Four Ways to Spot Great Teacher


 Good review.  1) Have an active intellectual life outside the classroom 2) Believe intelligence is achievable 3) Are data-driven 4) Ask great questions  … and they might even stand on a desk like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society for effect. 






New Math article in New York Times MAgazine


The New York Times Magazine cover story was “Why Does Everyone Hate the New Math?” The online version headline for the same article “Why Do Americans Stink at Math? Their answer – no one understands it. Worth reading.


Sylvan Darien Speaks Out on the new Common Core Curriculum


Connecticut students were thrilled last year when they learned that the dreaded CMT and CAPT tests were being eliminated.  But as the new Smarter Balanced Assessment tests are about to begin for 3rd to 8th and 11th graders, both parents and children are now a bit apprehensive. There are just a lot of unknowns.  Parents are asking what’s ahead with these new tests and the coming new curriculum.  How will it impact their children? What kind of changes will they bring?  Why are they happening now?  Is it good or bad news for our local schools?

Answers to those questions and more relate to the newly adopted Common Core State Standards Initiative (simply known as the “Common Core”).  Connecticut, along with 45 other states, has adopted this entirely new curriculum and with it a new testing process.  Area school systems will not formerly begin the new teaching until the 2014-2015 school year, but a large scale field testing of the assessment tests will begin within days.

Why the Change?

The Common Core Curriculum is being sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers as a way to establish consistent educational standards across all of the United States.  We’re told that it’s been designed to “be robust and relevant to the real world”, and to “provideknowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers“.  The program’s ultimate goal is to place American students in a better competitive position in the global economy.

Likely to Be Some Growing Pains

Sylvan of Darien applauds the effort.  But we also recognize that there can, and likely will, be some challenges along the way.  Some issues to consider:

  1. The adoption of the Common Core may be happening too quickly - school systems’ lack of familiarity is bound to prevent a smooth transition, teachers likely will lack all the training to fully implement it, and some supporting materials just won’t be ready or available.
  2. Some skill sets may be missing – The transfer to the Common Core will likely work well for all new students who will be introduced to it as they begin 1st grade next fall.  But the transfer may cause challenges for continuing students.  For example, the new Common Core might require a 5th grader to advance into a new level of math content, though the foundational building blocks had not yet been provided under the older curriculum.
  3. Analytical thinking and making connections will be stressed - The Common Core will not only focus on knowing a correct answer but also on understanding why it’s the right answer.  This leap to a more rational framework will be a difficult transition for some students.
  4. The disruption(s) caused by the new Common Core will only add to existing frustrations - Studies show each year in every classroom, there already are 10%-20% of students who fall behind for reasons beyond their own control (sickness, family incidents, home renovations, divorces, etc.).  Adjustment to the Common Core will add to those frustrations.
  5. New standardized testing – Under the Common Core testing will be computer administered.  There will be a forced order to questions that will prevent students from skipping around tough questions. Some questions will be open-ended.  These testing differences and the need for keyboard skills will make tests a nightmare for some students.
  6. Learning methods differ across students - Some students perform best with auditory forms of learning, some with visual, and some with tactile forms of learning.  Good teachers accept those realities and adjust their methods for students.  These ‘customizations’ take time and experience.  Until alternate approaches can be formulated for the new curriculum, some students unfortunately will be less supported.

How Sylvan Will Help Some Overcome These Challenges

  • We are accustomed to being the outside resource that supplements each student’s classroom experience. We are accustomed to working with the student’s regular school teachers to address individual content and study skills issues as they arise.
  • The Sylvan diagnostic tests are being changed to match the Common Core structure.
  • Our teachers are very familiar with the building blocks needed to move forward at various levels.  Once the demands are identified they’ll be ready to help students cope with whatever levels of content are needed.
  • Our approach to learning has always been more about reading and understanding than memorizing. That will not be a transition for us. That’s the way Sylvan of Darien has been teaching all along.

If you would like to discuss the Core Curriculum or hear more of our views on how you can address the challenges it will present to some children, give Gwynne Campbell a call.


Transitioning To a New School: A Parent’s Perspective



We all recognize that Fairfield County has a very mobile population with corporate moves bringing new families to the area throughout each year.  Whether it’s a move of thousands of miles or the more typical transitions from elementary to middle school, and middle school to high school, any major change can create educational challenges for students and their families.   For example we recently spoke with the “Smith” family (not their real name) about their move from Arizona to Connecticut last August and how Sylvan Learning Darien is helping their son “Tyler” (also not his real name) succeed in his new school system.

