Pre-Algebra Classes

4th and 8th grade NAEP mathematics testing results show that the majority of US students have only “basic” not “proficient” skills in mathematics.  This means that many students in our classes are behind grade level standards.  In class, teachers feel  the squeeze about “covering all state standards,” and often do not spend enough time meeting the needs of the many students who are behind grade level expectations.  Summer time is a great time for students to get caught up to state standards and to enter the next grade level with more confidence about their mathematical skills  I have begun providing pre-algebra tutoring in addition to the English language arts lessons I already provide.  Please contact me about how you can get the first lesson free for a limited time.

I am a 17-year veteran, credentialed classroom teacher. I have taught all four core subject at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, but I have been a middle school teacher for the majority of my career. I have been a lead teacher and teacher trainer. I have a Masters in Education and am just completing a graduate course in mathematics instruction for grades five through eight.

The pre-algebra lessons are online and are via Skype or Google Hangouts and follow the Common Core and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics guidelines. The lessons use manipulatives, pictures, charts, and graphs that allow students to see and understand mathematics in a very concrete manner. Students learn through fun and challenging activities to derive the formulas we learned in school and see why they work. Then, they use the formulas and procedures to solve real world problems. I include mathematics games, which helps students improve their speed and fluency. There is quite a bit of emphasis on being able to make an estimation of the correct answer in order to see if their answer makes sense.

I also am very willing to work with a group of two or three students at the same level of mathematics in order to reduce the cost for parents. These lessons work very well in this manner. Students work together to puzzle out ideas as they try to solve the problem. There is a mix of group and individual work in such lessons, and the games are more fun in this manner.

You can find my contact information in the About the Author page:


Public Education in America and the Common Core State Standards

I was invited by a fellow education blogger to comment on the three things that need to be done in the United States to improve public school education.  Here is my response.  I think it is important that parents who vote understand more about the Common Core Standards than they are hearing in the media hype.  You will find that not only do the teachers support the Common Core Standards, but so do prestigious teacher professional development organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  There is quite a bit of negative backlash against the Common Core Standards that is undeserved. 

The Common Core Standards were developed by the states, principals, and teacher professional organizations in response to the high stakes testing of the 1990s and state standards that were “a mile wide and an inch deep.”  In other words, teachers were required to teach too much in each year and did not have time to teach each standard with enough depth.  These standards were written in response to this flaw in order to allow teachers and students the time to learn deeply, using critical thinking, and applying what they learned to real life problems.  In the past, there was too much to teach, yet the high stakes testing encouraged moving too quickly, in order to “cover (not fully learn) the material.”

Here is my response to the blogger’s request:

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the opportunity to comment!  I like your blog.  It looks very classy.

You have asked me to comment on the three greatest things our country could do in order to improve public education in the United States.  For myself, I find this very easy to answer:

1) Stay the course with the Common Core Standards.  Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions out there about the Common Core Standards.  These standards focus on critical thinking skills and learning all of the traditional curriculum (and more) in a manner that allows students to solve real life problems.  This is critical for US workers to stay competitive in a global workforce.  We have barely begun the process in this country, and a misinformation campaign is forcing some states to rethink whether they will use the Common Core Standards or not.  This is a mistake.

Also, there is a view that the Common Core Standards and high stakes testing are intertwined.  The high stakes testing was a part of the previous standards and No Child Left Behind legislation.  This does not have to be the case if teachers and parents raise their voices against high stakes testing. 

2) As teachers and schools have begun to retool to teach the Common Core Standards, there needs to be a moratorium on strong sanctions against schools that get poor scores in some areas in the next few years.  Teachers and students need time to adapt to the new standards.  In California in the 1990s, we adopted standards that were precursors to the Common Core Standards.  The state gave us a few years to retool in order to adapt to the new, more rigorous standards.

3) The students need time to adapt as well.  Most of the 4th and 8th grade students in the United States score the euphemistic score of “basic” in the international NAEP mathematics testing.  They should all be scoring “proficient.”  Teachers will need more training in order to adapt to the way of mathematics instruction that the Common Core Standards and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics suggest.  The old way of teaching formulas and procedures is only a portion of the picture.  Students understand the use of these formulas and procedures (and remember them) when they can derive the formulas themselves in interesting activities done with manipulatives and visuals to make mathematics concrete.  Then, students need to utilize these traditional formulas and procedures solving real life problems and have whole class discussions about their findings.  This makes mathematics a field of problem solving, which it truly is, rather than just a field of disparate numbers.  The legacy will be a generation of adults who can utilize mathematics seamlessly to solve real life problems, instead of generations of adults who state, “I never really understood mathematics,” as we have now. 

