Thursday, February 25, 2010

why spidersmart?

Connection, Community, Expansion, and Strength.

Spiders are very independent in their work (like SpiderSmart students learn to be with mentorship.) They take pride in what they've created (the web), like our students take pride in their work. They work diligently and carefully, paying attention to every detail of the web (like our kids pay attention to every detail in carefully crafting an essay.)  Lastly, a web has SO MANY parts -- it's such a complex creation -- and that's how we feel about our SpiderSmart learning philosophies and practices.  Our approaches to every student (who we believe to also be complex and intricately developed as a learner) are vast and varied.  There's a precision to our "building" of each and every one of our students.  Our educational ethos is based on that precision -- that individualized curricula, that close, focused attention to every student -- and the appreciation that every single student is different and deserves a myriad of approaches.

Monday, February 22, 2010

sharpening your writing: lazy sentence beginnings.

Avoid starting your sentences with “It” and “There”:

It is…

It was…

There is…

There are…

There was…

There were…

These are all lazy ways to start an idea. Why? You make your reader guess what you mean by using “It”.  It what?  What is it?

Using “There” is also rather useless. Think about it. What is the difference in these two ides?

There were ten men standing in line.
Ten men were standing in line.

Answer: Nothing—except the first one has the useless “There were” at the beginning.

All “There is/are/was/were” does is point to something.  It is almost like walking up to someone and saying, “I am going to talk to you now,” instead of just talking to the person!

There is always a better way to begin a sentence.


A better way to start a sentence always exists.

That’s better! You have to practice to see the different ways, though, so let’s look at some examples and then do a few exercises. The first sentence has a lazy beginning, but the second one corrects this by making a more direct sentence.

It is necessary to study.
Studying is necessary.

It was a rainy day, so we could not have recess.
We could not have recess because it was a rainy day. 

There was nothing to stop me from getting an “A” on the test.
Nothing could stop me from getting an “A” on the test. 

There are too many cars on this narrow road!
Too many cars are on this narrow road! 

There is a lot of sugar in this candy.
A lot of sugar is in this candy. 

Do you get the idea now? You need to take away the lazy part and rearrange the sentence. Sometimes, you can even find a whole new way to express the idea. 

There is a lot of sugar in this candy.
This candy is loaded with sugar! 

It does not take much to avoid these awkward sentence beginnings once you know a few helpful tricks.

Friday, February 19, 2010

meet jason ellison.

Jason Ellison earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from George Mason University in 1994. He taught undergraduate courses in English composition, literature, and creative writing at both Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University for 12 years while working for SpiderSmart as an essay evaluator and center teacher. For four years he created the writing curricula for the Washington Leadership Program, which allowed students from Sookmyung University of Seoul, South Korea to attend a variety of seminars and events in Washington, DC each July. Now that he is able to work full-time for SpiderSmart, he develops website and printed material, creates study guides, oversees online students, and generally handles whatever else needs to be done. When he’s not working, he writes fragments of a novel, tries to organize his thousands of photographs, and attempts to train his family’s new kitten to stay off his keyboard.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

spidersmart online: an in-house private tutor.

Welcome! Let me tell you about SpiderSmart’s Online Reading & Writing Program. We’ve been helping students become active readers and stronger writers for nearly 20 years, and we’ve been doing it online since 2003. With our program, students have access to a virtual library of over 1,500 real books that range from mysteries to fantasies to biographies to Newbery Award winners. With each book read, the student completes an online assignment designed specifically for that book that includes sections focused on vocabulary building, reading comprehension skills, and essay writing. A real teacher provides feedback consisting of explanations, examples, discussion, and methods of improvement for every assignment. We provide a teacher-mentor to work directly with every student, so the focus is on the student and feedback is consistently building crucial skills needed to strengthen reading and writing abilities. It truly is like having a private tutor in your home.

The online program is available for grades 2 to 12, and we even have SAT prep courses. We also adjust skill levels so students needing more help or requiring more challenging material are never overwhelmed or bored. Please visit our website to learn more!

As told by Jason Ellison.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

the evolution of spidersmart.

Upon meeting Jeannie Jung for the first time, I was struck by her warmth. I found it hard not to smile. She had me completely at ease within minutes. “People often say, you seem like a happy person. And it’s because of this job!” she exclaimed, her face alight. “I get excited just about buying and assembling furniture for the center! Even taking out the trash!”

