Unlocking Your Child's Potential: Expert Insights on Executive Functioning & The Power of Reading
stem steam writing reading power of reading Elizabeth Breau video

Unlocking Your Child's Potential: Expert Insights on Executive Functioning & The Power of Reading

Hello there! My name is Jason from campswithfriends.com, a comprehensive platform that brings together summer camps and enrichment programs, where today, we'll be engaging with Elizabeth Breau from Prep for Success. Elizabeth, could you introduce yourself and shed light on what exactly you do?


Elizabeth: Absolutely. As an educator, my main focus is on English literacy and composition. While I'm not particularly equipped to teach children to read from scratch, for those who can already read, I can guide them in learning, all the way to the level of graduate school. From assisting in writing a complex chemistry Masters thesis to simple English, reading and writing, I'm here to make English approachable.

That's impressive. Could you describe how you found yourself pursuing this line of work?

Elizabeth: Frankly, I sensed that conventional jobs wouldn't suit me. I decided to pursue a graduate degree in English because I’m good at reading stories. My initial plan was to teach at a university, but the shift towards hiring temporary staff instead of full-time faculty in the 90s derailed my plans. So when it was time to work full-time, I started teaching at a private high school in Newark, NJ, and later became certified to teach in New Jersey. Unfortunately, my certification aligned with a rather distressing work environment in a public school.

Trust me, the experiences were daunting. From being admitted twice at a hospital to dealing with theft and unfortunate incidents, it was a struggle. But these experiences eventually led me to tutoring where my surroundings were safe, my students engaged, and they were eager to learn.

One of the perks of my job is that I get to work with students from diverse age groups. For example, one of my long-term students whom I started coaching a few years ago just celebrated winning a county-level fencing championship. It's simply rewarding to see her progress.

That's quite a journey! Can you remind our audience where you currently reside in the U.S and how far does your service extend?

Elizabeth: Originally, I launched my business in Central New Jersey, but I currently reside in Albany, New York. Interestingly, my services are available both domestically and internationally. In the past year, I've had an opportunity to work with students from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Thailand among other places.

Incredible! And how do you conduct these sessions, particularly with students who aren't local? I imagine platforms like Zoom could be quite handy.

Elizabeth: Indeed, I primarily use platforms like Zoom for my lessons. Though I'm open to in-person meetings with local students, physical presence isn't necessary as it's all document and text-based tutoring. You don't even need to be in the same country!

Wow, that is quite a start to your career! I wasn't even aware of all this. It's really quite a fascinating journey!

Judging by your story, it indeed seems to be a harsh reality. This might come off as shocking to many, but you mentioned earlier about having a doctorate could be a disadvantage when job hunting due to salary expectations. Could you elaborate on that?

Elizabeth: Certainly. With my doctorate in English literature, I soon learned that my qualifications might actually hamper my prospects of getting hired for teaching jobs  and that administrators might find my degree intimidating. Also, they have to pay PhDs a little more. Even though veteran teachers told me to omit my doctorate from my job application, I just couldn't bring myself to downplay my qualifications. So when the university career didn't come to fruition and public school assignments proved unsuccessful, I decided to venture into tutoring as it allowed me to do something I'm both passionate and skilled at.

Totally agree. Now, considering most of your tutoring is online, do you find any issues in maintaining students' engagement? If so, how do you effectively conquer that?

Elizabeth: Quite surprisingly, no. For instance, with younger kids, I use a vocabulary curriculum. The best way to learn vocabulary is through active interaction, rather than passive reading. So instead of just checking their answers in the book, I have the kids read their answers aloud. This means they are interacting with the words, so it  doubles as quiz preparation. I've studied the science behind children's learning process and memory retention, and it's clear active engagement is key. Using tools like Zoom and Google Docs greatly facilitates this interactive approach, especially when assisting with writing practice.

It's interesting that you mention this, as we've discussed my daughter, Scarlet's, challenges with dyslexia. It slows down her capacity to respond to complex questions as it's difficult for her to retrieve stored information. How can she overcome these challenges and enhance her skills in reading and writing as an 11-year-old?

Elizabeth: Although I'm not a specially-trained educator in these areas, I just try to provide a supportive environment and extra time. This way, they can figure out ways to solve whatever problems they’re having. Memory aides, like mnemonics, can be great tools. Also, it's worth understanding that for students with learning disabilities, the knowledge might be there; they just need a 'key' to unlock it. This insight, I believe, makes me a better educator. We all have our moments of struggle with learning, so thinking about the struggle is the first step in problem-solving. Reassuring students that everyone struggles to some degree helps lower their anxiety levels and helps improve their learning outcomes.

Indeed, they only need to practice more without much dependency on electronics, right?

You recently published a post called ‘Turn on Your Child’s Brain!’ It speaks to the necessity of limiting screen time for children because it impacts their ability to think and brainstorm ideas. Would you like to share some insights about it?

