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## Back to Basics, Part 1

During the school year, I alternate teaching at several NYC charter schools, mostly for K-3 grades, and I often remember this book “All We Really Need to Know We Learned in Kindergarten” , or as far as the SATs go, elementary school.

During the last week of class, I taught in a school where I often went, so the students knew me well. That Monday, as I walked up five flights of stairs still cursing my very first alarm, I heard “Miss Z!” and two first graders ran up to me for a hug. Being remembered — fondly — by kids whose brains were already absorbing so much made my day, and all my grumbling disappeared. Sure, those little angels were big troublemakers at times, and kids know just as well as adults how to activate the charm, but I digress. Actually, no, that’s part of the problem: kids learn early, in and out of the classroom, and those lessons last.

That day I was assigned to grade 3 (in charter schools there are always two teachers for every 28 students) and the homeroom teacher focused lessons on place values in numbers, reading comprehension and types of non-fiction. As I watched and participated, my mind kept returning to my private tutoring practice and one phrase kept repeating itself in my head: “Back to basics”.

In math, the class looked at which places in a given number denote the values of units, tens, hundreds, and thousands, as well as how to write them numerically and in English. Simple enough, but very important. As they move on to more complicated concepts – like decimals (they’ve covered basic fractions) and how to add/subtract/multiply/divide them – if these students can’t remember which number goes where, everything else is moot. It is interesting to observe that almost all mathematics, certainly on standardized tests, is rooted here: where do the numbers go? What does their location mean? How does this make the numbers behave? Also, one of the class exercises was to write the number “two hundred and fifty-four thousand six hundred and thirty-seven.” One of my principles for SAT Math word problems is, in the face of a lot of English, “translate it into math”. Exactly the same principle, a different audience. Back to basics.

We also did a lot of reading in this class – independently and aloud – to work on absorbing information from a story and then answering questions based on what was read. We asked the students to focus only on the information in the story, NOT on what might have happened later or what the students already knew about the topic. Any reading comprehension section, from ISEE lower level to SAT, ACT and beyond, is based on the same principle. Additionally, if Grade 3 students found words that were difficult to pronounce or define, such as “routine” and “effort,” those words were posted in the Vocabulary of the Day, to be written down and learned. Synonyms, Analogies, Complete Sentences, all of these sections are on a variety of standardized tests and are based purely on vocabulary – which I always try to get some of my future high school students to focus on. Back to basics, back to basics…

I love substitute teaching – kids teach me so much!

TIP: This summer, take 20 minutes each day to learn three or four new vocabulary words and by Labor Day, you’ll know 200 new words. This is the easiest thing to do to score higher in any critical reading section, and it will also benefit your writing and communication skills. I’m posting a SAT Vocab word of the day on Twitter for those interested – just follow AtoZTutor.

My next article will focus on the basics learned outside of the classroom, which are just as important – and just as relevant – for teens and adults as they are for children.

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