Advice for Parents: Fostering a love for learning in your child

Advice for Parents:  Unleashing a

love for

learning in your child

By Mr. Justin Buffer, MSE, Founder, Owner, and Educational Director of the Cambridge Learning Center of NJ in North Brunswick, NJ 

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“Here at Cambridge, my continuing observation is that our students with a deep thirst for knowledge- paired with a well-trained teacher with whom they connect and who nurtures their curiosity- reach amazing heights of achievement.”

Mr. Buffer, Cambridge Founder, Ed. Director, and Owner describing his formula for success at Cambridge Learning Center

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A concerned parent of a y0unger student recently asked me: “Mr. Buffer, what is the best thing I can do to help my child’s chances for long-term success?”   My response was immediate: “Foster a love for learning.”Love for learning

I feel that anybody, no matter what their current IQ or testing score is at a certain grade level, has the potential for their own expression of genius within them.  Although the time it will take for each to reach that point will vary, everybody can shine brighter  than they did before in their own individual way with a change in attitude, external environment, and appraoch. This is my personal belief shaped by my experience in education and what I have seen happen here at Cambridge. I also back it up by studies conducted by education and sociology researchers. I do not believe that nature solely shapes a person’s destiny. My belief is that, while genetics are always relevant, hard work and environmental factors, even for Special Education students, can greatly boost a child’s (or anyone’s) intellectual functioning, helping to extract unearthed brilliance.

Jess Lair

One of the trends with kids today is that they focus so much on good grades, that they do not care much about actually learning. Likewise, they might only focus on the subjects they think they need to move ahead such as math and the sciences but forget about history and literature.    None of this to say that grades are not important; as a College Planner and owner of an institution that helps to improve grades, I know that they are.  But, if the focus is purely on grades, a child usually does not reach his or her own peak potential.

When we instill a love of learning in children, though, they understand its intrinsic value. School becomes a lot more than passing and failing. It becomes a quest to gather as much knowledge as possible. It enables a child to become a sponge because they want to know more about almost everything and, not surprisingly, usually produces stellar grades. They see the practical value of information and knowledge in the grand scheme of life. That might sound grandiose, but the point is that when a child discovers that learning helps her or him to connect the dots of life easier, learning becomes a “want,” and not a “chore.” This leads to a better overall person who can go beyond grades in what he or she can accomplish.

Children come to understand that when they learn more, the better they feel. Even when they are struggling with other areas of growing up, an ability to learn gives them a confidence that they can eventually handle anything thrown at them. Helping children understand this is one of the key factors I have seen that differentiates those students who reach the top and those who don’t quite reach their potential.

This is a huge factor. I always tell people- even adults: “A love for learning is a foundation for making dreams come true.” It really is. A passion for learning, and not just for making grades, will help someone reach their full potential. You can see how this works in athletics. The best players that reach their potential are the ones who fully love the sport they play. They are not just there for the money or championships, but for the love of the game. It makes them do what they can to achieve their absolute best.

When we look at sports as an analogy with learning and succeeding at school, the same truth applies. Many notable athletes might not have had the most talent, but their love for the game and their passion for playing and competing helped them rise to the highest level. The same is true in academics.

A parent has a central role in developing this thirst for learning. You cannot instill a love of learning in kids without modeling a passion for it yourself. People often say, “This person is naturally curious.” I do not buy into that saying. I do not think there is such a thing as a vastly more naturally or genetically curious person. I believe some parents or guardians shot down or did not nurture a child’s curiosity when they were young. For these kids, they never had an opportunity to learn how to blossom with their curiosity.

This happens so easily.  Sometimes, all it takes is a parent saying, “Stop asking so many questions.” I have seen this happen. On the other hand, I have also seen the parents who know how to help their child’s creativity blossom by encouraging it. When the parent faces something new, he or she says, “I’m going to look that up. I want to learn about this.” They are modeling learning for their kids. They show them that curiosity is powerful. Kids look up to their parents. Just as children observe manners and behavior from their parents, they gain the same insight in regards to learning. I always find it funny when parents ask, “How can I make my child love learning more and be more curious?” The first thing I want to know is what the parents are doing to set an example in that direction. Sometimes, it isn’t much at all.

