EPISODE 163 | How do you create interest in the process of writing and face the challenges from younger learners overwhelmed with forming sentences to college applicants dealing with high-stakes writing? Join Janna and her guest Dustin Stevens, Founder of Good English Tutors as they discuss the importance of prewriting, brainstorming, and organizing ideas through outlining before drafting. Learn how all the steps of the writing process involves revising, editing, and finalizing, with the added step of sharing or publishing serve as a powerful motivator for students.

ABOUT OUR GUEST| Dustin Stevens is the father of two hilarious, keen-minded boys. He has been teaching writing for over a decade. As someone who has seen its benefits firsthand, Dustin advocates for student publishing in his writings and speaking engagements. He leads a small team of big-hearted educators at goodenglishtutors.com. 

Student publishing form: https://www.goodenglishtutors.com/post/publish-your-writing-for-student-authors 

A link for the free essay guide: https://www.goodenglishtutors.com/guide 

Listen to this podcast episode

Podcast Transcript

Janna  0:04   I'm your host, Janna Koch and BookSharks Community Manager. In today's episode, I am joined by Dustin Stevens, he is the founder of good English tutors, an online company to help students with their English. And I'm not even doing it justice. I'm gonna let Dustin tell you exactly what good English tutor says. But before I do, I want to just encourage your view families to really get a paper and pencil and take notes in this episode because Dustin is going to be sharing some just nuggets of amazing information that as homeschool parents, I think we just don't even know the questions to ask. So let's bring Dustin in. Hi, Dustin. 

Dustin  1:16   Thanks so much for the amazing introduction there Janna. Yeah, so I lead Good English tutors. And that's how I got into it. Kind of interesting. I started with teaching overseas, I thought I really wanted to do ESL. And so I worked in South Korea for a year and I taught in public schools. And then I came back and I was teaching in a number of different contexts while I was working on my master's. And I thought, okay, you know what I'm going to do, I'm going to teach writing, and I'm going to teach it at the college level, and to help students prepare for, you know, their first year of undergrad as as a freshman. And I thought that's it, you know, that's the dream, I'm going to pursue that. And I started, and I saw so many more opportunities to help students to see the progress with students and working with them one on one. So I shifted my focus to that. And the name, I've gone through a couple of different names over the years, but I decided on Good English tutors. It's not about breaking up how, what what we do, but it's more of a reminder, it's more aspirational to remember that it that tutoring good tutoring should be more than simply somebody who's skilled at an individual topic. And even more than somebody who's skilled at a topic and a skilled educator, it should be somebody who really cares for their students, and is able to motivate them and passionate about what they teach. So that's what the good is there for. It's a reminder, and it's aspirational.

Janna  2:58   So when did you find I'm sorry, when did you found good English tutors.

Dustin  3:04   So I started it, I didn't have money back then. But I started in 2017. And then gradually, I shifted to doing it full time, it was quite gradual. So I was I was doing a bit of both, you know, I was teaching in the classroom, and then I was tutoring. And so by 2019, I had gone full time into it. And I transitioned into that in a pretty intense way. We moved to Chile to force that transition. And it was an exciting time for a family it was an opportunity to travel as well. So there were a number of benefits from it. But basically, the only thing I could do now that the only take up employment that was available to me was tutoring because we were tourists and so I was dealing with some complicated timezone changes and everything else. And moving around, you know, we spent time in Argentina as well. But, but I'm so grateful that we had that opportunity. Yeah.

Janna  4:07   It's funny how sometimes we have to force ourselves into tough situations, to do the thing that we really have wanted to do all along. I mean, it's kind of ironic, I don't know if it's human nature, if it you know, it's almost like that when push comes to shove is when we really see our ourselves excel at the things that we were made to do. And I think that's true of our children of our students as well, when they are kind of pushed beyond their comfort. I mean, so many times I've talked to parents and they say they say to me, Well, I'm not good at English I I don't know how to write you know, like, I mean, I barely got through my English classes, you know, whether at K through 12 or they gone on to college and so when people get uncomfortable, a I think that actually translates then to our children and they think you know, same I've heard about math like I'm not a math person, so you know, then you keep hearing In that, and I think you and I would both agree that anyone can write, anyone can know good English. And if they have the right, tutor, the right program, the right encouragement, then they, you know, we can start to see students really thrive in this area. So what are some of the things that you have seen, that have helped students who maybe had no desire to do any type of English or writing, I know that, again, parents call us and they say, I can't get my, my kids to do this. And, you know, we're talking anywhere from five to, you know, end of high school. So what are what are some of the things that you've seen, that you've implemented, that have really helped encourage students in this love of writing?

