Category: Ask A Tutor

Aug 9

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 8/9/2016

Question: I just started working with a teenager in 10th grade and he is reluctant to do reading exercises. I get the feeling he is very far behind in reading level and is embarrassed about it. What can I do to make him more comfortable and to find reading material that can help improve his skills?”

I just started working with a teenager entering the 9th grade. She lives in a group home. I was asked to help her because they thought she might fail her English class. She was reluctant to work with me.

I discovered from her Student Questionnaire that she was dyslexic, but she loved to read teen mythology books. So, we started a book club for the summer. We’re both reading Demon King and for the last 3 weeks we’ve been discussing the book. Her reading comprehension is good, but I think she has trouble when she needs to read a word out of context. Best of all, she is starting to trust me.

Last week we discussed getting ready to go back to school and the areas she thought we should work on. She told me she wanted to work on math and science. I suggested we also work on English. I asked her if she’d be willing to take a couple of assessments that would help identify specific subjects we needed to focus. She agreed.

This week I’m giving her two assessments. One of the assessments is a list of words that she will read to me. I’m hoping this will give me a better idea if she has Dyslexia, or there is another problem we need to address.

So, in short, I would suggest finding something to read with your student that he enjoys, based on his personal interests, but that is at an easy reading level. Once he understands you aren’t there to judge him, he might be more comfortable doing an assessment to pinpoint his reading level.

Here is an example of a reading assessment you can do with your student. I hope this information helps you.

About the Tutor: Cathie Alter has been a School on Wheels tutor for one year.  She is a former law firm Administrator and CPA.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
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Jul 12

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 7/12/2016

Question: “I’ve found it very difficult to motivate my student over the summer. She doesn’t want to do the activities I bring because she says it’s not required–it’s not real homework. When we play a game or something she enjoys it but she doesn’t put any effort into the Academic Program worksheets. My student is 13, by the way. Any thoughts would be appreciated!”

You’re not alone! It can certainly be a challenge to motivate children over the summer, especially older students, who can be more skeptical. However, there are some steps you can take to ensure that you are maximizing the effectiveness of your sessions while also engaging your student’s interests.

  1. Plan your sessions with your student. Ask for her input. At 13, she probably has an idea of the areas she has difficulty with in school, and the two of you can decide together what to focus on over the summer to ensure she is ready for the next grade. Bring a calendar to your next session and plot out your remaining meeting dates, keeping short-term and long-term goals in mind. If your student knows she is working towards a definable outcome, she may be more motivated to participate.
  1. Incorporate student interests whenever possible. Use favorite song lyrics to discuss poetry, rhythm, and meter. Spend time reading your student’s favorite book series. Bring articles on sports or entertainment stars she is interested in. For math, try using real life examples. For instance, maybe she would like to save up to buy something that costs a lot of money. The two of you can work out how much she would need to save each week to purchase the item.
  1. Don’t rely on worksheets. While they are easy to prepare and definitely serve a purpose, worksheets can be dull for students, especially if that’s all you do during your sessions. Make sure you are incorporating other sorts of activities. You mention your student likes games–educational games can be a great resource over the summer. Try using an app from our digital learning database. Youtube is a great repository of informational and entertaining  videos that can be used alongside more traditional methods.

If all else fails, ask your student to teach you something interesting she learned over the past school year. Having your student review notes and materials from the previous grade will keep the information fresh in her mind and has the added benefit of making your student feel empowered. And remember, don’t give up. The hour your spend with your student each week and the interest you show in her education will have a lasting impact, even if you can’t see it now.

About the tutor: 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. She has been tutoring her own School on Wheels student for 8 months.

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

Jun 14

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 6/14/2016

Question: “I work with a fifth grader and it’s very difficult to get him to do more than one or two math problems during our sessions. He stalls and goofs off and drags his feet so much so that I feel like I am doing the work for him. I’ve tried to motivate him to be more proactive but he doesn’t seem to care about his grades.”

