Frequently asked questions
Where do your students come from?
Although I am based in Chicago, most of my students are from other parts of the US and around the world. Among my current students, for example, are fifth and sixth graders in New York City; half a dozen middle-school and high-school students in the DC area; sophomores in Florida, Massachusetts, and New York; and a junior in the UK.
How do you work with students remotely? Is private coaching via Skype as effective as in-person coaching?
I coach students on test prep, writing, and high-school and college admissions via Skype and Google Docs (as well as an interactive blackboard app). Before my first session with a new student, I ask the student to set up a shared Google Drive folder with key documents that will list homework assignments, things to do differently, and (for test-prep students) the student's test-taking plan, including the timing of both real and practice tests. Students working with me on writing skills will include their various writing assignments in this folder, while students whom I'm coaching on pre-college planning will upload relevant documents (transcripts, activities/awards lists, etc.) to this folder.
I started coaching students via Skype in 2013, when a prospective client in North Carolina asked me to do so, and by 2018, virtually all my coaching sessions were taking place by Skype. In my experience, for most purposes, coaching via Skype is just as effective as in-person coaching. In fact, a junior whom I coached for a total of 15 hours over 10 weeks simply via phone, not via Skype (because her boarding school's internet connection was so poor), raised her SAT score by 200 points, from 1820 to 2020, and improved from a 26 to a 33 on the ACT (with a 9-point increase in her English score and a 13-point increase in her Science score).
When working with students via Skype, I make full use of the Skype chat/text box, typing words and sentences to demonstrate or reinforce points (e.g., what the student needs to do differently on future ACT Reading sections), or to share relevant links. I also use the "share screen" feature in Skype as needed. And I often use Google Docs (an outstanding tool for reviewing and critiquing essays, such as college application essays) as well as an interactive blackboard app (currently Explain Everything). The blackboard app is especially useful when I'm covering math topics or demonstrating a grammar rule by drawing arrows between certain words in a sentence. I sometimes ask a student to solve a math problem in "real time" before my eyes, using the blackboard app on his/her iPad (and, preferably, a stylus); I can then critique and mark up his/her scratchwork as needed.
Because underlining and scratchwork are so important, I ask my students to use a free scanning app (e.g., Genius Scan) to scan and send me sample pages from their practice test sections in advance of each session; sometimes I have a student hold a page of a test up to the camera so I can see whether he/she did enough marking-up.
Some of my long-distance students are surprised by how quickly and accurately I'm able to assess their skills and call out their habits and tendencies—within the first couple of sessions. Read this blog post for an amusing and insightful anecdote from a Skype session with an 8th-grade student.
I integrate some coaching in study skills, organization, and time management into all my coaching sessions.
I enjoy working with students via Skype and have been gratified that my long-distance students (most of whom I never meet in person, though I feel as though I've gotten to know them well) achieve score and skill improvements as impressive as those of my (pre-pandemic) in-person students.
How long is each coaching session?
Typical Skype sessions run 60-75 minutes, though shorter sessions (20-45 minutes) are also possible (and quite productive, especially when having a check-in motivates a student to do the self-study homework that he/she should be doing). I charge for actual time spent, regardless of the originally anticipated length of the session.
How far in advance should I contact you to schedule an appointment?
My summer schedule (June-August) typically fills up by April, and my September-October schedule typically fills up by August. For the period from November through May, students should contact me at least 2 weeks in advance to reserve appointment times. If no current appointments are available, I would be happy to add a student to the waiting list, since last-minute cancellations sometimes occur.
My child is not a "gifted" student. Is he/she a good fit for your services?
Some of my students earn high scores (after completing multiple courses and working consistently hard), but I teach a wide range of students who come to me with varying levels of preparedness. If a student completes the assignments, manages his/her time wisely, and does his/her best, that student will improve; some of my weakest students have made dramatic progress. I will accept students who are willing to work hard (even if they don't have particularly strong test scores at the outset), if they come to me early — well before they must take entrance exams for high school or college — and show that they complete their assignments mindfully and to the best of their ability. Improvement and perseverance always matter more than the initial level of a student's scores.
***The following questions pertain to small-group classes via Zoom, which I may offer from time to time, particularly in the summer. (I used to offer small-group workshops in person, and Zoom classes would be modeled on these workshops.)***
How big are your classes? Each class typically has 5-9 students. This small size enables me to give some personal attention to each student and fosters a cooperative and stimulating learning environment, in which students discuss ideas and learn from one another as well as from me.
How often does each class meet?
During the academic year, classes usually meet once a week for 90 minutes, two hours, or three hours, depending on the level of the class (classes for younger students are shorter). I sometimes offer intensive summer workshops that meet two to four times a week; some summer classes may span 4-5 hours (morning and afternoon, with a lunch break).
Are small-group classes as effective as private tutoring?
In my experience, small-group classes with a knowledgeable, engaging teacher can actually be more helpful than one-on-one tutoring. Most students enjoy learning with and interacting with other students; the group setting provides extra encouragement, motivation, and intellectual stimulation as students strive to do their best. This is particularly true for younger students, who may find one-on-one tutoring tedious, pressure-filled, or both. Moreover, students benefit from the structure of a weekly class, with regular homework assignments and a variety of in-class exercises and discussions.
Do you assign homework?
To maximize learning and enable students to develop the right learning and test-taking habits, students are expected to do some homework during the week; the amount varies by class and ranges from 45 to 90 minutes for academic-year classes; intensive summer courses typically involve more work (2-4 hours of preparation for each class session). If a student has not completed his/her homework, however, he/she still benefits from attending class and learning here during class time; he/she can make up the homework the following week. I encourage students to manage their time wisely and complete as much of the homework as they can each week. Some coaching in study skills, organization, and time management is integrated into all my classes.
What if a student has an erratic or packed schedule, with frequent conflicts due to other commitments (such as sports, music, or drama)?
Each course meets only once a week during the academic year (with holidays during school breaks), so students must be able to attend most classes to make real progress. Students who have frequent conflicts are best advised either to schedule private coaching sessions with me or to retain a private tutor who can meet them on a schedule of their own choosing.
How do I sign up for a class?
E-mail me to find out whether a spot is available and to request registration materials (if applicable). I reserve a student's place in a class once I receive his/her completed registration form and payment in full for the class. Because my classes are small, and because many students enjoy studying continuously with me (some of my students have worked with me for seven consecutive years), classes fill up quickly and often sell out.