Dustin  5:47   Yes, one perspective that I took on fairly early in my journey, as an educator, as it is, in formal education, is this idea that we should focus on the mental process over the product. And what that means is that learning is about a mental process, it is not about an individual achievement. And it's so hard to forget that sometimes I forget that sometimes, as a parent, when I receive a report card, and I see, you know, my students great. So I'm actually a homeschooler, in a supplemental way. So I do supplemental homeschooling. And for for about an hour a day, we go, my son and I, we go through different learning or learning charts. So we work on math and vocabulary, and spelling and reading, it's a bit of Spanish, and there's a more of a temporary skill. And, but what I've found is that when you when you just kind of relax a little bit, and you say, okay, you know, he's not getting, you know, two digit addition today, or four digit, multiplication, or whatever level you're at today. But, you know, we put in the time, and it's about that daily consistency, and overtime that compounds, and makes a great difference. And I would say along with that the failures, so to speak, are really opportunities for both children and parents in two different ways. For children, it's an opportunity to reflect deeply on, you know, why, you know, they didn't meet their own expectations for a given assignment or project or whatever it might be. So that reflective process, you know, thinking about thinking or metacognition is so important, because then they can see, okay, what, why am I not understanding this, what's missing here. And when they go through that process, they teach themselves to be teachers, they teach themselves to educate themselves. And that's where we want to gap where they can take on their own learning, and independently, have the skills needed to guide themselves through different projects, or learning goals that they might have. And for parents, a failure and I'm using air quotes, is an opportunity to evaluate, maybe re evaluate the student's understanding, right, and your child's understanding. So those informally evaluations are so important to guiding them through the learning. And so I just want to encourage you if you are a parent, and you're not seeing the results that you want, that I believe that is part of the process, if we view it from that, you know, that perspective where this is information, we can use this now to evaluate the students. Maybe there's a knowledge gap, or something that we can address is further practice needed. And we can have that conversation with them as well. Right? And that conversation will help them get into the metacognition, metacognition or metacognitive reflection that we're talking about. So, you know, I, I've seen the importance of process in with students who have who are being homeschooled who have straight A's, you know, for instance, one of my students, she was just not open to learning much because she had straight A's and she's, you know, I'm getting over 95%, or whatever it might be. And I encourage her to think about it. from a larger perspective. I think homeschoolers are so much better at doing this sometimes to think outside of just you know, the grade or the number on the report card and think more about the learning process. I said, Listen, there's there's always a higher level in writing And here's where you are, here's where you can be, you've accomplished great things. But there's, there's more that can be done. Don't, don't steal that away from yourself. And I've also seen it at the other end of the spectrum, I had a student who was at a D+ average in his class, and it really came down to motivation wasn't turning work in. And when he reflected more deeply on the learning process and why that was happening, it's because he believed that writing was unimportant, you have this great dream to be a CEO someday, and an entrepreneur of an automobile company had a very clear vision for the future at an early age. And when we talked about the importance of communication, in achieving that goal, he made a connection to that made kind of provided infinite motivation for him, because he had this very, very, very, very motivating goal of being this entrepreneur. But he never tied that to writing. And when he did, he took off, he began returning his work, handing it in. And his, the gap with his skill level was was probably between a B and an A for his grade level. So we worked on those skills. And then within three months, he was getting A's in his class and was starting to develop an average, but that not again, not that it's all about the letter grade. But those are just two examples that show the importance of the process and the importance of reflecting on the process for students and for parents.

