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Essays and Transitional Words

Posted by pjacbecker on March 7, 2014 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (1)

Essays and Transitional Words


More and more, the SAT and ACT essays are the best proof a college has that a potential student can think through an issue. With this in mind, you should ask yourself: “Does my teenager know what transitional words are?” “Does my teenager use these crucial words appropriately when building his/her case agreeing or disagreeing with the essay prompt?


Transitional words are absolutely necessary and integral to the essay. Without these words, comprehension of the issue will remain unclear to the reader. Transitional words connect the string of thoughts, build arguments both pro and con, clarify the writer’s position, and explain how the writer comes to his/her conclusion. In short, these words hold the entire piece together.


You can google up a list of transitional words. But I can and will teach your student how to use them. Every thinking job requires proficiency in these all-important transitional words.


Education for the sake of education?!

Posted by pjacbecker on March 5, 2014 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (1)

Education for the sake of education?!



I had a fabulous private school education from first through 12th grade. Nonetheless, I was jealous of the public school kids who studied shorter hours and did not have the pressure I had to endure.


But all these years later, my education has served me well. In Outliers the Story of Success, Gladwell contends that you have to put your 10,000 free hours in. Well, I put those hours in after school, during my summer vacations, and on the weekends. I hated it most of the time but I believe wholeheartedly in the value of a solid, substantive education. The earlier the better.


I recently became a grandmother. My grandson began listening to books when he was just a few weeks old. He began to focus on the pictures when he was a few months old. By the time he was fifteen months old, he had a fifty two word vocabulary. He is twenty two months old and can discriminate between a “square” and a “trapezoid”. His vocabulary is so huge that we just stopped counting months ago.


Can you give your child this kind of early education? Absolutely! Do you need help compiling a list of books that will take through the first two years of life? Just email and I will be glad to help you.


What if your child did not start “reading” right away?


It is never too late to develop good skills. Good skills require the ability to concentrate and yes, you can extend the amount of time your child can focus in small, steady increments. It requires making sure that your child is reading the right book - a book of high quality, a book worthy of discussion, a book that lends itself to deep analysis. And yes, I can recommend many such books at all levels. A pre kindergartner through first grader can draw the point of a story by drawing the beginning, middle, and end. Thus, on a pre-literacy level, your child can prove comprehension and understanding of main idea. This is actually the ideal time for a tutor to begin working with your child. The tendency to digress or go off topic can be nipped early and your child will be on the path to writing a cohesive, well organized essay that is focused on what the book is really, really, really about.


A second grader should be able to comprehend both The Chocolate Touch by Patrick S. Catling and the Greek myth The Midas Touch. Your second grader should be able to complete a compare and contrast Venn diagram based on both books and learn how to write a complete essay. Moreover, your child should be able to identify which story is based on the other and explain how they knew.


A third grader should be able to read Freckle Juice by J. Blume and Class Clown by J. Hurwitz and complete a Venn diagram compare and contrast of main characters. Then, with guidance, the third grader should be able to write a complete essay based on that Venn diagram. By fourth grade, biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, etc. should be standard fare.


Summer is the ideal time for deep enrichment. No one really talks about the twelve weeks a year that our society allows children to be brain-dead. But its toll is devastating. I am not arguing in favor of summer school. But I am arguing in favor of having your child read and think for one hour every day. The days are long in the summer and there is plenty of time to go swimming and play tennis, etc. Surely there is time for engaging the brain with good, substantive books. Hope you find this food for thought.

ACT Essay

Posted by pjacbecker on May 17, 2013 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (1)

With the ACT Essay you have 30 minutes to write it instead of 25 minutes and is the last part of the exam rather than the first. Many students do not sign up for the ACT essay, but I feel that not including the essay in the ACT exam sends a signal to colleges that you either cannot write well or are not interested in writing or do not think that writing is important. All are bad signals to the colleges and the world. Also, since the Essay on the ACT exam, students often want to get the exam over with and to go home. So those students particularly short change the essay and write a short essay. Moreover the Essay Prompt for the ACT is a question particularly directed to young people like "Should there be school uniforms?" or "Should there be a police officer assigned to your school in order to try to control drug use?" Answer the question either positively, because it is the right thing to do, or negatively, because it restricts free speech and opens the door to authoritarian behavior by an agenda different from yours. After you have run out of arguments for your position and have acknowledged the other side, start using analogous situations using young people protagonists like Huck Finn, Holden Caulfied, Ellie Weisel from Night, the protagonist from the Giver or Pony Boy from the Outsiders, They are all protagonists from coming of age classic works of literature, and start from from the moment of truth, If you are not comfortable with those young people examples, use your three works of literature that you are most comfortable with from you SAT Essay. Whichever works you choose, they lengthen you essay to 2 1/2 to 3 pages, so your essay will stand out for its length as well as content. A student of mine using this technique scored a 9 out of 12, which was comparatively higher than the other parts of her ACT exam. So I believe this is a good track to go down to get your ACT Essay score to go up.

