Marina Koestler Ruben

Blog Posts: November 2011

Q&As from Parents at St. Patrick's in DC

Thanks so much to St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School (K-8, DC) for the well-organized book event yesterday!  A great group of parents packed into a classroom to hear my presentation about tutoring, and they asked smart questions.  I'd like to adapt parts of the Q&A here, for everyone's benefit:

Q: How do I encourage a distractable student to stay on task when I'm out of the room?

A: Ask your child how long a particular task should take.  Then set a timer and challenge your child to see whether he can finish by the time it goes off.  You can set your own alarm and check back at intervals (and at the end of the time) to see if the time pressure has helped your child stay focused.  This can also help your child develop time management skills and a more accurate sense of how long particular tasks take.

Q: My child works too quickly.  How do I teach him/her to slow down and check his/her work?

A:  If your child consistently rushes--for example, when working on math problems--ask him to talk you through the process of completing a problem.  As you do it, model the pace that you think is appropriate.  Then ask him to teach you how to check your work.  Do so slowly and deliberately, doing the process while speaking the language that you want your child to be using in his head while reviewing.  It can be hard to TELL a child how to slow down, but he may change his speed if you SHOW him how you'd do it.

Q: When my child reads a book that I haven't read, what's a productive way to engage him/her in conversation about it?

A: You can certainly try, "Tell me about your book," but if you want to get more specific with your questions, allowing your child to think about the reading in a new way, you can attempt these as well: "Would you recommend this book to me?  To students of a certain age or interest?  Why?"  "Who's the main character and what does he/she want?"  "Is there something that's standing in that character's way?"  "Did you think this author has a particular way of writing?" OR "Do you think you could identify this author by his/her writing?  Is there something unique about it?"  Asking more directed questions will allow your child to create focused responses, which will be a useful skill to have when responding to writing prompts or just trying to make a concise point in conversation.


I ran out of time at the event, so I didn't get to recommend two other ideas for reading matter.  One is the book I recently raved about, Guerrilla Learning.  The other is The Teacher's Calendar, an annual publication that lists each day's historical, literary, and cultural anniversaries.  It's a good resource for parents and children, providing fodder for interesting, timely, and educational conversations.  Enjoy! Read Full Post.

How Much Help Is Too Much Help?

How do you know if you're having the appropriate level of involvement when helping your child with schoolwork?  I recommend keeping the following points in mind:

  • Don't do anything for a student that he could be doing himself.
  • Your goal is to build the student's skill set.  He or she should come away from your interactions with increased independence.
  • Ask yourself: Is this process/activity/appointment empowering the student?  (It should be.)
  • Ask yourself: Is this process/activity/appointment making the student dependent on tutoring?  (It shouldn't be.)
  • Remember to ask questions that will guide a student toward the proper revisions rather than directing.  E.g., Try to start with: "Have you already read through the paper for proper comma use?"  Rather than: "Please correct your comma use in the third sentence."  (Of course, this assumes that the student is already familiar with the comma rule relevant to the third sentence and could spot the error independently.)
Think about tutoring as a form of sustainable development; you want to assist short-term while you transfer the resources that allow the entity--in this case, a student--to support itself long-term.

  Read Full Post.

What if my teen won’t show me her writing?

I want to be involved in my child’s academic work, but she won’t let me see her writing. What do I do? Read Full Post.