Janna  11:46   Do you think as not only an educator but a parent yourself, you it took you a while to get there? Because what I hear you saying, It excites me? I'm like, yes, okay, I can kind of, I'm kind of breathe a little bit easier. And I need to be asking different questions. But I also have this external pressure as the parent and the educator to almost prove that the choices that I made to homeschool, I've got to make sure that we succeed, then I'm not sure who we need to prove anything to. But do you know, it's like this idea that if my students not doing well, I think sometimes we get into the cycle as parents, like, we push harder, because we need to see results because it actually is fueling and validating our choice, and not really necessarily about our student, and I've found myself in that cycle multiple times throughout the years as a homeschool parent. I wonder, do you Did you also feel that way, as an educator, I mean, is it just kind of a human feeling that we need to get used to it and be aware of and then move out of when we are aware of it?

Dustin  12:49   So I think first of all, we have to validate that the level of responsibility that we have as parents, especially for homeschoolers, you know, it is such a challenging task, no, and there's so much responsibility involved in not only doing the parenting tasks that, you know, every all parents should be taking care of. But in addition to that, being the math teacher and an English student, depending on what your homeschool situation looks like, it is a huge responsibility. And so it's completely understandable that there are going to be days where you might doubt yourself it might not think the best of yourself or might push your, your son or your daughter too hard, or you know, and it might, there are plenty of imperfect days, I would say all days are imperfect days, right? But just I think just having the idea that, okay, they are moving forward, they are doing the work. They are they did take a little step forward today. And also being able to speak to students about that, I have found that when I'm able to talk to my students about the learning trajectory, about the process, the journey that they're on it, it makes a great impact on them. And because they're able to see that, hey, ultimately, this isn't about doing some dumb tasks are for mom or dad, right? This is about me, growing my my brain and growing my capacity to be wise for a number of different things. So for my son, for instance, we connect it to one of the values that we have as a family, which is that to be wise we need to grow in love and in learning each day. And so we grow in love each day by doing good to others. And we grow in learning each day by being open to to the learning process. And so if you can read Shoot, what you're doing, and the deepest reason for for being like a deep value, or a connection, like Arnav had my student who was excited about entrepreneurship. And that was the thing he was most excited about. You'll find that the intrinsic motivation there, I think so. So it's just looking for those. But you know, there are phases where my students are less or more interested in the learning process. And that's where I would say, discipline really comes into effect. And then I go to find discipline isn’t something close to punishment at all. It's more of a system for consistency. So it's no matter how you're feeling that day, or no matter how the level of motivation you might have, you still show up, you still follow the schedule, you still follow the learning routine. And I think that can be a helpful discussion for students as well, that practicing discipline and being consistent with their learning will bear breakthrough over time.

Janna  16:15  This idea of consistency is it sometimes I think it's hard to conceptualize because as homeschool parents there are you have a beautiful plan. And then I mean, the doorbell rings the dog gets sick, the washing machine breaks and so it can get very discouraging I think as you're doing life and and trying to be consistent. But I think your to your point like it doesn't doesn't mean that it has to look the same every day. It just just the showing up and having having you know, a desire and and yeah, you don't always have the greatest attitude, you or your children. I mean, that is just how life happens. But that you still do it. And I'm I'm a big encourager of setting timers. like listen, if you don't think you can get through that chapter today, let's just set a timer. If you don't think this is what happens with one of my daughters that is in college, and she writes to wait to the last minute to write these papers. And I did that too. I don't know, I don't know if it's all I know, it's not all college students, but maybe certain personalities. And so I say just set a timer, just a lot yourself a certain amount of time. And when the timer goes off, if you want to keep going great, but then just go until it goes off. And then you can do what you need to do and come back to it. It's that idea of just start you got to start somewhere. You can't just keep putting it off. And sometimes with subjects like English with writing, it seems so overwhelming. And you and I know it really isn't. I mean, you start with an outline, you come up with a you know a thesis, like even whatever kind of writing you're doing, there are definitely steps that you can break it down to make it into bite sized pieces. But for some people, it is so overwhelming when they zoom back and go okay, how is my eight year old going to write a paragraph one I can barely get on string together a couple words.

