Wednesday, May 09, 2007

tutoring refresh

last week i spoke with a literacy specialist from the organization that placed me as a tutor. we discussed my situation for an hour one weeknight, and when i hung up the phone, i was energized. she was quite thorough, enthusiastic, and pragmatic; she asked thoughtful questions and offered fun solutions, while reminding me that my job was not to be a phonetics expert or to teach this young child to read, but to engage and influence a love of reading, so that her confidence is lifted and the reading comes because she wants to read.

i shared with her that my tutee seemed most engaged when i encouraged silliness and games--i'm not a teacher when i giggle and jump around! the specialist suggested books and activities to insert fun into our weekly hour together, and i experimented with her ideas last week.

what a difference.

first, the specialist suggested strongly i request a more private area for us to meet, because the distraction of other kids, and frankly, the lack of discipline and order, impact my tutee's focus and desire to be present with me, reading. we were in luck: a teacher next door cancelled class that day, so we had a big room to ourselves. the first major difference was my tutee's openess. she had never shared anything about herself, and certainly never showed signs of ever opening up without provocation. this time, she offered information about her family life, and several times interrupted a story to tell a relevant bit about her life. hooray! she was obviously more relaxed in a private setting, and was able to focus on me as a person--not a teacher who reminds her to keep focused, to stop messing around, and to PLEASE listen.

we read books more than once, where getting comfortable with the story was the first reading (i read) and the second reading introduced a fun element. the fun part included a game she wanted to play (i spy...), her pretending to be animals in the story, and other fun stuff. the hour whizzed by!

and tonight i learned that she remembered how fun last week's activities were. she came in, sans smirk, sat down, and produced a book she said she wanted to read. it was a primer from school with very basic 3- or 4-page vignettes. she read the entire book out loud. it was tremendous! the specialist had encouraged me to allow her to memorize books or passages, the thought being that over time she'll recognize patterns and words. this is precisely what transpired with this book: at times she guessed--and she almost always guessed correctly--but she was definitely learning and reading, and MY GOODNESS her improved confidence was like having a different child next to me. she focused on words when she couldn't read them, and she learned from our last meeting that it really was ok to admit she needed help.

whew. this kid and i may make it after all!


kq said...

really exhilarating to read this report.

well done. and such a gift -- as you know -- to foster a love of reading. it is also significant that you moved her to a room where you got to be alone. i wonder how often people focus on her for positive, pleasurable activities? this is, in fact, another gift you are giving her.

cj said...

This is how I feel after sitting and reading with Henry many times. It is amazing to see the gears meshing and creating progress and the excitement that comes when he is engaged and asking questions about the various happenings in the books. Please keep sharing and if you need any suggestions for books, please let us indulge our librarianishness with some recommendations - I so rarely get to do that with other people - chris

sarah said...

this is so great. thanks to both of you for your thoughtful comments.

cj: like you, although i update a couple people on my experiences, i rarely get a chance to share ideas and learn from people who spend time with kids. speaking with the literacy specialist was such a gift. her encouragement and solid feedback gave me more confidence and renewed energy. this is fun!

cj: i've been keeping a list of books i've read and have been meaning to capture my ideas in one place. perhaps the blog is the place to do it!

sarah said...

and kq: as i imagine you've guessed: no adults spend focused time with her. it's so obvious she uses her bad behavior to get an adult's attention. the really sad part is that the person in charge of the center where i volunteer is too immature to realize that her lack of encouragement toward my tutee is really hurting her. this little girl wants this woman to notice her improvement, and she ignores her. it's very upsetting.

jini said...

oh sarah, your ability to put yourself on her level and add fun to the mix (one of YOUR special gifts) is working with this little girl. she is lucky to have been assigned to your care.
hopefully you can have a quiet place to meet with her in the future where she will feel less exposed and know that you care and are interested in her successes. way to go!!

sandy said...

You've started my day off with a smile and a virtual "high five." Aside from the improved reading, how wonderful that you have inspired some trust in her, so that she has opened up with you a little bit. It's quite an inspiring feat - although keep in mind that the forward trajectory won't always take place. Keep up the great work!

skabob said...

Too cool. Sounds a lot how I remember the beginning of the reading. Keep being awesome.