Elizabeth: Certainly, the post is essentially a plea for parents to minimize their children's on-screen time. The modern digital environment, while it has its advantages, also restricts children's ability to think creatively because all the options have already been thought out for them. There is very limited room for out-of-the-box thinking. And for children who learn differently due to variations in their cognitive wiring, this can be especially challenging.

In contrast, the advantage of one-on-one tutoring is that we can easily adjust the pace to match the child's comfort level, allowing them to learn in a less stressful environment. My goal is to 'normalize' the struggle and stave off any feelings of inadequacy they might otherwise internalize in a traditional classroom setting.

The stigmatization children feel when learning seems easier for others can be detrimental. How do you address this?

Elizabeth: It's crucial to help children understand that it's okay to struggle and learn at their own pace. Every child learns differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to education. I try to counter the stigma that surrounds learning differences by creating a common-sense, approachable environment that is open to suggestions, ideas, and trying different ways of learning.

Could you share a little about your lesson structure? How long do they usually last?

Elizabeth: The length and frequency of lessons differ depending on the student. Some kids would have an hour-long lesson, while others might benefit more from one or two 30-minute sessions a week.

As for the curriculum, it primarily involves vocabulary, grammar, writing, and reading books together. Lately, I’ve begun teaching analogies because they help students see relationships and improve their critical thinking skills, making them more active and associative thinkers.

We also read books together. I try to give the child input into what we read, so sometimes I’m teaching five or six novels a week. I often start younger students on the Oz books because they're more challenging than many recent books at that level. Plus, they aren't filled with violent scenes or frantic action that you'd usually find in games and many modern children's books. These books are calmer and offer a different pace of storytelling.

How do you select the books? Is there a strategy?

Elizabeth: The strategy is to always pitch things a bit above their level, so they're constantly challenged. From classic literature to modern award-winning books, the aim is to expose them to diverse, interesting and challenging content that encourages cognitive growth.

Additionally, the selection focuses on popular or culturally significant books that people often discuss. By reading these, students can participate in conversations and understand references, thereby feeling more included in broader cultural discussions. For example, I usually make sure they've at least read one Oz book and a Harry Potter book. This familiarity helps them engage with peers and feel confident about understanding common popular references.

Indeed, children need to be challenged to learn better. What's your view on this?

Elizabeth: Absolutely, pushing their boundaries is the key to learning and growth. For instance, I usually ask students to read about three chapters a week and respond to questions about them. However, some students exceed expectations, like a second-grader I know who managed to read three sequels of the Harry Potter series in just a week. It's all about providing the right level of challenge and support, and as they grow comfortable, gradually increasing the challenge to spur continuous growth.

Could you explain executive functioning and its importance?

Elizabeth: Executive functioning is the ability to organize oneself, prioritize tasks and time management, so that one can start and complete tasks properly. It's a term that encompasses basic organizational skills. The way we think about people or categorize learning disabilities changes, but the fundamental challenge for some individuals remains consistent. In today's world, working solely with your hands isn't enough, so we need to help those people who find certain tasks more challenging. Teaching proper executive functioning is crucial in achieving this.

How do you help kids improve their executive functioning when working on projects?

Elizabeth: One difficulty is getting kids to a point where they can work independently on a project without constant supervision. It's important to teach them how to be methodical and organized. This includes taking detailed notes to avoid searching through numerous resources multiple times for the same information, planning ideas in bullet points to facilitate the writing process, and so on.

Coaching kids in writing involves teaching them to work through the brainstorming process before starting to write. The amount of coaching each student needs varies, of course, so my job is to take them through the process while also giving them the time and space to develop their ideas. In time, they learn to move through the steps on their own, and this helps them become more independent thinkers and writers.

Where can parents find more information about your services?

Elizabeth: Parents can visit my website at www.elizabethbreau.net or email me at elizabeth.breau@gmail.com. I'm also active on social media platforms like Alignable, LinkedIn, Facebook, posting in various groups and on my pages.

What are some channels through which parents and students can find you?

Elizabeth: In addition to the platforms mentioned earlier, parents and students can also find me on my Camps With Friends business profile where I'll be posting blogs and sharing other relevant information. My goal is to engage with more students and continue helping kids improve their learning experience.

As we wrap up here, is there anything else you'd like to leave in the minds of parents tuning in?

Elizabeth: Well, I'd like to emphasize the importance of including plenty of books in children's lives. Limit their screen time as much as possible. These are essential steps for their mental and cognitive development. Albert Einstein once said, "If you want smart children, you should read them fairy tales, and if you want them to be smarter, you should read them more fairy tales." I'd love for parents to take that advice to heart.

Indeed, that's a fantastic thought to end on. Thank you very much for sharing your insights, Elizabeth.

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