It is never too late to develop that love of learning. Many so-so students excel in their career today because they latched on to this passion late in life. For a student at any age, you can change your mindset with how you look at learning. Challenge yourself and your children to start asking “why” about everything. If you or your child don’t know the meaning of a word or are introduced to a new event…or anything…look it up. Google it. If it grabs one of your attention, get a book about it, and encourage your child to do the same. The paradox of today is that we have more ways to find information, and less desire to do so by students if it doesn’t directly affect a grade.

Help your child change their thinking, and watch them blossom into whom they are meant to be.

 

What parents can do to help students reach their SAT Goals

Written by Mr.  Justin Buffer, MSE,  Founder, Owner, and Educational Director, Cambridge Learning Center of NJ

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Some more common questions I receive from parents of my SAT students at the Cambridge Learning Center are, “What can I do at home to help my child prepare for the SAT? What do I need to make sure my son or daughter is doing so they can acheive a great score on the test?”

You can understand why this concern is so important since SAT scores are an important barometer that colleges use when they determine whom to admit. For some students and their families, this subject generates a great deal of stress on everybody. Let me go over a few regular, essential practices a student can do to prepare successfully for the SAT.

Flashcards: It is crucial that students are studying their flashcards with grammar rules, vocabulary words, and the essential math rules. Even if they know some of them, just by continuing to learn some of the new ones, a student’s score can improve. It is vital that they know how to practically apply these rules and practice using them. This practice method will aid them in successfully answering a few more questions on the test. Learning new vocabulary words will not only help with vocabulary-based questions but also with comprehending some of the reading passages. An added bonus is that commitment to reviewing these cards will often lead to better grades in school.

Studying Errors and Notes: When students come to Cambridge, we give them what I call “Live work.” This is when we give them real SAT problems to do right in front of us, so we can watch their process, and give them real-time feedback. In class, besides doing Live Work, we provide them with plenty notes, strategies, subject content, and feedback. As a parent, you want to make sure they are reviewing these notes, checking/reviewing their mistakes, and discovering how to avoid them in the future.

 

Properly Utilizing Practice Tests: With practice tests, they aren’t going to do students any good if they do not look closely at their mistakes. I see many of our students often anxious to try another test, after just getting their score on a progress test, but not necessarily thoroughly reviewing it after they get the grade on it. I know my students and their parents have constantly heard me say, “Students should study their way to success, not test their way to success.” I recently wrote an article on this. Instead of only checking their score, you should encourage them to check the answer section for the explanations to the ones they had wrong or tracing the root and causes of their errors. While it is fine for students to congratulate themselves on what they answered correctly, they should spend time on figuring out why they chose the wrong answers to the others. Doing this is vital to maximal success.

Our Student-Centered Websites: Also, encourage your sons and daughters to make use of the online tools we make available on www.cambridgenjstudents.com. We provide a vocabulary test I created that the students will be directed to take every few weeks to measure their progress. We will soon also offer updated grammar and math practice on this website. The more they utilize these online tools, the better they will do when they take the actual SAT.

Succeeding in the often tricky Evidenced-Based Reading section

One of the sections that students have the most trouble with on the SAT is the Evidenced-Based Reading section. To help with this, they should go back and re-read past reading passages they have worked with. This practice will help them improve their skills concerning content knowledge enrichment. By reading through content they didn’t understand the first time and reviewing their answer choices, students will gain a better understanding why reading passages are set up the way they are. The purpose of this is similar to reviewing the answers to other parts of the SAT – it familiarizes the student with the test. This is such a huge help when they sit down for the actual test. It reduces anxiety, and they know what to expect when they start the exam. We also direct our students to read New York Times articles and other content-based material to backfill the educational material that is tested on the SAT, but not thoroughly taught in school. Students now receive an SAT Content Enrichment packet for this practice.