In Arizona, Tyler attended a small, private, country day school from kindergarten through ninth grade. Like schools here in Fairfield County it provided a good education.   Unlike public schools, Tyler’s private school offered more personal attention with smaller classes (15-18 students).

The Smiths thought of their move to Connecticut as providing a good opportunity for Tyler to transition to ‘larger structured institutions’ as he prepared for college.  But they also wanted to insure the transition would be successful; they wanted to get him off to a good start in his new, larger school.  They researched their options for getting Tyler a little extra help to aid his transition.

We spoke with Mrs. Smith about their experience.

Question: So Why Sylvan?

The Smiths were originally introduced to Sylvan Learning in Arizona where Tyler’s older sister had had a positive experience with the local Sylvan Center in preparing for her SATs.  Knowing that each Sylvan Center is an independent franchise, they conducted a full review of other learning facilities operating in Connecticut.  Speaking with Gwynne Campbell made their decision easy; they decided Sylvan was right for Tyler.

Question: Where Was Your Focus?

A small, private, K-12 school by its nature is able to watch over each student with more attention than a larger high school.  Tyler had always been a good student, but they were concerned about his organizational skills.  There were situations in the past in which he would wait too late to start preparing for a big test, and others in which he would complete his homework on time but leave it at home.  These were the kinds of behaviors that lots of teenage boys experience and issues that were easily managed in a private school, but in a larger public school and in the future, could become more serious problems.

Question: How Did Sylvan Learning Darien Address Tyler’s Issues?

Tyler agreed that he could use a little help and started meeting on a weekly basis with Rene at Sylvan Learning Darien. She worked with him on his writing skills but probably more importantly got him using his calendar to prepare for upcoming events, tests, and projects.  Rene helped Tyler develop the habit of making lists, checking items off, prioritizing assignments, adding yellow sticky notes to his calendar, and more.  It probably wasn’t much more than what a hovering parent might do, but it was accepted much more easily coming from an outsider.

Question: What Were the Results?

Being better organized had a tremendous impact.  Tyler started realizing the difference it made.  It helped him build his confidence.  He realized that if he applied himself he could be much more than just an “OK” student.  He was invited to step up to several honors-level classes.  Rene soon suggested that his improved organizational skills warranted meeting less frequently and suggested that Tyler cut back his sessions to every other week (at the most or even discontinue them altogether).  At about that time some new material was introduced in the honors chemistry class for which Tyler (having not been part of the class from the outset) lacked the proper background.  Sylvan Learning was able to switch gears, bring in Jeremy, a content specialist in that subject, and help Tyler address his new need.

Question: What Happens When Tyler Finishes Chemistry?

The move has been a success and Tyler is enjoying the experience with Sylvan.  The transition to Fairfield County and life in a larger, public high school is going well.  Once chemistry is done for the year, Tyler is considering doing some additional work at Sylvan over the summer to get a head start for his junior year.

Gwynne Campbell and Sylvan are always ready to speak with parents and students who are making a transition or are taking on new subjects.  You can suggest to your friends facing such challenges that they reach out to Gwynne at 203-655-3276.

Interested in reading more?  Visit our Educational Tips blog on the Sylvan Darien website, or follow this link to archives of our most recent emails:


Why We Call Sylvan Darien a Learning Center


 Our local area boasts lots of weekend classes, tutoring programs, test prep courses, etc..  You hear about them all the time. But we at Sylvan of Darien call ourselves a “Learning Center”.  As a parent with a child who has participated in Sylvan programs you might someday be asked why we use such a descriptor.  Please allow us to explain.

Actually, the term learning center well reflects our mission statement at Sylvan Learning of Darien.  Our instruction is always tailored to meet each individual’s needs.  We have no ‘cookie-cutter’ approaches. Our ultimate goal is to help students of all ages fundamentally change how they think, how they study, and how they learn.  In doing so they realize their full potential.
We address different students’ needs with appropriately different objectives.  In some cases the program we offer may be remedial, in other cases it may be enrichment (for students who are ready to handle studies well beyond their current grade level).  Some students come to the Sylvan Learning Center for help in achieving grade-level reading or math.  Others may come seeking a better understanding of some particularly tough concept(s) related to AP courses.  Still, for others, learning is about getting help in structuring an important paper or preparing for SAT, SSAT, ISEE or HSPT tests.   Continue reading