Working with upper grade students can be difficult, especially when it comes to motivating them to work outside of school.  One thing that I have found helpful when working with unmotivated students is to give them an academic survey to find out what is truly preventing them from wanting to do work, or as you explained, caring about grades. (See: Sample Math Survey

The survey should be short in length and include very general statements that your student can answer with “Agree”, “Disagree”, or “I don’t know”. Some examples of statements to include on the survey may be: Math is Boring. I like to do math in my head. I have always disliked math.  The great thing about student surveys is that most of the time, students are very honest.  Also, surveys provide good information that could help you to prepare more engaging math activities based on the student’s interest.  Finally, surveys allow you and your student to have a very honest discussion about math and attitudes toward the subject. In my experience as a classroom teacher and tutor, talking to students about learning can reveal weaknesses and strengths that will ultimately help you when planning work and in forming a closer bond with your student.  

One other option is to limit the amount of work you present during a tutoring session.  Since you know your student only has the stamina to do 1 or 2 problems, why not limit the session to 1 or 2 math problems, but challenging ones! There are lot of online resources where teachers have made word problems (sometimes called “math story problems”) based on pop culture or certain interests that require a specific math skill to solve.  In my classroom, I have also made word problems about specific students in the class. That personalization often increases the level of interest, especially in math.

Ultimately, once a child sees that you are taking an active interest in his/her learning, that child will usually be willing to do any kind of work you present…even math problems! It just takes time to develop the stamina and focus to study. Good luck!

About the tutor: Jackie Romo has been a School in Wheels tutor for nearly 9 years. Aside from tutoring, she teaches first grade in Rowland Heights and recently earned a MS in reading. She is happy to help in any way she can to make your tutoring sessions successful!

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?

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

May 17

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 5/17/2016

Question: “I’ve been working in a small residential group home for three months where there are usually three-five male teens. The staff don’t seem very encouraging about continuing over the summer, when students don’t have any homework. I mentioned it to the students and they seem to feel the same way, but I know the School on Wheels program suggests working through the summer. I’m not sure what to do. I would like to keep tutoring there and I think the boys could benefit.”

Staff Note: First, contact your regional coordinator and let them know that there is some question about summer tutoring. They will follow up with staff and reaffirm that we tutor over the summer–and why. See below for some great ideas on summer tutoring!

Pa Bayha: Why not take them on an educational trip?  This does not necessarily mean a physical field trip.  When I work with the gifted program on the Navajo Reservation, I take my vacation pictures and some artifacts I’ve collected, and they love it. I have introduced students to the history of Borneo and the orangutans, The Silk Road,  Ethiopia and the Omo Valley, and I am working on a slide tour of the Huntington Library American Art Gallery. Start with a discussion of vacations you have taken or do a Google search for a country they know nothing about. These kids need dreams for the future. If you have never heard of it, why would you want to go there? You can even plan a lesson on where in the world would you like to go and then research what to do, see, and eat there. With 3-5 boys that would be 3-5 lessons. Education is not just about homework, and you can have a lot of fun with your students doing these sorts of creative learning activities.

Jackie Romo: Tutoring in the summer can be tough for any student, but bravo to you for wanting to take the time to enrich your students’ lives! One approach might be to make the summer a ‘lesson study’ on a topic of their choice. For example, during one summer, my student and I did a series of science experiments to study the scientific process. We discovered how scientists make a hypothesis, test it out, and come up with some kind of conclusion. We read several books about scientists, conducted a few experiments, and kept a journal of all the information we liked from various science books. We also made a list of things we still had questions about. By the end of the summer, based on weeks of study, we decided to visit the Discovery Science Center where there was a “Bubblefest” that allowed visitors to do hands-on experiments–our favorite! It was so much fun and more importantly, it was a valuable learning experience. (Remember to follow field trip procedures.)

Depending on your students’ interests, you can focus on a concept based on a content area (math, science, history, literature, art) and study it the entire summer to become “experts.”  Near the end of the summer, you, a fellow tutor, and your students can take your expertise and visit a museum to further your learning! It might help your students stay motivated for the summer if they know they’re working toward a museum visit.       

About the tutors: Jackie Romo has been a School in Wheels tutor for nearly 9 years. Aside from tutoring, she teaches first grade in Rowland Heights and recently earned a MS in reading. She is happy to help in any way she can to make your tutoring sessions successful!

Pat Bayha has been tutoring with School on Wheels for over a year, and also tutors at Tuba City Boarding School on the Navajo Reservation. She is a former teacher with the Montebello Unified School District and has many years of experience teaching in inner city high schools, including advanced placement students and bilingual learners.