 

Understanding the nature of the SAT:

Having our students know how the SAT works is a big part of my SAT teaching and curriculum development philosophy. Standardized tests like this have deception built into them, and this is often a hard pill to swallow for many of our students. The creators of the test design the questions to produce a bell curve of results. Our goal is to help students to see where the deceptions are and to avoid them. I tell people it is like playing chess against someone who is very sharp and constantly trying to outmaneuver you. When you spend more time with someone like this and play more chess against them, you begin to pick up his or her deceptive tendencies and attempts to fool you. That is what we want our students to do with the SAT: quickly recognize when there is a trap set up for them. When they do this, they will definitely test better.

Spending Time Studying and Reviewing: Finally, make sure they are studying an average of at least an hour a night for the SAT. This can be broken up if need be. When they are doing this, coupled with the tutoring we provide at Cambridge and them integrating the directives above, they will be much more likely to meet their goal score. Of course, there is no magic formula. Instead, it is a steady process they have to pursue mindfully.

I hope this article helps you as a parent see the role you can play to aid and supervise your child’s study habits for the SAT. When you ensure that your child is  implementing these steps regularly and readily, you will be greatly pleased with the results. Of course, nothing can replace a motivated, driven, and determined student, so your part in creating a context for optimal motivation is also vital.  For other questions on these matters, please call us or make an appointment to see me.

Helping your children build their vocabulary

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Increased Vocabulary Leads to Increased

 Success , Enrichment & Opportunity for students

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By Mr. Justin Buffer, MSE, Founder, Owner,

and Educational Director of the

Cambridge Learning Center of NJ

“One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.”  –  Evelyn Waugh

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     People often ask me, “Mr. Buffer, how can I help my children become better readers?” Parents ask me this question no matter what the age of their child is. While the obvious standard answer is that reading more will make them better at it, I want to focus on something else here. In addition to reading, just as important is helping young people build their vocabulary. I am not talking here about the traditional ways of teaching reading and studying vocabulary that they have in school where students are given a set of words and their definitions, and have to memorize them for a test. This can he helpful and important, of course, but there are things outside of school that a parent can do to supplement this formal teaching. These techniques can be done on an everyday basis to help children build their vocabulary. Let’s talk about some of them.

     One of the things you can do every time your child hears a new word from conversation, television, radio, or any source and they ask you what it means, instruct them to go look it up. In the old days, this meant going to a dictionary. That still works, but you can also direct them to a smartphone, a computer, or any other modern technology where you can look up words. The important point is to instill in a youngster the desire and knowledge of how to look up words they don’t know.

   Encouraging your child to keep a vocabulary journal is also a great idea. At the Cambridge Learning Center, we give students a Personal Vocabulary Journal for this very reason. We stress that it is not just for the words we teach them at Cambridge, but also for any words they come across from their teachers, friends, or in conversations with adults. We want to make our students aware that they are exposed to new words from all facets of their life and to pounce on them. Keeping the words in their journal and regularly going back to study them is going to increase and refine their vocabulary. As a parent, you can look at this list with them. Help them learn the words and how to use them appropriately. I always encourage parents and students to use the new words together.

As an example, your child comes home and tells you she had fun with her friends at Chucky Cheese. This moment is your opportunity to say, “Well, what word have we learned recently that means fun?” Doing this will help children understand how to use their new words in their proper context.

   If English is not your first language, this can be a challenge. That’s why I’m adding in the component that you can learn new vocabulary words with them. Together, you can both add new words to your vocabulary lists. Whether English is your first language or not, you can play a game together of substituting one word for another. This fun activity encourages using the vocabulary journal at home and everywhere else.

   What else can you do to help them build their vocabulary? Don’t let any word go undiscovered. If they are doing a math problem, and it says, “Jimmy bought 13 pints of Amalaki,” and they don’t know what this fruit is (an Indian gooseberry), have them look it up. Train them that they are always in the learning and vocabulary acquisition process. When you help foster, encourage, and compliment kids on their curiosity, their thirst for knowledge will blossom, and their vocabulary along with it.