4) Teachers need time to get the professional development to teach these new standards in the research-based manner I have delineated above and to create lessons that are targeted and relevant for their students.

5) People need to understand that we are a country of immigrants.  Part of this professional development that teachers in most all areas of the country also need is in the area of teaching students in their classes who are English Language Learners.  Studies of teachers in America show that the majority do not feel they have the skill set in order to meet the demands of second language learners in their classrooms.

With all of these changes in place, the United States will begin making up the lost ground in education from the past decades.

Thanks again for providing me the forum with which to speak about how we can get out of the way of the Common Core Standards and support teachers and students in order to allow this change to occur.

Laurie Flood



About the AP English Language and Composition Exam

I had the opportunity recently to help a student preparing for the AP English Language and Composition test.  I would like to make a few comments that might help students and parents who are considering AP courses and exams.  As you know, if you have read my prior blog posts, I am a firm believer in AP and Honors classes.  Students who take such courses tend to be better prepared for the rigors of college.  These courses often make the first year of college much easier; because, often, at least the first semester is a bit of a repetition.  It is very hard for students to make the transition from high school to college, because they don’t really know at first how much they need to study in order to succeed.  These AP and Honors courses set the stage for success.

That being said, such courses are not for every student.  It is unwise to take such courses if a student is not at an above average ability level in the curriculum area.  Then, students are struggling and likely will get poor grades in high school, which will not help them with their attitude, nor with the grades they will need for admission to the college of their choice.  Students who are not above average are best served in the regular high school curriculum, but need to take four solid years of English, mathematics, and a foreign language.

In terms of the AP English Language and Composition exam,  I find this test inherently unfair.  I would only advise this test for students who have taken an AP English Language and Composition class or an equivalent Honors English class every year.  This test really would be a great test at the end of a college English major’s sophomore year!  It is that rigorous.  For this reason, one finds few people who will tutor students to prepare for this test; the odds of success on the exam (a grade of 4 or greater, in most cases) is not at all insured.

I think that many parents and students whose son or daughter has obtained a high score on the SAT or ACT test might consider this exam.  That would be a mistake.  This exam requires students to know a large laundry list of literary terms that are far beyond the standard high school curriculum.  I also found the test assumes the student has read certain authors that are required in college English comparative literature and English classes – authors not usually read in typical high school courses.   In addition, it is very difficult to finish the multiple choice section within the time allotted.  Each question requires a very careful and painstaking look back at every possible answer from within the text.  That is just the multiple choice section!  The essay section involves comparisons between two texts.  Even students who have taken an AP English or Honors class may not have had enough exposure to all of the literary terms and the authors that one needs to read in order to approach this exam.  The only good news here is that one does not have to show the college recruiter their score if they do poorly on the exam.

Then, who should take the exam?  I would say that “A” students in the AP or Honors English classes who have taken advanced English courses every year in high school should definitely attempt the exam, but I would not advise anyone take it without practice.  The test is only given once a year in May, so one needs to plan ahead.  The literary terms fill quite a few pages of the book, and it is no small matter to be fluent with all of them.  I would suggest that students who have just completed their sophomore year obtain the Cliff Notes test prep book and began looking at the literary vocabulary in the back of the book.  Students need to know the vast majority of those words, even the very subtle distinctions between the words.  An example from my last practice session with my student is that the test writers wanted students to be able to make a very subtle distinction between metaphors, personifications, and literary apostrophes (This is not the same as the grammatical mark we place on a page to show ownership; it is something very different!).

Also, and equally important, is that students have a strong exposure to the recommended author list.  Again, if you have the Cliff Notes book, you can look in the Appendix and find a list of recommended authors.  I found from working with my student that there are certain authors that students need to have read in order to grasp the overall meaning of the passage.  This is one of the reasons I find the test inherently unfair.  None of those authors are read in the traditional high school curriculum and tend to not be read until the sophomore year in college.

