Category: Ask A Tutor

Jan 16

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 1/16/2018

For this month’s Ask A Tutor post, some of our tutors share their tutoring resolutions for the upcoming year. What are yours?

I tutor exclusively at shelters where homeless families stay for a few months. In the past I have focused almost completely on the students. However, they will only see me for a few months, and what they need is encouragement and help from their parents over the long term. So this year I am going to try to focus some of my attention on the parents and impart to them the important of consistently having their kid(s) do their homework and providing them with some resources to help them do that. Also, to consistently interact with their kids to teach them life skills and that there is nothing wrong with getting wrong answers, for each time is a chance to learn something new.–Richard Bennett

My 2018 tutoring resolution is to be consistent with my weekly tutoring sessions at Comunidad Cesar Chavez and not miss any sessions when the students are at school. If I do have to miss a session, I want to keep it to a minimum. I know the students I tutor look forward to our weekly sessions, and they always need help with their homework. Being consistent as a tutor will definitely help them close their academic gaps! –Natalie Platon

My 2018 resolution would be to use more resources such as Khan Academy and Teach My Monster to read to make sure my student gets to her reading grade level! I know that with the resources and my drive we will accomplish it!–Riley Hennessey

Thank you to all of our tutors for making 2017 an amazing year at School on Wheels. Here’s to an even better 2018!

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature? Email askatutor [at] or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.

Dec 5

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 12/5/2017

Question: “I had a conversation with my student recently about the holidays. She wanted to know all about my traditions and I told her about having my son and daughter-in-law and their new baby coming to visit for the first time, and how we like to stay at home and just be with family. I think my student felt a little bad afterwards thinking about her own situation. Now I’m concerned about what I should say/not say in the future and I was wondering if anyone had guidance about how to avoid these topics if your student asks.”

Thanks for sending in this question; it can be difficult to negotiate the tutor/mentor relationship around topics of home and personal life during the holidays. I think many tutors have been in a similar situation at some point, so don’t feel too badly about it. If your student asks a question like this, you don’t want to dismiss them or not answer, and it can be easy to overshare and not think about the context of their lives. Now that you’ve had this experience, I’m sure you will be more prepared in the future.

Some general rules: keep any comments brief and nonspecific. Avoid potentially triggering references regarding homes and family members. Keep in mind the context of your student’s living arrangements–i.e., are they with one or both parents? Are they in a group home with little contact with their families? Is one of their parents incarcerated? Are they living in a domestic violence shelter? Do they have any siblings who are incarcerated or living in foster care? All of these situations call for particular types of discretion.

However, you can still celebrate the season by discussing relatively neutral topics like your favorite holiday treats, songs and films. Last, let your student lead. Let them bring up the topics they are comfortable with, and never ask them how they plan to spend their holidays unless they share first. Remember, simply listening can be wonderfully supportive without the risk of bringing up a tender subject.

Amanda Carr joined School on Wheels in early 2015. As engagement specialist at School on Wheels, she is dedicated to providing volunteers with resources to help them succeed.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature? Email askatutor [at] or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.

Oct 24

Ask a Tutor Tuesday – 10/24/2017

Question: “My student doesn’t want to do anything but homework. I try to bring in other things like books or worksheets but he doesn’t put in any effort even though he is behind in his reading skills. He is in fifth grade.”

Thanks for this question; I think it’s a relatively common behavior for students to resist what they see as ‘extra’ work when they have homework to do instead, especially as they get older. I would suggest making the connection for your student about why this work is important for him to do. Since he is in fifth grade, he is getting to be mature enough to recognize where he might need improvement with certain skills.

Engage him in a conversation about what he wants to work on and be sure to give him choices, so he feels he has some say in the matter. This will, in turn, give him a sense of ownership and might strengthen his dedication. You might start a conversation with: “I know you have homework, and we will prioritize that during our sessions, but I am also here to help you strengthen skills and become a more fluent reader. What things could work on together in addition to homework that would help you in school?” Then, let him answer and see if you can agree on a schedule; maybe 30-40 minutes on homework and 20 minutes on skill-building activities. Over time, you can adjust as needed.

Last, make sure the extra materials you bring in are interesting to him. Some students are reluctant to do worksheets but eager to read a book about a subject they enjoy. Try to incorporate student interests whenever possible. Perhaps using a digital learning tool like Khan Academy might be beneficial. Also, it is possible that some of the materials you have presented are too advanced given his skill level. He may be resisting to avoid embarrassment over acknowledging what he doesn’t know. You could do an assessment with him to determine appropriate grade level materials. Also helpful: admitting when you don’t know something and modelling how to find out the answer. If you can show your student how to tackle the unknown as a fun learning challenge, rather than as something to dread, it will help develop his grit and determination, two important qualities for success in school.