Jeannie moved to America in her mid-teens and struggled with the English written language. “I used to dread writing papers. I could never express my thoughts exactly in writing...In graduate school, I realized that I could only improve writing through practice. It was like learning to play a musical instrument. The more you practice, the better you become.” And practice she did -- eventually earning her Masters in English from Texas A&M.

Nearly fifteen years after her move to America, Jeannie relocated to Washington, DC with her husband and two young children. As her children entered school, Jeannie devised a schedule to encourage her son and daughter to practice writing. She took them to the library at least three times a week and began reading the same books as her oldest child -- Jane, then 8. Jeannie developed writing assignments for her daughter and began creating a curriculum for her son’s future. For 6 months, she produced essay questions, vocabulary work, and comprehension questions -- creating over 50 assignments. They practiced writing on a regular basis, and her daughter advanced quickly.

Why not have other kids do the same thing? Jeannie strongly believed reading and writing was the foundation for all learning -- and necessary for every child’s success -- especially ESL students.

She began with eight students, 500 used books, and very little money. Her pastor allowed her to use two empty rooms in the church for free. After a mere month, her student base doubled. The work was exhausting, but Jeannie quickly realized she had found her calling.

Her mother immediately cashed in her insurance policy and lent Jeannie $2000 to obtain a permanent tutoring space. With this money, and a loan, Jeannie started the Reading & Writing Center of Annandale in 1989.

In three months, she had nearly 50 students. The Reading & Writing Center soon morphed into the SpiderSmart Learning Center and grew substantially. Even with her incredible success, Jeannie remains grounded; “I feel so lucky to have come this far because of the people who worked for me.”

Not only is she intelligent and driven, but she truly cares for her students; “I don’t like vacations. I just cannot wait till I get back! I miss the kids too much. The Annandale kids are like my own. Some have been coming for eight years!” Her genuine affection for her students transforms her center into a place where children can be themselves, learn without embarrassment, and improve beyond what they thought possible.

As told by Amber Byrne.

Monday, February 15, 2010

meet mary koles.

Mary serves as academic coordinator for SpiderSmart Learning Center of Bethesda, where she feels lucky to do everything she loves—teach, plan curricula, and see all of her amazing students and parents every week! She is finishing her Masters of Fine Arts in fiction and poetry at American University, where incredible mentorship led her to win the Gerald Stern Poetry Prize. With a dual degree in English and Secondary Education from Vanderbilt University, she taught Junior Honors English at Hillsboro High School in Nashville, where she also served as ESL director for grades 9-12 and freshman basketball coach. After moving to Philadelphia and becoming the grateful recipient of a UPENN Fellowship for ESL Educators, she taught Freshman and Sophomore English at Franklin Learning Center, a blue ribbon public high school. After teaching abroad in Seoul, Mary returned to the DC area to collaborate with owner Jeannie Jung to create what is now the Bethesda center. Mary can think of nothing more inspiring than SpiderSmart’s educational ethos and any time spent with her inimitable friends and family.

Friday, February 12, 2010

meet sufiya abdur-rahman.

Sufiya Abdur-Rahman comes to SpiderSmart Learning Center of Bethesda with more than five years of experience as a reading and writing instructor. Over the past four years, she’s helped hundreds of students—from pre-K through college—become better readers and writers. She’s also taught journalism and creative writing to youngsters at Summer at WES, in Bethesda, and to pre-teens and teenagers in the Liberty Partnerships Program, in New York City. Sufiya has a background in journalism and has had articles published in daily newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, as well as national magazines including The Source and Black Enterprise. She believes that careful and insightful reading, coupled with thoughtful and eloquent writing will put any student on the path to success.

Friday, February 5, 2010

real people. real stories.

"At SpiderSmart I was taught to read, analyze questions and write about books effectively. With the help of my teachers, I dramatically improved my English grades. When the time came for college applications and essays, I had mastered writing techniques and was ready to stand out from the crowd."

Youlim Y.
Wellesley College

"When my daughter started at SpiderSmart, she was a reluctant reader. Through this program, she has become a book lover. She is such an avid reader that sometimes it is difficult to make her stop reading!"

Erica C's Mom
Dumfries, VA