Having been an educator for numerous years, Shirley Allen is uniquely positioned to offer tutoring services to students of all ages. Though she began her career as a classroom teacher, Allen has also served as a district administrator and an adjunct college instructor. When she ultimately decided to retire, and spent some time reflecting on her extensive career in education, Allen knew her next path was supporting, guiding and coaching learners in a tutoring setting. Through I.C.E. (Innovative, Collaborative, Educational) Tutoring, based in Mount Laurel, Allen has been reaching students who need extra support in academics and in executive functioning.
“I think having spent so much time in the field does make my tutoring style unique,” says Allen, who is also a certified reading specialist. “I bring hands-on experience, support and understanding to all the students I work with and I have the ability to engage with students of various learning levels and ages.”
The arts and humanities—and beyond
Though Allen can assist in numerous areas, she says her specialty areas are in the English language arts, humanities and executive functioning skills. Allen frequently receives parental requests to assist and support students with executive functioning skills like time management, organization and study skills. Allen says that many times, support in organization habits and routines is all students really need to make a tremendous difference in their grades across the board. Allen works repeatedly with students to develop and reinforce organization, time management and study skills.
“I always encourage my students to do their most challenging homework first—because that’s when they have the most brain power,” Allen says. “Sometimes it’s a simple change that can make all the difference.”
In teaching study skills, Allen begins by talking with her students and learning about their current studying techniques. It is important for students to become attuned to their concentration and when their focus wanders or shifts. Allen guides students to figure out how long they can maintain their focus. She says that understanding this amount of time will help prevent burnout and frustration. Hence, she suggests using a timer.
“If students find they typically get distracted after 40 minutes then I suggest that they set a timer and study for 40 minutes,” she says. “When it goes off—then they take a 10-minute break, setting the timer for 10 minutes. Then, they reset the timer for another 40 minutes. This makes studying productive. The study time fluctuates depending on the length of time a student can maintain focus without distractions. It’s much more effective to study this way than to waste time being distracted.”
Allen also uses her expertise and experience to assist parents with the school system.
“Navigating the system is a lot to handle,” Allen admits. “In this day and age with such full schedules in most households, I make suggestions to facilitate navigating the system and handling the expectations.” With her experience, Allen can provide helpful guidance.
A personal touch
On top of Allen’s hands-on experience in the classroom, Allen also holds a number of accolades. She was the first National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) in Early Adolescence English Language Arts in Camden County and was awarded Teacher of the Year by her middle school. In addition, Allen received the Princeton University Distinguished Secondary School Teaching Award, which honors exceptional teaching in secondary schooling.
While Allen undoubtedly has the accolades and certifications to back up her skill and experience, it’s the personalized attention that she shows with each of her sessions that is perhaps the biggest value she brings to the table. Each session is truly customized to the student’s needs. Having spent so many years in the classroom, Allen is full of tips and strategies that work—but she also knows how to individualize those tools to work for each student.
“I really spend time getting to know my students both in conversing with them but also reviewing all of their work,” Allen says. “I get to know who they are—what frustrates them, what areas they find most challenging and what works best for them. Armed with that knowledge, I’m able to work with them on their level.”
And that’s really where all the difference is made. Students who work with I.C.E. Tutoring walk away with the strategies and skills that work best for them so that they can succeed going forward. Allen says that too often work is thrown at students with no support—and that’s where she comes in.
“I know the goal is for students to ultimately become independent learners—but we have to teach them how,” she urges. “I’m there to help, to guide and to reinforce the areas students don’t totally understand—or coach students to be the best that they can be. With individualized support, students become more confident, stronger, independent learners enabling them to reach their fullest potential.
Allen’s motto is best summed up in Ben Franklin’s quote, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 8 (October, 2016).
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