Teaching, Bribing, and a Bit of Harmless Fraud

By: Frederick W. Feldman

Now that many parents have experienced firsthand the joys and challenges of “homeschooling” their children, I’d like to share a tidbit of insight I discovered personally. This comes from my personal study of a great Renaissance scholar, with an impossible-to-pronounce name—Desiderius Erasmus. This prolific fellow had a deep and abiding interest in education throughout his career. Though he spent only a few years as a teacher himself, his literary output included treatises on education. I found myself vigorously agreeing with him. Lest students snub Erasmus as an antiquated fogy, since he came of age in the latter half of the 1400’s, modern-day folks are likely to acknowledge that his insights are timeless and relevant.

In resounding harmony with educational theories today, Erasmus emphasized the necessity of students engaging with their studies for truly productive learning to occur. But how does one bring about this engagement? Well, according to Erasmus, the average scholar isn’t above a bit of bribery! Comparing himself to ancient teachers who used the promise of tasty wafers to motivate young learners, Erasmus admits that he attempts to lure students into learning ponderous subjects like grammar by withholding the difficult books and using more pleasant introductions to learning the Latin language (yup, Latin for schoolkids: this was the Renaissance, remember). I should point out that his method has an advantage over the wafer method, since the extrinsic reward of a mouth-watering wafer is going to be much less effective than making the intrinsic process of learning itself more enjoyable. As he put it: “I cannot tell that anything is learned with greater success than what is learned by playing, and this is in truth a very harmless fraud to trick a person into his own profit.”

As an educator, there are few things more enjoyable than tricking students into their own profit. Children’s memories can be truly impressive when the subject is something they’re fond of—for example, memorizing all the names of several hundred monsters in a certain card game (you know the one I mean, right?). I have used this youthful enthusiasm in lessons. If we need to make spreadsheets to organize data in math lessons, why not compare the respective point values from a student’s trading card collection? Another tutor, with whom I’ve worked at Above-Grade Tutoring, helped a young student struggling with addition and subtraction—to the point of tears—overcome her difficulty by using her treasured rock collection to demonstrate the concepts. I’ve also used this method in instructing high school writing. Pick an engaging topic—TV shows, video games, sports—and the writing process flows more naturally and much, much more easily. Suddenly, you have a student who once would rather clean a bathroom as write a paragraph enjoying the writing process!

Nothing of rigor is lost. Grammar rules, style, critical thinking, and all the important stuff are learned in the course of the writing process. Successfully implementing an approach that incorporates the student’s own interests does not detract from the learning experience, but rather, adds to it. As Erasmus writes: “[L]earning is something that engages the entire person [. . .].” The one-on-one approach of tutoring is certainly helpful in this because a typical classroom setting usually cannot provide the time or opportunity to personalize lessons to an extent that’s ideal.

I’ve found that injecting the student’s personal interests into an assignment makes learning more fun for everyone and yields better results all the way around. To learn new competencies while also enjoying the process—this, indeed, is “a very harmless fraud!”

Author, Fred W. Feldman, is a senior level tutor with Above-Grade Tutoring
– Master’s degree: English
– Senior Medical Editor: Alpha Group Medical Communications
– Copyeditor, proofreader (fact-checking/research), and member of editorial team for award-winning academic journal co-published by Johns Hopkins University and West Chester University
– Copyeditor: Johns Hopkins University Press Journals
– Writer: Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian magazine
– Freelance copywriting and editing
– Independent film screenwriter
– West Chester University’s Excellence in Teaching with Technology Award
– Winner: West Chester University’s Graduate Student Association Award for Excellence in Scholarship
– Developed graduate-level curricular material for West Chester University
– 10+ years teaching/tutoring a variety of subjects to students at every level; experienced in developing course curricula

Tips for Getting Your School-Year Off to a Relaxed & Productive Start

Gearing up for back-to-school can be a bit overwhelming; there is a lot to do, a lot of transitions to navigate, and often a sense of blues as the realization that summer has, once again, gone by too fast. However, you can easily turn back-to-school anxieties into positive anticipation for a great school year with the following action plan. Plug these steps into your calendar right now and see what a difference they can make!

The key to a successful start to the school year is to plan ahead. 

One Week Before School: Week of Preparation

Day 1 (seven days before school): Ease into a “school” bed-time schedule. Slowly transitioning into a “school” sleep schedule ensures proper rest and encourages a positive attitude towards going back to school.

Day 3: Create a place for everything, so everything will be in its place. Designate one basket for each child to store his shoes, bookbags, and jackets. Give each child a container filled with standard homework supplies that can be transported from, for example, the kitchen to the computer room. Finally, establish a place for each child to store extra papers from school -a section of your file cabinet or a designated box under his bed.