Dustin  19:35   Yeah, I couldn't agree more. The writing process is so interesting. You know, like if we if we take that idea of product versus process, then we start looking at okay, what is the process for different types of learning? I think in writing, so many students become overwhelmed. Maybe they're younger learners and they're overwhelmed with the sentence, right? They have these ideas for how they're going to write a sentence. For a start, or, you know, at the other end of the spectrum, maybe they're writing their college applications. And there's overwhelmed because it's so high stakes. And it's like, where do I start, and I would say, in writing, one, one little effective trick that I've found, is just encouraging students to, to write the first word. And if they can't think of the first purchase, write the, because that begins many sentences, right, and then think of the next part. So if they're overwhelmed with all that they have to write, that can be a great help. And a lot of times, it's like you're saying, you know, it's, there might be some missing steps there, maybe they've jumped to drafting, and maybe they haven't done the appropriate prewriting. And so I encourage students to brainstorm more ideas than they need. And then choose the best ideas, and then brainstorm in more detail. And then naturally, an outline often starts forming, right? As you brainstorm in more detail, maybe you're brainstorming for an essay, you start to brainstorm subtopics, and then you could think about supports for that. And then when their pages full of ideas, then it's so much easier to draft from that point. And if they're still struggling, you can use that extra trick of write the first word, if you can't think of the first word, just write and set a timer on top of that. I love that suggestion. Yeah. So those are some wonderful tricks, I think just to get going. And just to remember that, in each skill that you're developing with your students, there is a more specific process to be followed for writing, you know, prewriting, in general, prewriting, draft prewriting, which I would say it includes brainstorming or ideation. And then organizing those ideas. Maybe it's an outline, and then drafting, revising, looking at the bigger changes, editing, look at the smaller changes that need to take place, and then finalizing and I would add to that step that I would add to the process, sharing it as well, publishing in some way, which I have found has been a very powerful motivator.

Janna  22:15   And I'm excited to jump into this platform of sharing and publishing with you. But before I do, when you were giving your steps, I thought, and maybe another good tip for homeschool parents, is sometimes we sit there and we ask our kids, okay, brainstorm. And even with young learners, we'll say, Okay, well, we're gonna write about an animal right out a few animals, you know, and, and then you can't, they don't they're like, why this, you know, you can't get them to buy in. And I have found that more with my daughter's with math, but I think the same concept kind of applies, do it with them, you write your list, I'm gonna write my list. Brainstorm, once we pick an idea of the I'm gonna write my and then like, because a lot of times, I think something that we lose in homeschool, especially if you're only homeschooling one or few, you don't have that same collaboration that you necessarily would when you're in a brick and mortar. And I remember teachers say, Okay, now grab a partner and share your ideas. And, you know, and then we would laugh, and, you know, probably waste some time, but we were still in the learning process. And I think that, as parents, sometimes we get so focused on the finished product that we forget, like you said, the process, we can enter in that process with them, we can be that interaction that they may be missing, if we are, you know, smaller and smaller in number. But it's such an easy way to get them motivated when they see you doing it. So when my girls ended up being going to an outside math class, they would still come home and ask me for help. And they'd say, you do it too. You do it too, like we used to when we homeschool. And it really was helpful for them.

Dustin  23:57   I love that idea. Yeah. And I love the crossover here with tutoring, because you have that opportunity, as well. And sometimes you have that disadvantage. Like you're saying, right? You don't have you're not working with a whole group of students, you're working one on one. But I found that when you're writing along with your students, they're more motivated to keep writing. And I would also say that, you know, you can, you can enter in the process with them. Absolutely. And you can also show that you can show connection to other other people who have who have gone through that process or what they've overcome, or what they've accomplished with their projects. And that can be a motivator as well like looking at a finished project project or looking at, hey, this is what you did in the past. You know, here's something you completed in the past, and because you went through this process, so let's let's do that together. And then the other thing I would say is that the writing process can be social too. So when you're brainstorming, you can discuss ideas together for us, right? So you can, you can be involved in that stage especially. And then you want to create more and more independence with your kids, of course, but you can look for those areas where they might need, you know, a little bit more involvement for now, and then draw back a little bit more and more from those areas until they acquire more.

