on the images to see Brenda’s & Her Mom’s worries about school, and how we the A+ Club helps both students and parents:

Learn more about the A+ Club here or take the Academic Needs Survey to identify your student’s challenges and find the right solutions for them!

– Michael

For math success: guided and independent practice empowered by effective feedback

Help for students struggling with math: “guided” v “independent” practice

At the A+ Club we often hear from parents that their child is struggling in math.

Sometimes it’s, “she never does well in math” or “he does his math homework but scores poorly on quizzes and tests.”

Why students struggle in math: guided v independent practice empowered by feedback from The A+ Club on Vimeo.

Guided practice” is when the teacher shows or “teaches” a new topic or skill.

Independent practice” is when the student engages it by him or herself.

Effective teaching develops learning through a deliberate combination of guided and independent practice, where each builds upon the other. However, if the two are disconnected b an absence of effective and direct teacher to student feedback, then learning doesn’t happen.

This is why kids often say, “I get it when my teacher explains it, but I can’t do it on my own.” When your child complains that he or she “doesn’t test well,” it’s because your child is not receiving effective feedback to empower the independent practice required for learning.

This process is the same for all courses and subjects, but it more frequently manifests in math classes because math learning is not as easily processed through “guided practice” as other subjects.

In our A+ Club academic program, we engage students in effective learning techniques and provide guidance and direct math tutoring and in all subjects for overall academic success.

– Michael

Mentoring students is an all-time thing: mentoring is not just an occasional conversation with a guidance counselor or mentor

Student MentoringAt the A+ Club, we make strong claims for the power of mentoring. We believe that consistent, positive feedback from caring, experienced, and non-judgmental educators empowers students by building lifetime skills and habits of reflection, goal setting, and general self-betterment.

A Gallup-Purdue study of the impact of mentoring on college students in post-graduate job success and all-round well-being already proves our theory (see Mentoring Students for a Lifetime of Success). What the Gallup-Purdue study doesn’t say but is implicit to the results is that mentoring is neither casual nor predetermined.

Note that the study did not point to “advisors” or “guidance counselors” for impact on students. In fact, the absence of those terms in the study is significant. Mentoring relationships are not appointed, they are not pre-selected or administered from above. They develop organically through sharing, trust, care, expertise, authenticity, and constancy.

Mentoring is…

  • Sharing: effective mentoring is empathetic.

  • Trust: mentoring without trust is just more random advice.

  • Care: the effective mentor is selfless, non-judgmental, patient, and caring.

  • Expert: the effective mentor delivers something of value.

  • Authentic: effective mentors don’t condescend or merely guide from above; their mentoring comes from the heart.

  • Constant: effective mentoring is regular, not occasional or random.

Why Guidance Counselors Aren’t Mentors

Imagine that a high level executive at a major company mentors up-and-coming professionals. Imagine that some of these protégés ultimately report to that executive, if not directly, then through other chains of command. If so, there is with great difficulty any mentoring, as it’s just another power-relationship, however well-intentioned.

Now, imagine that a high school student receives mentoring from an educator at the school. We call those “Guidance Counselors,” and they have no less administrative weight than does our executive. They are both firmly a part of an institutional power structure and are therefore inherently judgmental and authoritative.

This doesn’t mean an executive or a guidance counselor can ‘t be an effective mentor — it does mean that each has the burden of authority to overcome in order to deliver mentoring that is authentic and trustworthy.

So, yes, we can imagine that executives or guidance counselors can make effective mentors. Absolutely. But it is harder to imagine that they can be effective mentors to more than a few protégés or students with whom they can create authentic relationships.

They not only have to overcome the burden of authority (which severely challenges authenticity), they have to overcome the burden of a strained caseload. Thus the largest reason that guidance counselors don’t make good mentors is that, according to Time,

A public school counselor in the U.S. now has an average caseload of 471 students….

(from The High School Guidance Counselor Shortage,

Try being caring, empathic, authentic — and constant — with 471 students! Not possible. A guidance counselor can mentor some of the students some of the time but none or a very few of them all of the time.

A+ Club Student Mentoring

Our view is that effective mentoring starts with the student, not the mentor.

When we take on a student, it is by student choice. We cannot mentor a student who is not interested in self-improvement, and we don’t. We don’t get past a first conversation with such a student (and I’ve only run into 2 or 3 over my three years in this business).

The only way we can start with a student is if that student sincerely wants academic improvement. And we never define it for our students: it’s up to them what that means. Once we have established goals, then we can work on deliberate, realistic steps towards them with confidence, trust, and care.