Day 4: Purchase supplies. Keep the supplies minimal and simple. Fancy folders and notebooks are bulky and hard for students to use. The best system to use is a one-inch binder with a plastic folder for each class, keeping all folders in one place. To find everything you need to implement the SOAR Binder System, click here.

Day 6: Set goals with your children. Help your children look forward to the new school year by having each person (including you) share at least two goals for the new school year: one academic goal and one “fun” goal.

First Week of School: Week of Routines

Day 7 (night before school): Have a “Sunday Night Meeting” every week! Each member of the family should grab their planners/calendars for a 10-15 minute “meeting.” Ask your children what they have scheduled for the week (such as sports practices), share your plans for the week (children like to know what to expect, so tell them if you will have a late night at the office or will have to attend a meeting at school), arrange rides home from after-school activities, etc. Your week will be much less chaotic because everyone will be on the same page!

Day 8: Establish a routine for papers that need your attention. Purchase magnetic clips for each child and post them on the refrigerator. Have your children clip papers here that you need to fill out, sign, etc. (Expect to spend four hours filling out back-to-school information –via paper forms or digital data-entry– this week.) 

Day 10: Get ready for school at night, before you go to bed. Avoid chaotic mornings and forgotten school supplies by having everyone pack up their homework, bookbags, lunch/lunch money, etc. before they go to bed. They should also set out their clothes, shoes, and jacket at night, too. (To get the FREE ‘Night Before School’ Tool, click here. )

Day 11: Is everyone using their school planners? All students need to use a homework planner! Check planners every night until they are part of everyone’s routine.

Day 12: Clean out bookbags once a week. Cluttered book-bags are the root cause of lost assignments and must be cleaned out regularly. (The Sunday Night Meeting is another good time to do this.)

Second Week of School: Week of Cooperation

Day 14: Hold your second “Sunday Night Meeting” of the school year. 

Day 15: Give each child a choice about something today. The more you can give your children choices, the more cooperation you will get from them, especially when doing homework. Some choices may include giving two options for dinner or two different times to do their homework. When you give choices –and honor their choices- your children feel empowered and will be much more cooperative.

Day 18: Catch your children being good today! Improve cooperation by giving compliments to your children. Keep them specific and succinct (most children are embarrassed by mushy-gushy compliments). For example, “Thank you, Kristen, for coming home and starting your homework right away. I appreciate that.” Positive praise works wonders!

Day 21: Give yourself a break! Congratulations, you have survived the first two weeks of school and you are well on your way to a happy, productive school year. Celebrate by scheduling some time for yourself. You deserve it!

Congratulations, you have a plan for success! Now all you need are the right tools and supplies.

Our SOAR Learning & Soft Skills App is used by thousands of students with great results! What’s our secret? It’s not the supplies we recommend to use themselves that are special, it’s the fact that we teach you how to use them! Your local office supply store won’t help you there. They leave you to figure that out.

Let us ensure that you have the right systems and you know how to organize yourself for success. Click here to learn more about our most popular product, the SOARLearning & Soft Skills App.

I wish you the best of success to the start of your new school year!


To our students’ success,

Susan Kruger Winter, M.Ed.
Creator of SOAR

Please click HERE to access the Study Skills website.

How You May Accidentally Be Making Test Anxiety Worse

Test anxiety is very common.

However, I’ve come to realize that the more we, as parents, try to help our children alleviate that anxiety, we often add to it… accidentally, of course.

Jim, a parent, recently contacted us with a great question about how he can best help his child. I thought our conversation could be valuable to many others, as well…

Brain Biology

Jim’s Question:

Our daughter transferred schools this year. She’s gone from a more relaxed environment (5-6 tests in a month) to a more rigorous environment (3-6 tests every week). We are working with the school AND working with the SOAR Study Skills workbook and App (which we love).

We do even more than you recommend: We study note-cards each night to try to stay ahead. We orally quiz her (especially the night before the test) and she knows the answers. Sometimes we make pre-tests with multiple choice, fill-in-blank, matching, T/F, and essay questions. She does fine on these as well.

Then, when she gets into class to take the test, she freezes up and gets them wrong. So much so she’s getting 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, on her tests across all subjects.

What can we do to help her?

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the question. The great news is, there are several things you can do to help your daughter.

Typically, the best thing for alleviating test anxiety is to feel/be prepared. But, since she’s clearly demonstrating an understanding of the material outside of the test environment, there are a few additional things to consider…

First, and most importantly, let her know you are “very okay” with any test outcome:Be sure to tell her often that you still love her and are SO proud of all of her hard work, regardless of what happens! I’ve seen this happen a lot… with all of the fantastic support you are providing her, she may be (in fact, very likely is) internalizing that you will be very disappointed if she doesn’t perform well on tests. (See my previous article, Student Motivation: Are You Accidentally Sabotaging It With the Wrong Mindset?)

