How is your SAT program different from those offered in other places?
The title of this blog is a recurring question I have come to hear quite often in the past few years. To this question my first reaction, years back, was a personal, non-business one, as it did take a few years for me to get used to the notion that I was indeed “in a business.” Even if I founded Jeng Academic Center in 2004 at the age of 46, obviously no longer young, I morphed my role as a scientist to that of a tutor without going through much change in my mindset. I had been an ardent learner and reader all my life and had been reading whatever I enjoyed reading– typically English and Chinese literature, eastern and western philosophy, science, history, poetry– without caring the least what other people were reading. I hence never paid attention to how others were conducting their SAT workshop, not out of arrogance or lack of diligence but through a most spontaneous process. I simply began teaching, in the way I had learned to learn. The so-called pedagogue evolved naturally from my own search for ways to pass on what I have learned as a student, while playing the role of a teacher. That is how I began teaching.
But such question does allow me to think about my own teaching and forces me to ask: what is it that I want to pass on to my students? Teaching is, after all, more an art than a methodology, since we are dealing with human beings and no human being could be molded into any preset ideology. In the following passage I wish to lay out, clearly and simply, my goals for SAT workshop, and by extension, all other classes I teach.
The goal of my teaching is to help students develop a habit of Clear Thinking, an Orderly Mind, and Deep Understanding.
I shall begin by quoting a sentence from the King James Bible:
“Let all things be done decently and in order.” – Corinthians 14:40
Order is the key word. Students come and go in my SAT workshop, and those who most swiftly accomplish their goals are those who do things in the right order. By right order I mean gaining understanding of all concepts first, and then following it up with practice and application of these concepts in math, grammar, writing, or reading. Rushing to “do the test” without stopping to take care of basic concepts is the cause of little progress. And what is the order we are seeking? “There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.” (italics quoted from George Santayana)
Take writing as an example and do the following reasoning:
Is not writing a matter of thought communicated from mind to mind?
Is not sentence an expressed form of the thought to be communicated?
Is not studying the science of sentence construction a prerequisite to clear, effective thought communication, i.e., writing?
Is not grammar the science of sentence construction? Is not the study of grammar an unavoidable way to master this science?
Is not, it follows, understanding all the grammatical rules a necessity before embarking on the writing section of the SAT test?
Is not learning the sentence structures of prime importance in understanding people’s thoughts, i.e., the reading and writing section?
Alas, some students rush to tackle the test without clearing these “backyard understanding” and fail to make significant improvement.
This simple reflection quickly makes us realize one thing: Thinking is a way of living, and the most vital way. And since we do our thinking in our mind, it is essential that we make our mind orderly. If we continue with this thinking, we might even agree that our subconscious mind takes the orders we give it based upon what our conscious mind believes and accepts as true. We should be careful of what we think.
Therefore I suggest my students not to take grammar lightly. It has been said that logic is a refined form of grammar, and no one can write a good argumentative essay without proper logical reasoning, the lack of which invariably lies at the root of poor essay writing.
That is the reason I urge my students not to care about their scores yet when they find themselves still mired in fuddled concepts related to math, grammar, and reading problems. Those who did pick up this understanding and did apply it to their study have found their efforts worthwhile. Indeed, I encourage all students to study diligently; more importantly, to study wisely. If they learn to love learning and knowledge before they love their SAT scores, they will find that things will fall into places timely, orderly, and logically. It is my wish that at the end of the day, they all go home happy.