Janna  25:29   So we have, we have a finished product. And as a parent, we are are so proud that our kids, I mean, on so many levels, a, they accomplished it, a B, they did what we asked them to do. I mean, there's so many things that, you know, it's like this, this, we got this paragraph that and I mean, I know I'm sounding dramatic, but there are times where it's like, that paragraph feels like an award winning novel, because it felt like it took a lot to get to that point. So now we have a finished product. And your final or veteran was a final piece. But another piece of what you offer is this idea of publishing. So let's talk about what what that brings to the table, when we have accomplished what we set out to do in writing.

Dustin  26:12   Yeah, it's such, it's become such an area of interest for me, I had a student in I think it was 20. So it's fairly recently, he said, I want to publish, I want to share my work, I thought, why are we not doing this. And so we discussed and we worked on a project together. And at first what I thought publishing was going to be for our little online tutoring school was, you know, finding some, I don't know, newspapers, finding some big publication, we're gonna get into that. And it's going to be, it's going to be very motivating. And I think that's an important goal as well. But I realized that one of the, one of the reasons it was important is because I was, you know, was to acknowledge really what the student had accomplished. And in that process, I had knowledge of their growth as a writer that say, a big publication might not. So what we did is we created a form on our website where students can submit their writing, have a little bit of a bio about themselves. And they can get the recognition for what they have accomplished. Once they've gone through the full writing process, once they finalized it revised and edited. And then I was able to have my own little write up about where they were as a writer, how they grew through the process, and what this product represented for them. And then it just kind of grew organically from there, because it started to become more of a community, or, you know, I'm meeting one on one with students. So if you can imagine, there's not a lot of students do know each other, but there's not a lot of interaction between students. But this allowed for that, because students could now go on some of those blog articles, for instance, and they could say, hey, great job. And then we were also using those as some of our sample writings. So sometimes we'll mix professional writer writers and writings with student writings. So they can not only see the ideal example, but what might be the next step for them. And sometimes, that's a powerful motivator as well. Also, a lot of my students do know each other, they're in the same, you know, water polo clubs, or chess clubs, or whatever it might be. And so they can, they can kind of celebrate with each other or write similar articles, or an article that's a little bit different, or a short story that's a little bit different. And so I just found that it added so much to the learning process for my students, and has been also a powerful motivator for them, because it oftentimes, for a lot of students, they put so much work into the writing. And then it ends up, you know, maybe in school, it's on a teacher's desk, or they show it to a parent, and you have a check mark, and then they get back and, you know, maybe it ends up in a folder or recycling bed or something after a few months. And that's not very motivating process. When you've put in all this work, I think it needs to be recognized. And so publishing can be a way to do that. And there are a number of ways that that can be done at home as well. So maybe it's really simple, maybe have a bulletin board, and you can share with extended family members. Writing that somebody was proud of. You can share that you could have reading time where your kids read aloud their writings together. I'm sure that's something that a lot of home schoolers are doing. But just thinking about the different ways that students can share their writing is, is more than creates that extra step after finalizing the writing, where they can really feel motivated and feel recognized for the work that they did.


Janna  30:20   You know, I never thought about recognizing, especially if you have a student who's really struggling to get that done, and they like you said, they do all that work. And then it's like, Okay, now it's the next one. And it's like, wait, I just, you know, Where's where's the, I don't know, like, I don't even know, it's probably could be very demoralizing. Like, why would I even put all that effort and again, like, and I'm very guilty of that, as a homeschool parent, like I, I barely even scored their writing, because I was like, I just happen, I'm happy you did it, like, let's go to the next thing. And so maybe one suggestion for homeschool families is having them read it at the dinner, table it outside of your school time, where it's like prescribed, like, this is where we do school, so that maybe the parent who's not home during the day can also hear it, like, there's something about, like you said, you found you've tapped into this, there's something about sharing what you've done, and you're receiving feedback. And I mean, at that point it you know, you've worked out the kinks, and it's the final product at that, you know, for at that level. So, you know, having a share time reading at the table. It's just things that such simple things that I think we don't, we don't even know the impact it can have on our students. And then all of a sudden, you see this reluctant writer, excited because he knows on Wednesdays is his night to share with the family. You know, I mean, you it just, it can be so impactful. And so on your site, you actually have a place where students outside of your tutoring, are able to publish writing.