Of course, I know that your disappointment is for her sake; you’ve seen how much effort she’s putting forth and you don’t want HER to be disappointed.

Children don’t quite understand “parental empathy.” So, she internalizes more pressure to not disappoint you. Giving her lots of reassurance that you only care about her effort will likely do a lot to help her release the pressure valve on herself.

Next, ask for extra time to take tests. There’s no pedagogical reason for tests to be timed or have a time-limit. Just knowing she’s not going to be constrained to a time limit will give her some additional breathing space.

Lastly, understand and address the underlying anxiety. We recommend checking out our article, How to Help Students Manage Anxiety.

All of these steps will help ease her test anxiety.

To our students’ success,

Susan Kruger Winter, M.Ed.
Creator of SOAR

The SOAR App shows students how to get organized and be prepared for tests. To see how to get your child started, click here.

 Click here to view on the Study Skills website

From Failing to 4.0

Click here to view on the Study Skills website

I struggled in school. From kindergarten thru 12th grade, I struggled to earn mediocre grades. I would study for hours…then fail a test. Over time, I had no motivation to study. “Why should I bother?” I wondered.

As I entered college, I knew something would have to change. Based on my track-record, I would never survive. So, I found a couple of books on the subject of “preparing for college.”

Most of the information in these books was awkward and frustrating. A few strategies, however, were attractive. They were simple. I could easily remember them. So, I tried them.

They worked! I earned a 3.9 GPA my first semester of college. Before long, I earned a 4.0 and graduated from college with the highest honors. After 13 years of chronic struggle in school, this was a miracle!


What Made the Difference?

It turns out, the few strategies I learned were “study skills;” skills that allowed me how to learn more efficiently. After a lifetime of struggles, a few simple concepts completely transformed my experience in school. My confidence soared! I discovered I can do anything I set my mind to.

Do Study Skills Really Make THAT Much Difference?

Study skills changed my life. It turns out, I’m not alone. In 2009, Ohio State University published results from a long-term study on the effectiveness of study skills. They found that:

Students who had struggled in high school, were 45% more likely to graduate from college if they took a study skills class as a freshman. Students who had been considered “average” in high school, were 600% more likely to graduate from college after taking a study skills class!

Employers Are DESPERATE for Study Skills!

In the workplace, these skills are known as “soft skills.” And, employers are desperate for them! In a 2008 survey, hundreds of employers in “emerging sectors” (fields that are expected to grow in the next 30 years) listed the skills they needed most. Of the top 57 skills, only four related to technology.

The remaining 95% were skills such as:

  • Reading comprehension (which ranked at the top of the list for every individual sector)
  • Critical thinking
  • Active learning
  • Written expression
  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Active listening
  • Attention to detail
  • Learning strategies
  • Independence

…these are “study skills” and they represent 95% of the top skills in the workplace!

We Are Preparing Students for Jobs That Do Not, Yet, Exist!

Is it any wonder that employers need students to learn these study skills? Information is changing at an unprecedented pace! The top 10 in-demand jobs ten years from now…do not exist today. Employers need to hire people who can keep up with changes. They need students who can access information, organize it, recall it for later use, think critically, and manage time appropriately.

National and state education standards place all of the emphasis on content. Content is easy to test, but much of that content is already outdated. Students need to learn how to learn that content so they are prepared to learn any content.

Study Skills Are for Everyone!

Study skills level the playing field for everyone. Straight-A students appreciate learning short-cuts to make their study time more efficient. Struggling students appreciate the clarity and confidence they develop once they unlock the mystery. Even students with learning disabilities and ADHD benefit from study skills.

In fact, it wasn’t until just a few months ago (nearly 20 years after I began teaching study skills) that I learned I have ADHD and a couple of learning disabilities. This explains why I struggled through school. But it also demonstrates how powerful study skills can be in overcoming major challenges.

What Are These “Magic” Skills?

I could write a whole book on the tips and strategies that helped me go from failing to a four-point (and, actually, I have). But I’ll share a few of my favorites now:

Visual Networking for Textbook Reading

You have heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. This is much more than a cliché…the brain is hard-wired to absorb images instantaneously. Words, on the other hand, require several additional layers of processing before the brain can generate meaning. Take advantage of the brain’s natural strengths by “reading the pictures” in the text.

Reading the pictures is a three-step process:

  1. Look at each picture, chart, graph, and visual.
  2. Read the caption.
  3. Ask yourself, “Why do I think this picture is here?” Answer the question to the best of your ability.

The third step is the most important in this process. It forces your brain to make connections; connecting visuals with the content in the text. These connections will greatly improve reading speed and comprehension!

