Vince Kotchian grew up in small-town Connecticut and completed the honors program at Boston College, graduating with a B.A. in English Literature. Though he loved the intellectual climate of Boston, it eventually dawned on him that life would be much better without Boston’s physical climate (long, gray winters and muggy summers)! He moved to San Diego in 2007, and he’s been working full-time as a test-prep tutor and author ever since. When a student texts him that she aced the test or got into her reach school, he still literally jumps up and down and grins.
In his spare time, he likes traveling using miles and points (next trips are Spain and Japan), reading fiction (favorite authors too numerous to list but include Haruki Murakami, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Philip Pullman), watching The Great British Bake-Off (and sometimes actually baking things), hiking and camping, and rooting for the Red Sox and Patriots. He lives in the Kensington neighborhood with his hilarious wife and their crazy cat.
Vince tutors the SAT, ACT, and GRE (and teaches classes).
He meets with students in his Sorrento Valley office or online.
I’m happy to introduce a new series for this blog: each month, I’ll be posting a short interview with a different tutor. While I no longer tutor myself, I still get asked for recommendations of tutors who use Critical Reader books/methods, and so I’ve decided to introduce readers to these people directly. The first installment, below, is with reading and writing specialist Valerie Erde. Valerie student-taught with me for several months, and her students have consistently achieved outstanding results on both the SAT and the ACT. She recently founded her own company, Veridian Prep.
Tell us about Veridian Prep
VeridianPrep is a Greenwich, CT and NYC-based test prep, tutoring, and college advisory company that prides itself on a small, but highly experienced, team of subject experts that provides personalized, evidence-based, and structured instruction and guidance to get measurable results for our students and families. We believe that excellent diagnostics, high-quality instruction and materials, and individualized attention have been the keys to our students’ successes.
The Native Society, an online platform for innovation and entrepreneurship, recently interviewed me about my experience founding The Critical Reader as part of its NativeAdvice series.
From the interview:
How did you get into the industry?
In 2008, I was tutoring a student for the Writing section of the SAT. I didn’t want her to use up all the questions in the Official Guide, and so I went to the bookstore looking for additional practice material. I looked through the standard offerings and was pretty shocked at how poorly they reflected the actual test. I’d already written practice questions for a bunch of independent companies, but until then, it had never occurred to me that I could write my own materials. But as I looked through the guides on the shelves, I thought, “I can do so much better than this.” (more…)
Exciting announcement: www.breakingthecode.com, the new site that I’m co-hosting with my colleague Richard McManus of The Fluency Factory, is finally live (pats self on back for setting up and designing a website entirely from scratch, with only a minuscule amount of help; to my tech people, you’re awesome, but apparently I’ve learned a thing or two in all my years of wrangling this site into shape).
So the good news is that I’ll finally get out of everyone’s hair about little-kid reading problems—even though, for the record, they tend to turn into big-kid reading problems—and stick to writing about testing and admissions-related topics (well, mostly).
Kidding aside, Richard and I really want this to become a major resource for people involved in reading instruction, whether out of personal or professional interest. Richard and his tutors do phenomenal work getting kids who’ve fallen behind in reading back on track.
Last fall I was lucky enough to spend a few days hanging out with them, and I can testify to their dedication and effectiveness. If anyone reading this has a child, or knows anyone who has a child, struggling with reading, I really encourage you to get in touch. (Because of the Coronavirus situation, they’re working exclusively online and on a pay-what-you-can-afford model.)
For anyone who wants an overview of the basics of teaching reading, I’m also planning to make available a short (just over 30- page) downloadable guide to the major concepts. There’ll probably be a small fee, but not more than a few dollars. I started out intending for it to be very bare bones, but the more research I did, the more I realized had to be included, and it kind of spiraled from there…
One of the things I realized was the extent to which really key information about reading instruction is diffused over a very wide range of sources, many of which are quite dense and not particularly accessible to a non-academic audience. I’d be skimming through an article or an interview that I’d found half by chance, and all of the sudden I’d read something that made me think, “This is so incredibly important—how did it take me so long to learn this, and why isn’t it common knowledge?”
Then I’d read blog comments left by people who were struggling to teach reading and realized they hadn’t been trained well but couldn’t find a primer that explained just what they needed to know. So obviously I had to take it upon myself to write one;)
So please feel free to pass this along to anyone you think might be interested, and if you’re interested in contributing, please drop us a line!
In the course of my recent research on the phonics debate, I came across an idea that in retrospect should have seemed obvious but that nevertheless seemed entirely surprising when I encountered it—namely, that a reliance on context clues is a strategy employed primarily by poor readers.
Consequently, when schools teach young children to use context clues as a decoding aid, they are actually encouraging them to behave like weak readers. Strong readers, in contrast, rely primarily on the letters themselves to figure out what words are written.
According to Louise Spear-Swerling, professor of Special Education at Southern Connecticut State University:
Skilled readers do not need to rely on pictures or sentence context in word identification, because they can read most words automatically, and they have the phonics skills to decode occasional unknown words rapidly. Rather, it is the unskilled readers who tend to be dependent on context to compensate for poor word identification. Furthermore, many struggling readers are disposed to guess at words rather than to look carefully at them, a tendency that may be reinforced by frequent encouragement to use context. Almost every teacher of struggling readers has seen the common pattern in which a child who is trying to read a word (say, the word brown) gives the word only a cursory glance and then offers a series of wild guesses based on the first letter: “Black? Book? Box?” (The guesses are often accompanied by more attention to the expression on the face of the teacher than to the print, as the child waits for this expression to change to indicate a correct guess.) (more…)