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

 

Apr 12

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 4/12/2016

Question: “I tutor a 6 year old at a public library. We have been meeting at the public tables near the computer area, and I find he is very easily distracted by whatever is going on. He doesn’t like to sit down and I can’t keep his attention for more than a few minutes. Also we have had difficulty with library etiquette–talking in quiet voices, not leaving papers or trash behind, etc. I don’t want to distract the other library patrons but there is no where else for us to meet.”

Setting behavioral expectations for younger students is often challenging, especially when a student has minimal or no preschool experience. To make a young student more engaged, I do my best to incorporate two things: consistency and interests.

For example, if possible, try to work in the same area of the library every time you have a session. This way the student starts understanding this is a “work area” and that there are different expectations for behavior in comparison to how he would act at home or somewhere else. It also helps to develop a consistent schedule. A possible session schedule could be:

(5 minutes) Review behavior expectations, play a quick game, and ask how he’s doing

(10 minutes) Work on reading/language arts homework

3 minute break – Does the student get an incentive for finishing his first assignment?

(10 minutes) Work on math homework

3 minute break

(10 minutes) Work on another assignment

(3 minutes) Review behavior expectations (Did he follow the rules? If not, what does he have to work on?)

Offering break times after completing assignments is crucial because students tend to be distracted after working for 10-15 minute periods. However, when implementing a break time, you need to set firm time limits. Using a phone or timer is helpful because when students hear the alarm, they understand that the break is over and that it’s time to work again.

You can also promote consistency by creating an ‘expectations chart’ that lists 3-4 rules for behaving in the library. For younger students, it’s important to keep rules short and concise and include many pictures in case they have trouble reading. Here is a good example of a rules list.

The second part to helping younger students become more engaged is incorporating their interests into the session. For example, if the student loves pirates, then pretend you’re on a treasure hunt when entering library. I tell my students that pirates have to be really quiet when they’re on a treasure hunt or else they will be caught and can’t get the treasure. At the end of the session if they’re showing a lot of perseverance and self-control, then you can give them a “treasure” as a reward. The treasure could be a sticker or free time or whatever else you want to use.

Have fun with your sessions! Remember, consistency is key!

About the Tutor: Natalie Platon has over seven years of experience working with K-12th grade students in different capacities and possesses a multiple subjects teaching credential. She has a deep passion for working in diverse and underserved communities and has worked in after-school programs, tutoring organizations, shelters, and schools. She currently works at KIPP Iluminar Academy in East LA as a full-time substitute teacher.

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

Mar 8

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 3/8/2016

Question: “My 7th grade student always seems to want to end our sessions early, after we have completed homework. I try to work on additional material with my student but she doesn’t seem interested or understand why I have brought extra work.”

Whenever I motivate my students to do extra activities, they always need a convincing reason for completing the assignment or else they’ll perceive it as extra homework. If I plan an extra activity for them, I always explain how the skill would be useful in solving real-world problems. Since your student is in 7th grade, an extra activity she could do is learn how to make a budget so that she can manage money more efficiently. This would help her learn how to save up money to buy something useful. And even though she are learning budgeting skills, she is also learning foundational math skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Now that she can see the benefit in learning how to budget, she should be more open to learning math skills.

Another approach is to take into consideration your student’s interests. For example, if you want her to improve her reading and writing skills and her favorite video game is Minecraft, you can have her write a paragraph about who created Minecraft and why they developed the game. This will help build her essay writing and sentence structure skills, and she will be more motivated to learn because she is writing about her favorite game. If you have a computer available, you can also have her watch a video of something she finds interesting and then have her write down what she liked about the video.

Essentially, to make any activity more appealing to complete, I always show my students how the activity will help them succeed when they get into high school, college, and beyond. Also, I try to incorporate things into the activity that are interesting to them.

About the Tutor: Natalie Platon has over seven years of experience working with K-12th grade students in different capacities and possesses a multiple subjects teaching credential. She has a deep passion for working in diverse and underserved communities and has worked in after-school programs, tutoring organizations, shelters, and schools. She currently works at KIPP Iluminar Academy in East LA as a full-time substitute teacher.

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