Category: Ask A Tutor

Feb 21

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 2/21/2017

Question: “My 7th grade student just started a new middle school in January and is having difficulty catching up. She wasn’t enrolled for a couple of months because the family was moving and they are on different material. How can I help her?”

Cathie Alter: I think it’s important to confirm that change is difficult for everyone, but many times it turns out to be better than what you had in the past. I recommend spending time talking about her new school, teachers and students. Let her know that you’re there to help her, and if you work together, she’ll catch up very quickly.

Pat Bayha: Oftentimes, the English vocabulary and social studies material will be online. You can work on it as you tutor weekly. Vocabulary tests are easy to create, as well.

Amanda Carr: As the other tutors emphasize, it’s important to let your student feel supported. Since students miss so much school as they move, they can often get overwhelmed. Work with your student on the subject(s) she needs the most help with. Often this might be math, since mathematical principles are built upon progressively.

You might also see about getting permission to contact your student’s teachers. Usually they will meet with students and ensure they receive any work they’ve missed and help them get caught up. They might have material for you to review with her. Remember that teachers are busy, however, and may not respond to your request.

Last, remember you can’t complete all of the student’s homework each week. Your tutoring hour is best spent on making sure she understands the most fundamental concepts in math and English language arts.

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.

Jan 24

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 1/24/2017

Question: “I tutor my student at a shelter with a bunch of other kids, and tutoring takes place in the play room so often other children come in and out and distract my student. She is seven and in the second grade. How do I deal with this?”

Jackie Romo: As tutors, we always need to be flexible in where we are able to work with our students. At one point, my student and I met in the shelter’s dining area where there were always adults and children coming in and out of the room.  Below are some things that I found successful when tutoring in a busy area:

  1. Move around. One way to avoid distraction is to get up and move. If you are working on math, have your student hop, jump or clap out addition/subtraction equations.  If you’re reading, act out a part of the book. In one session, my student and I would take turns reading aloud. One of us would read and the other would act out the scene. It helped my student be able to retell the story, and it required good listening skills.
  2. Be more hands-on. Whenever other children or adults would come in to the room where my student and I were working, WE would often be the distraction. Try to make your activities more hands-on so that your student is completely engaged in some kind of task. Use math manipulatives, flashcards, magnetic letters, colorful pens or markers for writing or learning games that require a game board or game pieces. There are lots of free resources on the internet that allow you to print out pre-made game boards in various subjects areas. These are always a big hit with students!
  3. Set expectations. Though not all activities can be active or hands-on, setting clear expectations with your student can help avoid distractions. With one of my students, I used to set aside the last 15 minutes of tutoring time to play a game. (His personal favorite was Uno!) If we got all of the work done and stayed focused, we’d have time to play. More often than not, my student worked hard to finish and avoided talking to his friends that walked into our session.

Tutors Jennifer No and Pat Bayha add: You need to get out of the playroom. Maybe either ask for a different space to work in from the tutoring location or give your student an incentive for concentrating for periods of time. For example, every 8 minutes the child concentrates on his assignment, he can have 4 minutes of free time, or maybe a small reward.

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!

Jennifer No has been tutoring with School on Wheels for about a year. She is interested in pursuing a career in psychology and neuroscience in the future.

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.

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.

Oct 25

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 10/25/2016

Question: “My current student is in 7th grade. I had previously worked with mostly Kindergarten and 1st graders and obviously knew the answers to their work, but 7th grade assignments are starting to get challenging! If I don’t know how to do something, how should I handle it in that moment? More importantly, how can I prepare better for future sessions so I’m not in that position again?”

This has happened to me at all levels, middle through high school. Ian Chan, the Digital Learning Coordinator with School on Wheels, suggested that I first ask the student what they do know. I then tell the student we’re going to learn together by researching the problem on-line. The sites I use the most are SOW Volunteer Resources and Khan Academy. I also volunteer at a group home and have found that one of the other girls can sometimes help answer the question. I love it when this happens because both girls are learning.
– Cathie Alter

Most teachers also give out directions in a handout or write it on the board. Some students do not take the initiative in copying it down. The study habits of shelter kids is usually deficient. Urge them to always write down board instructions and always have the phone number or two of a class buddy. They probably have someone to call as they are all into social media.Make certain they know that the responsibility is on them and NOT the teacher’s fault. No responsible teacher is going to give out an assignment unless they have done the assignment before without clear instructions. Kids are big on “it’s not my fault”, but we want to encourage them to take responsibility for their learning. Even if they don’t have a cell phone, though a lot of them do by the 7th grade, there is always a pay phone. OMG!! A pay phone!!
– Pat Bayha

About the tutors:

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

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.

Sep 27

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 9/27/2016

Question: “My 8 year old student is very shy. We have met three times now and I find it hard to get her to contribute more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to my questions. Do you have any suggestions on getting her to open up and be more proactive in tutoring?”

It’s possible this child has very low self esteem or has gone through a traumatic experience. In your sessions, do what you can to make her feel confident by praising and rewarding her for her efforts. You should also think about incorporating high-interest learning material to engage her. For example, teach her to say hello in several different languages and how to count in them as well. Students enjoy learning things others may not know. Praise her a lot for any little improvement you observe. It takes a long time to repair feelings of inadequacy, and if she has experienced trauma, she may have heard or felt that things are her fault. Counteract that feeling when you can. She may also be reluctant to trust adults. The more time you spend with her on activities that make her feel accomplished, the more she will hopefully come to trust you and participate more enthusiastically.

It’s also possible that your student is simply shy and needs patience. The strategies above will work for shy students as well, particularly the method of using high-interest subject matter to inspire participation. Find out what movies, music, sports or books your student likes and incorporate them whenever possible. Last, make sure to take it easy on yourself and your student. Tutoring relationships, like all relationships, take time to grow and develop, and expecting too much too soon will only discourage you. Take it one session at a time, and before you know it, your student will be excited to see you every week.

About the tutors:

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.

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

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

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.