   The good part about learning vocabulary is it actually helps someone become a better reader. Research affirms this, as does our experience here at Cambridge. Also, their new vocabulary seeps into writing assignments. I can tell you as an  SAT teacher, and as the Founder, Owner, and Education Director here, that vocabulary is a vital part of reaching the highest scores on the SAT.

As adults, we know that a good vocabulary enhances our stature in the professional world. This is also true for students. Having a command of language helps them when they need to write papers or make presentations.   It makes a positive impression on their teachers. It will also serve the students well when they go out into the world. It will have a positive impact when they interview for after-school jobs, or when they start applying for college.

   I have seen everything I related to you here make a positive influence on students’ futures and lives again and again. With a good vocabulary, reading and writing become easier. Even for adults, I have seen a tremendous difference in their lives when they apply themselves to improving and expanding their vocabulary. Many parents of our students at Cambridge do not speak English. When we encourage them to do what I advocate here with their children, the results are impressive. Both parent and child increase their vocabulary and grow together.

   I cannot stress enough how important a continuously improving vocabulary is. It exemplifies what I call the difference between having potential and living our potential. Somebody can be functioning with a high IQ, which we often see at the learning center. However, when a student’s vocabulary is lacking, he or she will not be able to accomplish as much as they want or can in school, which, as we all know, can have long-term implications.

   An emphasis on vocabulary is surely a key to advancing in school or in life, and we are proud at Cambridge to help students begin their journeys toward growing their personal lexicon.

Studying not testing is the key to SAT/ACT success!

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STUDYING NOT TESTING IS

THE KEY PATH TO SUCCESS

 

BY MR. JUSTIN BUFFER, MSE, FOUNDER, OWNER, AND EDUCATIONAL DIRECTOR, CAMBRIDGE LEARNING CENTER OF NEW JERSEY

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As the owner and founder of Cambridge Learning Center, I’ve come into contact with many parents who are under the impression that in order to better prepare themselves for testing, their children should simply take more practice tests. There’s a belief that being subject to repeated testing – over and over again – will make students perform better.

I’d like to share that this is a mistaken belief. In my experience, the value of repeated “practice testing” is entirely overestimated.

For no form of preparation in advance of testing is as valuable as studying.

If students do not sit down in a sincere pursuit of knowledge, they will never be adequately prepared for testing. Moreover, although practice tests do have their place, and our students take them frequently and regularly here at Cambridge, students will never be able to maximally improve their test performance without assiduously reviewing the mistakes they made during practice.

Why did I make that mistake? What’s the right answer? What do I need to know to avoid repeating what I did wrong last time?

These are the kinds of questions that students should be comfortable with, and they only crop up in the course of genuine study.

Think of it like getting good at playing music. If you just keeping playing the same song over and over again, you probably won’t break through and improve. But if you work with a teacher who can set you on the right path and identify all the weaknesses that have to be addressed, then you’re on your way to improvement.

Likewise, do you think an NFL team can become great just by playing enough games? Of course not. In between those games, during practice, they have to work out their strategies and iron out their issues.

To be sure, a measure of practice testing can have value. But it’s generally not the value some parents expect. Practice testing can be useful for building stamina and reducing the odds of a student’s skills faltering during test time due to fatigue. So being in test mode for a while, as practice, can often help to ready the mind for real testing on some level.

But the students who truly end up excelling on their tests are the ones who buckle down and study. That calls for sitting down and concentrating. It means working with flashcards. It means reading, reviewing, repeating, and refining. We have developed a study plan for this process at Cambridge.

As the old expression goes, “Practice makes perfect.”

But I’d like to add the footnote that it has to be the right kind of practice. When it comes to test preparation, study is good, but testing is not the answer.