I have decided to provide test preparation for this exam through Google Helpouts.  I have a listing that will hopefully be approved soon.  Until the listing is approved, you can find contact information in the About Me section and instead take my Helpout entitled “SAT Reading and Writing Preparation.”  I will provide AP English Language and Composition test prep through that Helpout for now.  Your first lesson is free for as long as the coupon code: “LAURIE15Z” works (likely until March 22, 2015).  I will only work with very serious students, who want to tackle this.

I hope this helps parents and students with some of the myriad of choices confronting college-bound high school juniors and seniors.


Google Education Resources

Quite a bit on the following link for parents of students who are high school juniors and seniors.  The Google in Education site has a plethora of really interesting programs for teachers and students.  Ones that I personally found interesting are Google Maker Camp, Coding Workshops and competitions , and a business start-up camp.  There is quite a bit here.  It is worth a look:

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AP Classes – Best for All Students?

There is an interesting Associated Press article that just came out citing data that many more students are taking AP classes.  According to the article, only 40% of all high schools in the U.S. offer AP classes.  These courses are designed to be taught and graded in a similar manner in all parts of the United States and to simulate the rigor of a college class.  Students may earn college credit by taking the courses.  The good thing about AP courses is that it prepares high school students for the rigors of college.

The article is here:

The article does not state, though, if the students who took the course but still failed to pass the AP were benefited in the long term by taking the course.  If you are making the decision with your high school-aged son or daughter if an AP class is a good idea, I would suggest looking back at some of my introductory articles about college readiness and reading skills.  This article is particularly pertinent:

Have your son or daughter pick up either their history, science, or English text and read a passage to you.  Do they sound fluent?  If not, it is time to remediate their reading before choosing courses with more rigor than the traditional high school curriculum (unless it is a mathematics course).   I offer reading remediation services.   My reading remediation students in middle school were able to improve two to three reading levels in a few months of twice weekly remediation work, while reading enjoyable books at their level of comprehension own their own.  I would be happy to schedule an appointment with you, if you are in need of these services.   Please see my contact information.


Excellent Article on Great BYOD Applications and One Note

The  following article was actually written for educators, but has some really great advice for parents and students.  Many schools are allowing students to bring their own technology devices (BYOD) to school in order to support their learning.  This article talks about the basic applications that every student and teacher needs to know about in order to support holistic learning goals.  The article link is here:

The beginning of the article has an important message.  Many of us may have heard about Evernote as a great note taking application that can store pictures, text, audio, video, and website pages and allow you to take notes and annotate the information.  The problem is that Evernote will only allow you to store you folders of notes in the cloud, unless you pay a monthly fee.  For this reason, I do not suggest it be the go-to note taking application for students. 

Instead, I have found that there is a note-taking application that most all of us already own that is as robust and user-friendly as Evernote.  If you do not own it, I am told you can buy the stand-alone version for just $8.  This application will allow you to store notes on your computer or in a free cloud.  The application is One Note.  If you have Microsoft Office, you already own it.

Like many of us, I did not pay much attention to One Note until recently.  Besides the gathering and organizing of multiple sources and types of information just like Evernote – text files, handwritten notes, audio files, pictures, video files, website pages and clippings, etc. – you can also draw pictures with One Note (better than Paint) for your geometry class and (although I have not used it yet) it has a mathematics equation editor (so you can write and store all of your mathematical formulas along with pictures and text description).  I am just beginning to explore One Note.

There are some really good tutorials online.  I would suggest going on You Tube and searching for” One Note for education”

I will update this post, if I find out some new revelations about One Note.  So far, I am impressed and recommend it to students as a great place to organize everything.

One Note image

Tips on the 25 Minute SAT Essay

Students in high school are taught to write a 5 paragraph persuasive essay.  The SAT essay is a 25 minute timed essay.  This dichotomy between what students have been taught and practiced and what the SAT requires can be difficult for students.  What does one emphasize?  What must be left out?

The College Board, the company scoring and administering the tests, realizes that it is unlikely candidates will be able to plan, draft, revise, and edit a 5 paragraph essay in 25 minutes.  Instead, they are looking for you to narrow the focus of their very general question and provide a thesis statement backed up with one or two specific, relevant and focused arguments.  Examples to support your arguments may come from your reading, studies, experiences, situations you have encountered or heard of, and events.  