Good luck!

Amanda Carr joined School on Wheels in early 2015. As engagement specialist at School on Wheels, she is dedicated to providing volunteers with resources to help them succeed.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?

Email askatutor [at] or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.

Sep 12

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 9/12/17

“My student is staying back a grade and the rest of his friends are moving on to high school. He doesn’t want to do his work and thinks it’s pointless because he is going to fail anyway. How can I get him motivated to work during sessions?”

As a teenager myself, I can empathize with this student.  Having to repeat a grade and being separated from your friends can be a blow to one’s confidence and cause levels of self esteem to drop. However, this doesn’t mean that a student should stop striving to make the most of his/her educational experience. Choose an appropriate time to sit down with your student and talk to him about his future. Remind him that his decisions can affect the course of his education. Choosing not take school seriously may cause him to be unqualified for future classes he will be interested in taking and even potential job opportunities.  

If your student is still discouraged because he will be separated from his friends, remind him that he can still hang out with them during lunchtime or outside of school. He will also make new friends in his classes, and this experience may open the doors to friendships that wouldn’t have been made otherwise.  

About the tutor: Zarina Yunis is in 9th grade and has been tutoring with School on Wheels since February 2016.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
Email askatutor [at] or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.

Aug 8

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 8/8/2017


“I’m working with a 6th grader and am having a hard time tutoring math. It’s so different from the way it was taught when I was in school. Sometimes I feel like I’m giving him the wrong information, and a couple of times I’ve definitely been wrong–and found it a little embarrassing. Any advice would be appreciated.”

My experience has been math is almost always the subject kids have problems with. I have a strong background in math, so usually my problem is how the subject is being taught in school.  I use a couple of sources. I first go to Khan Academy to see how they present the problem. I also have a number of books from third to sixth grade math on what the students should know and how Common Core is teaching it. Also, looking at the student’s book and homework assignment oftentimes has examples. Once I learn what particular section of math the student is working on, I will spend time prior to the meeting preparing so I don’t waste time when I am there. I always carry a small whiteboard and erasable markers to both show the student examples and let them work so I can see it. Additionally, seldom do students know the fundamentals very well (times tables, fractions, percentages), so I spend some part of the lesson reviewing them, usually with apps on a tablet.

Sixth grade might be algebra or geometry, and one of the first things I do is try to relate the subject to the real world. For example, algebraic equations are expressions of how nature works. The next time you go to a drinking fountain and press the handle, you will see that the water rises and then falls. The shape is a parabola and its equation is Y = X (squared). This can be too sophisticated mathematically, but it starts to help students understand the abstract nature of math.   

It is difficult to attempt to tutor a subject that you don’t know really well; however, today there are many online free courses that you can look at. Hope that helps.

Khan Academy Sign Up

About the Tutor: Richard Bennett graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and has a JD from Whittier Law School. In his professional career, he was a software engineer, sales and marketing executive, and business owner of a software and consulting firm. He has been a volunteer for SOW for nine years, and for the last five years he has tutored students at Family Promise of the Verdugos. He is also currently a member of the Board of Directors for the Glendale YWCA.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
Email askatutor [at] or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.

Jul 5

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 7/5/2017

Question: I tutor at a group home and the students never have homework. When I bring academic things to do they don’t want to participate. I feel like I’m not making any impact. They all definitely need help with basic skills.

That can definitely be a challenge! First of all, I would suggest increasing student ‘buy-in’ if possible. Many group home students are disenchanted with the educational system that they feel has left them behind and not addressed their needs. Even so, we understand as tutors that it is important to graduate from high school with the basic skills needed to get and hold down a job in order for these students to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Start by talking to the students about their interests and goals. You might use some of the BUS lesson plans here to introduce post high-school options. We also have been adding academic resources, including a page of supplemental resources that has more creative lessons and games to entice even the most reluctant student.

Once students are able to connect their dreams and plans to education, they are more likely to accept help. If the student is in danger of not graduating or dropping out, do what you can to encourage them. Mentorship is often more important with high school students than homework help. Talk to your student(s) about your job, your experience at college, your hobbies and interests. See what you can find in common. Building this trust and relationship first may help students to more readily accept academic support. Remember to be as genuine and honest as you can be during your interactions; students can detect insincerity and will shut down if they do.

You can always reach out to School on Wheels staff for support. Remember, working with teens can be difficult, but it is also one of the most rewarding types of tutoring.

Amanda Carr joined School on Wheels in early 2015. As engagement specialist at School on Wheels, she is dedicated to providing volunteers with resources to help them succeed.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
Email askatutor [at] or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.