Take Ten

“Take Ten” is a daily, ten-minute routine that improves the two most important keys to improving grades: organization and learning. It works by using the first ten minutes of daily homework to organize papers and review notes:

  • Two minutes to clean out the book bag and organize papers in folders or a binder.
  • Eight minutes to review all notes and handouts that were distributed throughout the day.

This daily review transfers new information from short-term to long-term memory and dramatically reduces study time for tests. It also helps the brain process homework more efficiently, which means homework can be done faster.

Power Down

The concept of “powering down” has become one of the most eye-opening for the students in our classes! As I always tell students, “If you don’t learn how to control electronics now, they will always have control over you.” Students tell us that this sound bite sticks with them. This is the first time they have ever noticed that electronics do, in fact, run their lives.

As you might guess, the idea behind “powering down” is simply to turn off electronic distractions long enough to finish. Students think they can multi-task. In reality, their attention ping-pongs back-and-forth: Homework. Texting. Homework. TV. Homework. Music. Texting. Homework.

The brain is only capable of multi-tasking for routine activities such as walking while talking. It is not capable of multi-tasking with learning. All of these electronic distractions simply reduce efficiency and make homework take 2-4x longer.

In Conclusion…

Sadly, national K-12 curriculum does not teach students how to learn, but there are simple brain-based strategies for learning more efficiently. There is no reason why any student should be denied the ability to meet his or her best potential with these strategies. If I can go from failing to a four-point, anyone else can, too. It’s time to give students the strategies to make that happen!

Susan Kruger, M.Ed.
Founder & Author of SOAR

Click here to view on the Study Skills website

Anxiety: The On/Off Switch to Learning

How to Help Students Manage Anxiety

The key to helping students manage anxiety is to understand what’s happening in their brain.

“Emotions are the on/off switch to learning,” says Priscilla Vail, author of Smart Kids with School Problems. You and I both know this is true.

We know from our own experience that it’s pretty hard to learn geometry theorems when we are heartbroken over a break-up. A history lesson about something from 200 years ago doesn’t mean much when we’re worried about an argument with a friend… or, worse.

Continue Reading

What’s in a Box?

I’m trying to get my Christmas shopping done early this year. Somehow, I expect I’ll still be scrambling at the last minute, but I’ve already managed to stash a few boxes into the closet—like a writer squirreling away great ideas in a notebook.

The downside of my ingenious planning? Friends and family have to suffer through me—repeatedly—reminding them, “I got your present already!” grinning and cavorting impishly. I can’t help it, though. I’m excited about the presents I’ve chosen.

Continue Reading

A Pen & A Plan

We’re teachers. We’re professional writers. AND we’re parents. So we get it. Some kids can write a 17-page journal entry without coming up for air. Other students would rather clean a bathroom as write a single paragraph. Writing is a joy for some—but painful for others.

Yet, writing is one of life’s most valuable skills. Like it or not, we are often judged based on our ability to express ourselves well. And like it or not, doors to future opportunities for our children may open or close, based on their writing skills.

Continue Reading

Student Writing Skills Workshop

A Pen and A Plan: A Writing Workshop for the Middle School Student

Led by Ms. Sherry Parnell: Independent Professional Writer & Editor, Master of Arts in

Middle school age students can lose as much as 30% of their school year
learning over the summer. 1 This includes a loss of critical writing skills your child
needs to succeed. For the student seeking to keep up and get ahead, spending
as little as 2-3 hours per week during the summer can make a big difference.
Above Grade Level understands that as a parent you want to put your child in
the best position for success each new school year. That’s why we created the
Writing Skills Workshop for middle school students.

Continue Reading

Prevent Summer Skill Plunge

Most every parent recognizes the scene: “Yaayyy! It’s summertime!” inevitably morphs into, “I’m sooo bored…there’s nothing to do.” It’s mind-numbing for parents to attempt to plan entertaining, meaningful activities for a nearly three-month stretch. When those dull summer moments eventually arise, they beckon even the most resourceful kids to turn to electronic gadgets to fill the boredom. The result? Summer skill plunge.

In multiple studies, research has demonstrated that our children lose up to 30% of their learning from the previous school year over the long summer break. Admittedly, students in other countries continue their schooling through the summer, giving them a distinct academic edge over many of our graduates.

Well those are disheartening statistics, you may be thinking. But they don’t have to be. There is a solution to the summer skill plunge.

Continue Reading

Tips ‘n’ Tricks for Successful Learning: Learn to Love Learning!

Successful Learning

Study after study has shown that “spaced repetition” is the most effective form of learning. That means, we ought to be helping students to continually review and repeat prior concepts…then add new skills on to the previous skills. This not only helps students to completely master learning concepts, but it also helps them to retain their knowledge long-term. No more “in-one-ear-and-out-the-other” learning!

Continue Reading
Call Now Button