How to Get Your Kids Ready for College

CollegeAs an English composition tutor working at a community college, I read over about 30 assignments a week and talk in-depth with every one of my students about what they’re struggling with. This gives me a unique insight into why so many students who have graduated from high school still aren’t ready for college-level work. The biggest problem: Many college students can’t read or write.

Sure, they can read the words on a page. But reading is more than a hefty vocabulary, it’s being able to understand and explain what something is about. It’s picking up on the themes and ideas presented in the story, not just the order of events. As a result, my students often completely miss the point of an essay.

The Importance of Writing:

They can also type words on a page, but what no one has bothered to explain to them is that writing is communicating. It’s not about grammar rules or beautiful handwriting—it’s clearly, effectively communicating what you think, feel, or have researched. Writing is talking on paper, so if you learn to capture themes and ideas while communicating verbally, you also learn to write.

In order to teach me how to write, my mom had me start narrating before I was even reading. She’d read me a story and ask me to tell her what I could remember. It felt like a game, but mom’s game taught me several very important things that helped prepare me for college. I learned how to summarize information and sort out the less important ideas from the heart of the piece, how to concentrate while reading or listening, and how to feel comfortable explaining what something was about and also expressing what I thought about it. These are all important tools that a college student needs to succeed.

Thanks to literally years of practicing narration at home, when I got to college and had to write summaries of readings or a research paper that paraphrased other people’s ideas it wasn’t hard because, unlike a lot of other college students, I was ready.

A Diploma Doesn’t Always Equal an Education:

Being ready for college shouldn’t be taken for granted. One student I know who graduated with honors from her high school couldn’t take college-level classes right away because she’d only passed into basic English. She had fabulous grades in high school, but she’d never even written a paper. Shockingly, one of her assignments for a senior paper was a fill-in-the-blanks essay, already outlined down to the sentence (“write a sentence here about your future career”). It required no creativity and very little thought.

Even though she had a high school diploma and had even graduated with academic bling, she wasn’t ready for college. When it came time to write a college paper, her high school grades didn’t mean anything. I honestly think that if she’d never taken an English class a day in her life but had been read to as a child, had lots of practice narrating, and read whatever caught her interest, she would’ve been so much more ready to succeed in academia than she was as an honors student.

Filling in the Gaps:

Based on the academic gaps I regularly see in college students, I believe that whether parents are supplementing their child’s education or homeschooling, it’s very important to focus on reading and narration. I often wish I could go back in time to when my students were children so that I could read to them, have them practice narrating what we read together, and encourage them to read about topics that strike their fancy because then, by the time college rolled around, they’d be ready. 

It might seem too simple to actually do much good, but regularly being read to and being given plenty of practice narrating makes a world of difference in a child’s education.


How Do I Talk to Someone Who’s Grieving?

confused-personMy psych teacher offered some great, practical advice when posed with the question: “How do I talk to my friend  whose grandma died?  Does she want me to talk about it or should I just ignore the subject?”  My teacher’s reply: “Have you tried asking what she wants?” 

I don’t know why, but it seems like many people, myself included, feel like they ought to instinctually know how to relate to a friend or family member who’s grieving and whether to bring “it” up or just pretend like nothing has even happened.  It feels like I should just know what to do, so I sometimes feel badly because I’m honestly completely clueless.  It leave me feeling like a social klutz.      

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Dating Blunder: The Unforgiveable (Nerd) Sin

star-wars-toys-626-2Me: “Oh, look the Seattle Science Center will be having a Star Trek exhibit, that’d be fun!” [Figured enthusiastically pointing out a sci-fi event to my nerd boyfriend was sure to earn me a best girlfriend of the year award or at least a few brownie points]

Mr. M: [With a look of horror] “Kelsey, it’s not Star Trek … it’s STAR WARS.” [Oops … so much for that best girlfriend of the year award]

Me: “What?  Oh, c’mon, I just said the wrong word.  I know the difference.”

Mr. M: “You’ve at least seen Star Wars, right?” [Translation: “Oh, my god, I’m dating a Star Wars idiot!”]

Me: “Hey!  Of course I’ve seen Star Wars.  I even had one of the cute Ewak toys as a kid, looked just like a teddy.” [Strike two … I’ve since been informed cooing over the cute little “space teddies” also doesn’t earn you points with the nerds.  In fact, it’s a surefire way to convince them you’re really, truly NOT “the one”]

Maybe it’s sure dumb luck that despite my hideous blunders, Mr. M. didn’t run screaming for he hills in search of a nerdy chick who’d understand his DND playing, Star Wars watching subculture.  Or maybe I just haven’t showed off how truly un-nerdy I can be.  But, hey, I have a blog.  That ought to count for something, right?

Writing the Wrong Stuff


“If I was disenchanted at all, I was probably disenchanted with me. For one thing, I suspected I was not writing quite the way I wanted to write, and sometimes I was oppressed by my weekly deadline … I was a man in search of the first person singular…”  ~E.B. White, One Man’s Meat

Unlike E.B. White, the weekly writing deadlines that leave me feeling stifled and worn out are not for anything prestigious like The New Yorker—just sophomore sociology classes at a modest little college. And my quest for the first person singular will most assuredly not result in a children’s classic like Charlotte’s Web—I’d settle for a little more autonomy with my school papers, but I wouldn’t cry if I could dabble in creative nonfiction or try my hand at an ethnography.  I can relate, though, to feeling dissatisfied because I’m not writing the way I would like to be.

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Planning Wonder Woman’s Funeral

wonderwoman_dl“Today we’re going to get into small groups,” my thanatology teacher announced as she handed out a list of questions we were supposed to answer based on course and lecture material.  The challenge: planning Wonder Woman’s funeral.

Wonder Woman, according to our assignment, had passed away after many years of kicking butt as a sexy caped crusader in the name of justice.  Because she was loved the world over Ms. Wonder Woman’s only direct request was that her funeral service, body disposition (what’s done to the body), and final disposition (the body’s final resting place) equally include all of the many unique death-related practices from around the world without offending or marginalizing anyone.  The request was sweet … but not simple.

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