Our authenticity comes of the concern we show and the expertise we bring. Our teachers — whom we call “Student Supporters” — are experienced, active educators, and they only do this work because they care, because they enjoy establishing a relationship with a student whom they do not grade, whom they do not judge. Freed authority, they are free to care without judgment.

Once our teachers have established that trust, once they have established their care and expertise, then they have an authentic relationship. Then the only missing ingredient for effective, powerful mentoring is constancy, which they bring through scheduled, weekly or more reflection, goal setting and problem-solving conversations .

Our teachers love this work. And they also know how emotionally taxing it is, for they care so much for each child. They only take on a few, some choosing to work with only one student, and the rest taking on no more than a few to work with, guide, counsel, and help along towards a brighter future  each and every week.

We know it works, and not just because our kids do better in school. We know it works because our students are ready and eager to take that mentoring call every week.

– Michael

The Learning Process

Or, where do grades come from?

Learning-Process_flow-chart4_noheader2

Where do grades come from? Click here to view my Learning Process flow chart. Grades and learning are not necessarily related… Ideally they are, but what, really, do grades measure?

Have you ever considered what, exactly, do grades measure?

They measure something, but can they really measure everything? And of what they do measure, is it fair, is it meaningful, and does it represent what we really want students to achieve?

At the A+ Club we work with students to appreciate what grades are really about. The first thing to understand is that grades do not measure, do not indicate intelligence. Nor do grades necessarily measure learning. Whatever schools have done to lead any students or parents to believe this need to just disappear. Of course students have different intelligence. But they also have different skills Good at math, bad at drawing. Good at football, bad at reading. Good at singing, good at science, too. Whatever, these are all different types of intelligences, as intelligence is purely contextual. I do wish I was a math wizard like my astrophysicist brother. Ain’t gonna happen, so I do what I can with what I’ve got. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a good grade in Physics. So how would I go about getting a good grade in Physics if I’m bad at math?

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

First some vocabulary:

  • Assessment: a measurement of something, such as a grade on an exam.
  • Grades: assessments of student performance based upon certain criteria, hopefully not arbitrary
  • Learning Expectation: what a teacher expects students to learn
  • Relevancy: the idea that something is important or meaningful
  • Prior Knowledge (PK): what you already know
  • New Knowledge (NK): new things you learn
  • Internalization: the process of turning NK into PK

Grades as measurements

If we consider that grades measure something but not everything, then we must first consider what it is that grades measure. If a teacher gives a grade for “participation,” what does that mean? Is it an impression? A concrete measurement. Or is it a measurement of a process, such as a requirement to show the steps taken to answer a math equation as opposed to just answering the equation. When teachers outline assessment expectations in advance, we call this a “rubric.” Ideally, every little grade has a clear rubric or clear understanding by students about its expectations.

Just about every student has a story about getting a zero on something because they forgot to put their name on an assignment. It was done. It was even done well, and the student learned. But the student got a zero. So, what’s the grade about? Well, putting your name on the page is part of the grade. (Some teachers throw out un-named assignments; I always keep them, as it killed me that a kid did the work but I can’t reward it because I don’t know who it is!).

The next lesson here is to follow instructions!!! Students who are impatient with process often skip the instructions and then miss out on important steps that lead to low scores. You may have had one of those teachers who puts a “trick question” into an exam just to see if the student read everything, such as “skip the next two questions for extra credit.” I get the idea and have tried it myself. Ultimately, though it is not fair, but the sentiment is true: “read me,” screams the test!

Grades reflect so much more than just learning. A few things that go into most school assessments that are so basic we don’t often think about them. But if we do, we are more cognizant of what it takes to get a good grade:

  • timeliness
  • completion
  • name
  • instructions

If you really consider it, there is far less “learning” in a grade than there is “process” and just meeting teacher expectations.

Student Success

At The A+ Club, we employ these ideas very simply:

  • are you aware of what is expected of you?
  • what learning is expected?
  • are you being graded on timeliness and completion?
  • what process is expected?

That last, process, is behind most low grades. Many kids believe they could just ace the test and get a good grade without having done any homework. Often enough they are correct in this. But hardly always, and it is always the case that students are graded on process as much as learning. The trick is for students to make it meaningful enough to bother to do it, or, better, to want to do it. The best teachers make everything meaningful to students, but that’s a rarity. Instead, kids have to take up relevancy upon themselves.

Our job at The A+ Club is to provide kids with the tools and strategies to make their work meaningful, if only to get a higher grade.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.