Four Improvements to our Educational System

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By Mr. Justin Buffer, MSE, Founder, Owner, and Educational Director

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As the Founder, Owner, and Educational Director of the Cambridge Learning Center of New Jersey in North Brunswick, one of the area’s most successful tutoring organizations, people often ask me my opinion on education in America. When doing speaking engagements or interviews, I am often asked what we can do to make public education better in the United States. While I could write a comprehensive book on that subject, I want to talk here about four of many solutions that immediately leap to mind. The topic of public education is very complex, but these four broad themes would quickly point us in a better direction.

 

Self awareness

Self-Awareness: Number one would be to make students more aware of themselves. They are people with young minds, not a statistic that goes through the school system until successfully graduating. It is such a cliché, but they are our future. When I am saying self-aware, I mean they have to understand their own emotions. They need to have insight on why they do the things that they do and their motivation. Individuals who comprehend these concepts are better equipped to handle life. Sometimes we need to back away from the books and computers and help students in their maturity and personal development process.   This is often called “EQ” or “Emotional Intelligence” in the world of popular psychology.

Critical-Thinking-Skills

How to think critically and constructively: Second, we need to teach our young people how to think. A great deal of schooling is preparing these kids for tests, whether for a particular class or the various standardized versions. Too often, this means having them learn facts or formulas without any practical application or context.   While rote memorization surely does have a role to play in the learning process, by training students to think through a situation or problem, they are going to be better equipped to avoid tripping over obstacles in their future.

A simple illustration of this is how we teach history, politics, and government, which I did for many years in a public school classroom and now here at Cambridge. You can see by the state of the country that many Americans do not really comprehend how our government operates. Often, classes related to this subject score lowest on a student’s interest. The conventional way of teaching them is to do readings and lectures starting with 1776 and working their way to the present. If a history class is lucky, it might actually reach the twenty-first century by the end of the term. Rather than such a linear approach, let’s shake things up in an interesting manner. Usually, a common segment of history is teaching about great American inventions. Show the class an iPhone. Actually, since most of the students have a smartphone of some type, have them take it out and place on the desk. Talk about all the wonderful things it does and then work backward on the various incarnations of the telephone for the last 150 years until you get to Alexander Graham Bell. This tactic will help them appreciate and remember the phone’s development and possibly develop a deeper sense of gratitude for those who came before us. A teacher can use this same technique in explaining how the three branches of government operate. Make it pertinent!

Writing Skills

Writing skills enrichment across the board: A third item we need to address in schools is writing. Communication is so important in this day and age. It is imperative that students know how to write naturally and correctly. You rarely can boil down a complex issue into 140 characters. Teachers of all subjects need to work with their students on their writing ability. If a science teacher asks for a report, for example, then he or she should also be correcting and coaching the student on the writing itself, as well as the content. Another option is to have writing specialists in schools read what students compose for all their subjects and provide the insight for becoming a better writer. I have a friend who is an editor, and he cringes at the state of people’s writing in academia and business. He doesn’t understand how leaders in business or people with college and advanced degrees are able to effectively function with their writing ability. The only way a student will improve is to receive constant constructive feedback on how they write. It needs to be a focus in school for the good of our country.

 

Learning Gaps

Filling in learning gaps/unifying the curriculum: Last, but just as important, is that educators have to realize there are gaps in their curriculum. Standardized tests matter so much in determining a student’s and a school’s future. It is impossible for a student in Wyoming to learn exactly the same thing as a student in California or in New Jersey and vice-versa. Learning centers like Cambridge and others fill in these gaps. School districts have to acknowledge this situation and then seek out and work with those entities to prepare the student for their future.

After all, isn’t that what education is about? We are not looking just to have students graduate high school and move on. We want them to be prepared for the adult phase of their life. That is how we truly rate the fruits of education – with young people successfully moving on to higher levels of learning and/or to their careers.

 

Our educational system is truly the DNA that will determine the qualitative nature of our country’s future.   We must not just “invest” money in this vital component of our culture but also time, energy, and effort to implement new ideas to help us continue to be the thought leader of the free world.