How to Score 10,11 or 12 out of 12 on the SAT Essay

Posted by pjacbecker on January 10, 2012 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (1)

The trickiest prompt is the March 2011 SAT Essay prompt, "Are Reality TV shows harmful?" And the October 2011 SAT Essay Prompt, "Are Creative courses in High School as a important as traditional ones like Math and Science". Also go on google key word search and look at the most recent "SAT Essay Prompts, December 2011, November 2011, October 2011". There are three prompts for each month; some are offbeat so they may be good practice for out of the ordinary questions. He should be careful not to answer these questions directly. Rather he should ask these questions of the protagonists or antagonists of his three works of literature like Atticus Finch from "To Kill a Mockingbird", Napoleon from "Animal Farm", or even Socrates from "the Apology" or Brutus or Caesar from "Julius Caesar". He should keep using climactic scenes from the three works of literature that he is most confident about and get comfortable with them. He should not reinvent the wheel on each essay. He should simply refine his basic answers to the recurring themes that are asked in variation, good vs. evil, learning from mistakes, bad things that bad people do and bad things that good people do. Just have him do two essays at a time. I will get back as soon as I can and we can reevaluate as we go.

4th Grader reads and tests well on "For Whom the Bell Tolls".

Posted by pjacbecker on January 10, 2012 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (1)

Student read "For Whom the Bell Tolls" since the last time I saw him. His reading of the Hemingway novel is an almost incredible achievement for a 4th grader. We did the Gradesaver quiz on the novel as well as the Sparknotes quiz on it. By the second quiz he had done even better than what he had done on the first. He had started "Guns, Germs and Steel", which was heavy going for him. I said take his time on that one. He said that it isn't any shorter than "For Whom the Bell Tolls", about 470 pages. We also did some reading comprehension which he did well on and discussed the Spanish Civil War in context between the First and Second World Wars. I asked his mother to show him the film with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman to help get a feel of what he read. I asked his mother to start him on "A Farewell to Arms" next.

Is your child culturally literate?

Posted by pjacbecker on December 19, 2011 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (1)

Is your child culturally literate? 

I cater to the children of professionals.  These children are usually first or second generation American. The parents are upwardly mobile and they want the American dream for their child. 

I hold four certifications and teach ESL/Reading/Writing and cultural literacy simultaneously.

What is cultural literacy?  Cultural literacy is understanding what Handel's Messiah means and where the reference "messiah" comes from.  Cultural literacy is fully comprehending what we mean when we say that the destruction was "of biblical proportion."  Cultural literacy is knowing where we got the expression "sour grapes," what it means, and how to use it.  Cultural literacy is understanding how the Berkshire Summer Dance program called "Jacob's Pillow" got its name.  Cultural literacy is understanding Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the original Bible story it is based on.

Public schools cannot teach it all and they must be politically correct.  Yet, so much of our culture  - our arts, our stories, our newspaper articles are based on references to the classics, to the bible - "the greatest story ever told," to Aesop's fables.  I once counted THREE references to the bible on YES  - one episode of the Simpsons!!!!!  So, if you are concerned that important references and nuances are going over your child's head, call us.  We are experienced at filling the holes. 

Please leave your comments and we will address them.



David, 4th Grader,thru Wyzant

Posted by pjacbecker on December 18, 2011 at 8:55 PM Comments comments (1)

Sudent did another quiz on Red Badge of courage and a christmas carol as well as essay questions discussed on a Christmas carol. Student also did a couple of starter questions from his writing book. He watched part of the movie of red badge of courage and we discussed why flag carriers were important and why it was like capture the flag game and the danger to flag carriers. Mother and I planned more reading for student. Student and i discussed the importance of specific answers on relationship multiple choice questions.

Hegel's Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis Works For Essay Writing From 2nd Grade On.

Posted by pjacbecker on December 12, 2011 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (10)

The German philosopher, Hegel is credited with this triad.  The thesis is an intellectual proposition.  The antithesis is simply the negation of the thesis.  The synthesis solves the conflict between the thesis and antithesis by reconciling common truth and in turn, forming a new proposition. 

Anyone who is familiar with the Critical Lens on the English Regents and the required ACT or SAT essays knows that this is EXACTLY the BEST way to deal with the topics: on the one hand, on the other hand, and then conclude what is right and why.  This formula requires one to argue both sides of the coin and then make a decision.  It is perfect for working out one's ambivalent feelings.  Of course the ability to do so requires the understanding of the topic, the recognition of two opposing perspectives, the ability to anlayze each stance, synthesize, and reach a unique conclusion.  These skills are at the top of Bloom's taxonomy.  These are the skills that you need to be able to succeed in college.

Guess what?  Your third grader can begin using these skills by reading paired books, completing a Venn diagram, turning the compare and contrast into a two paragraph essay and coming to a conclusion by making a connection to the bigger world.  Your third grader can compare and contrast Judy Bloom's Freckle Juice and Johanna Hurwitz's Class Clown.  Your fourth/fifth grader can compare and contrast Call It Courage and Hatchet, or The Chocolate Touch and the Midas Touch.  It is NOT too early to get your student child to work his/her way up the Bloom ladder.  The trick is that the materials must be just right developmentally.  Once your child learns HOW to think, he uses these skills over and over again with evermore complex books. 

I know because I have taught students from kindergarten through middle schoool.   Reluctant readers and writers (boys in particular) have become accomplished readers and writers - just by repeating the method of thesis, antithesis, synthesis over and over and over again.  The training wheels do come off, and after a while, my students are capable readers and writers on their own.