It is essential that your essay be concrete, with powerful and specific examples that back up your argument.  If your arguments are vague and not backed up with relevant examples, your score will suffer greatly!  I call writing that is not specific and concrete “airy-fairy.”  It is like cotton candy; it may sound tasty and good, but is not very filling.  The same is true of writing that is vague and has no concrete examples.

Here are two concrete examples of airy-fairy writing:

Read the prompt, then skip down and read the essay that scores a 3, the rationale for the score, then the 2 essay, and its rationale.

At first glance, the 2 essay may appear as though it is a quality essay, but can you see that each example that was provided was not developed fully? These ideas are thrown out, but no follow-up explanation is provided give validity to these assertions.  For example, Paragraph 2 throws out two different lines of thought, but develops neither.  In the case of Essay 2, the student would have received a better score had they fully developed just two of the ideas they threw out.  They could have written a shorter essay, but would have received a higher score.  Their essay is mostly unsubstantiated fluff with no meat. There are no concrete examples provided to back up any of these ideas.  Thus, they received a score of 2 out of 6.

When you write your sample essays, take up to five to seven minutes of your time planning your thesis, two key points, and the details that support these main ideas.  This is time well spent, and will help you create a more powerful and detailed essay.

If you have written a sample essay, and would like it scored, I have a new Google Helpout scoring session.  In the session, I will:

  • Ask you some quick questions to ensure you know all of the best strategies for this portion of the SAT
  • Provide a grade for the essay, based upon the SAT rubric and a rationale
  • Explain what could have been better in terms of content, and provide (or point you to inexpensive) practice resources, as needed.  Example:  I will point you to inexpensive resources with practice pages on powerful thesis statements and relevant examples, if you need this type of practice.
  • Explain recurring editing or grammar errors and provide or point you to resources that will allow you to practice remediating the problem.
  • I will provide you with written feedback on the session and a plan of action.

The session is quick and inexpensive, but powerful.

SAT Book at Home 001

New Helpouts for SAT Preparation on a Budget

SAT preparation can be a very expensive proposition for parents.  SAT preparation can cost parents several hundred dollars.  Kaplan’s classroom SAT preparation offering costs around $700.  The best situation of all is if students have consistently read widely throughout school and done their best on writing and mathematics assigned by teachers.  If they have done all of this, then taking the PSAT/NMSQT should prove that they are ready for the SAT, and no further preparation may be needed.  After all, the SAT is a test of college readiness.  Secondary school (and reading widely) is the preparation for college.

Unfortunately, not all students have read widely throughout their school years.  Their fluency is poor and they do not have a grade level working vocabulary.  These are issues they have tried actively to hide from parents and peers.  If your child has not done well on the PSAT or is not doing well on SAT reading and writing practice tests, I have created two Google Helpouts that will address only the issues that are problems in a diagnostic fashion, rather than having the student take a whole SAT preparation course. 

The SAT reading helpout is designed to quickly spot areas of problems and create an action plan to remediate problems.  It will begin with questions to assess if there are any places that the student is losing points unwittingly with poor test taking strategies.  Then, I will provide a short diagnostic reading assessment.  Based upon the results of these measures, we will move on to a sample SAT reading passage.  After we work with the passage and have the student provide a rationale for each answer, I will provide an action plan and begin to initiate remediation measures.  I will also provide remediation strategies the student can implement on their own with the SAT preparation materials (There are cheap used SAT preparation books on Amazon.  They can also be bought in a thrift store), with other students, and with me, as needed.  I will also provide a written summary of the session, action plan, and tips.  We will work together for up to 45 minutes for $20.

The SAT essay has gotten a bit more difficult over the years, since students may only work on their essays for 25 minutes.  There is simply not enough time to write the standard 5 paragraph essay they wrote in high school. In the SAT writing helpout, I will look at one SAT writing sample the student has already written, provide a score and diagnosis, and materials and information to remediate recurring problems.  As in the reading helpout, I will also ask some questions about how the student attacks this section of the test, in order to provide some important tips they may not know.  I will also provide a written summary of the session and a plan of action, as needed.   This session is 20 minutes for $9.

If your child is struggling with the SAT reading and writing preparation materials and feels a lack of confidence, let’s get together for a short session and do some diagnosis.  I will provide common sense solutions based upon my years of experience as an English and reading and writing remediation teacher.