Dustin  31:59   Yeah, yep. So if you go to the homepage, and you click More, we have published and it's the only item on the menu that has an exclamation mark after it. And I find students pretty excited to publish their work once they've put in all that work. And so they just fill out their information, author bio, we do ask for grade, we're not sharing the grade anymore. But just to kind of get a sense of, you know, the different levels on our website, because it does vary quite a bit. We have, you know, second graders, fourth graders on there. And then the second page is the parental consent page. And then we do follow up with parents with the email provided for that. Yeah.

Janna  32:46   Awesome. I think that's a wonderful resource for, for homeschool parents who are looking for, you know, not to reinvent the wheel, because let's be honest, we just don't have time. But it's a way that maybe this could start, we can add this into what we're already doing. Okay, so you have something exciting that you would like to share with our listeners, that is another resource on your website that we can access. So what is that?

Dustin  33:12   Yeah, so I have created these video tutorials. And over time, I selected the video tutorial, the thought were the most helpful for essay writing. Now, this is for essay foundation. So it's not a particular genre. It's not like personal essays or argumentative essays. It's, it's having to the strong organizational skills, word choice skills, writing fundamental skills across the board. So there's 10 videos on a single page, it's on a PDF, and students can just go to our parents can just go to good English tutors.com. And from the homepage, I think it's the very first thing on the homepage, there's the buttons and click, it'll take you to the complete essay guide. What I've done is I've created these PowerPoint videos, where it walks students through, say writing a thesis statement, there's a whole video on how to write an excellent thesis statement or an essay. And there's practice within that video. So I actually asked students to pause the video or parents, you know, if they're the ones running it, which isn't ideal for the YouTube algorithm, I'm sure, but it is optimized for learning. So it's basically kind of just plug and play, you can just use these videos to teach these specific skills for essay writing. The goal is that at the end of completing these activities, with parent and educator or educator involvement, that students will have a strong foundation in essay writing. And then from there they can learn particular genres like literary analysis or the other genres that I mentioned earlier.

Janna  34:59   Well, that It's very exciting. I'm excited to watch those and, and myself become a better essay writer so we can always, we can always improve our skill. Just before we go, do you have a homeschool hack that you can share with our families?

Dustin  35:16   Yeah, so I think I mentioned that earlier, I do supplemental learning with my son. And I have found these little charts. So for people that can't see it, here, I'm trying to hold up a chart that I have a dispersed screen on. But basically what it is, is I have different I have this for the morning. And for bedtime, it's just a way for students to keep track of their routine and run their own routine themselves. So I use little Velcro stickies, and they can flip them up, so that it says Done. So for our learning. For the supplemental learning that I mentioned, I have math. So my son does a little bit of math, practice, lips, it up to the velcro sticky it says Done. And then we have new word spelling, reading Spanish, a new skill, and then he has some time to relax playing with playing the game. Once he flips those all up, it's done. And I've been so surprised with how excited he is to complete these routines. My son is a first grader. So it might be, you know, different for older children, of course, but I found that that is very helpful, especially for young students.

Janna  36:27   Well, thank you for that. I will say as a kid, any chart my mom created or used, I was super excited about because instead of it just being in my head, I could visualize and then see my progress outside of what I knew that I did. So I think kids humans, we all need that kind of visual to, to again, just give validity to the time that we spent and the things that we've done.

Dustin  36:54   Yeah, absolutely. So this is what it looks like when so so for those that that can see the video, I'm just holding it up here.

Janna  37:03   Very cute and not not overly, you know, complicated. I mean, sometimes I think, in the Pinterest social world, we have to like we get ourselves just like students get overwhelmed with the big picture. And we don't even start with anything and things don't have to our kids aren't looking for us to have mastered it and make these amazing things. I think they just want to see that we are aware of them and some of their struggles. And we're here to help them. And I think that is just a great part of being on this homeschool journey. So Dustin, I want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing your knowledge and we will put all the links in the show notes so that people can get your free resource and then check out good English tutors.com Thanks so much for being here.

Dustin  37:48   Thank you so much, Janna.

Janna  37:51   Thank you guys. Until next time, bye bye.