Supercharge Your Vocabulary With Word Part Practice

An unfortunate thing for current high school students who are preparing for the SAT examination is that they have not received the benefit of the emphasis on prefix, root, and suffix instruction that the new Common Core standards are providing.  Also, many students do not read widely and often, so they have not built the huge vocabulary storehouse that readers who “always have their nose in a book” possess.  Thus, some (too many, but one is too many) high school juniors and seniors preparing for their SAT examinations come into the testing with a working vocabulary that is below grade level.

What can be done at this late hour to help students with a poor working vocabulary have a chance on the SAT?  There are two key elements.  These can and should be done hand-in-hand.  The main thing is to read!  Students should be reading a wide variety of materials at their independent reading level (If you do not know this level, I can find it for you with simple and quick testing).  If you have enough time before your SAT testing session, don’t just read those boring SAT sample passages (Well, not all of them, but many are boring!).  This will turn you off even more to reading.  I am not saying not to use these passages as practice at all, but have some fun reading a variety of interesting content everywhere – online, in magazines, books, etc.  Pick things that are interesting.  Read a good, high quality novel at your reading level as well.  Any time you spend reading at your reading level will improve your vocabulary.

In order to supercharge this easy and fun vocabulary practice, you can add one of my charts and give yourself a bit of word part instruction.  As you are reading, when you encounter a word you do not know the meaning of, look at your chart (You don’t even have to take the time to fill it in, but it may help at first).  Try to divide the word up into prefix, root, and suffix (If you are not good at this, I can help you with it).  Then, try to think about what the prefix and the suffix mean.  You already know quite a few prefixes and suffixes.  Look up some of these you do not know online (Prefixes, Roots, Suffixes is a good site).  Then, notice the root, are there other words that you know with that root?  This is often very helpful in learning the meaning of an unknown word.  Compare what you know about the word parts to the context sentence.  Often, the combination of looking at the word parts and the context sentence will give you an approximate definition.  Study just 5 words in this manner each time you read (Too many and it will get tedious and boring again).  Then, just for those five words, look up the definition and try to come up with an original sentence using the word.  After you have read, try to use all five new words and describe what you have read.

Those five new words each day will not supercharge your vocabulary, but the word parts study will.  You will begin to automatically break an unknown word up into word parts as well as look at the context sentence when you do not know the meaning of the word.  This is the part that will supercharge your vocabulary.  As you begin to learn the meanings of the most common word parts using this strategy and began to read more, your vocabulary will increase much more quickly and new words will be less likely to stump you.

Here is a link to the vocabulary chart:

If you need help learning how to divide the words up, discovering your reading level, or finding interesting reading at your independent reading level, use my contact information and set an appointment to get some help.

Vocabulary Chart in Word 97

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SAT Reading Passage Practice Ideas

If students are not doing well on the SAT reading passages, there may be several things going on.  I am trained as a reading intervention teacher as well as a secondary English teacher.  Here are some key isses:

1) Lack of reading fluency – This can be solved by repeated reading practice with interesting reading passages.  There is a page on this blog that addresses fluency issues.

2) Poor working vocabulary – This can be solved by reading widely.  Reading increases vocabulary.  Readers have large vocabularies; non-readers do not.  Also, this can be aided by learning the most common English word parts – prefix, root, and suffix.  I have an enjoyable method for doing this as you practice some critical reading passages.  I will go into this method and provide a sheet to help you when I write the next blog post.

3) Not keeping track of the main idea and key supporting points of the passage – Many of the SAT reading passage questions directly address the main idea and key supporting points of the passage.  Some students read the passage, but do not try to get the main idea and key points, and then attempt to answer the questions.  If you look at the practice books with the sample problems, you will see that the majority of the questions directly address and highlight the main idea and supporting details.  If you have finished reading the passage and do not have the main idea and key details in mind, you will not likely do well on the questions for that passage.

Training for the main idea and key supporting points, if this is a really difficult task for you, is to work with a partner and stop after reading every paragraph, coming up with that paragraph’s main idea and details.  As this gets easier, begin to move up the main idea and key points for the whole passage.  After each reading, come up with these first before you attempt to answer any questions.  You will find you do better on better on the questions by studying in this manner, if finding the main idea and key points are a weakness for you.

If you would like help with SAT reading passages, please use my contact information and set an appointment.