Category: Ask A Tutor

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

 

May 9

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 5/8/2017

Question: My student seems advanced for his age. He’s 11 and can complete most of the homework we do with only a little prompting. I’m looking for a way to challenge him in our sessions. Any ideas?

It’s wonderful that your student seems to be doing so well in school. First, I’d suggest making sure you are covering all of the bases in your sessions and not just working on homework that he knows is easy for him. Some students don’t want to work on their more difficult assignments in order to avoid looking ‘not smart’ in front of someone else. However, if this isn’t the case, there are several things you can do to challenge your student.

  • See what he would like to learn. If your student has a very inquisitive mind, it is likely he would enjoy exploring some of his interests. For example, if he enjoys science, he might enjoy doing an experiment with you. If sports is an interest, you might do some research together on a particular player or team. If he is an avid reader, maybe the two of you can select a more advanced novel or nonfiction book to read.
  • Introduce him to one of your passions. Whether it is your career, a hobby, or a subject you are very knowledgeable about, hearing about your interests will be inspiring to your student. Better still, bring in some props to illustrate–books, photographs, tools–anything you think will be a learning experience for him.
  • Try doing some advanced math or ELA work from the Academic Program.
  • Bring in some brain teasers or other fun but challenging games, like a sudoku puzzle.

Remember, homework is only one part of the tutoring experience. The more you can engage your student in learning, the better.

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.

Mar 21

Ask a Tutor Tuesday – 3/21/2017

Question: I work in a group home. What right do I have to “put my foot down” and make them work? If they say they don’t want to work, what can I do?

Cathie Alter: Working in a group home is very challenging. I find I have to build a relationship and gain their trust before they will participate in the tutoring session. It took me four months to get the student I’m currently working with to fully engage in our math tutoring sessions. I started out by finding something she did like, which was reading and history. Initially, we spent the full hour discussing books and talking about Thomas Jefferson. I gradually started to increase the amount of time we spent on math. We now spend at least 75% of our time working on math and 25% visiting. It took awhile, but it was worth it. Her math skills have improved, and I can tell she is proud of herself. I hope this helps.

Amanda Carr: It can be challenging to work with older students, especially if they are unmotivated. As a tutor, your primary purpose feels like it should be helping with schoolwork, so it can be frustrating when those plans are thwarted. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to help motivate high school students. However, you must keep in mind that School on Wheels tutors are in shelters to tutor and serve as mentors–not to discipline. Remember that many students have had bad experiences with teachers and adults, and they may also be ashamed of what they don’t know. You cannot ‘make’ a student work, but you can use some tactics to persuade them.

  1. Like Cathie said above, if a student doesn’t want to work on homework, don’t force it. Have a conversation about something else, and find out what they are interested in, whether it is books, music, sports, etc. You can then use this information in future sessions, perhaps bringing in an article in on the subject to discuss. Take time to build a relationship with them, and they will be much more likely to go along with tutoring.
  2. Use our BUS Program, which is a mentoring program designed to get students to think about life after high school, as well as encourage them to graduate. There are several activities, like the Career Zone Make Money Choices exercise, which shows how education influences lifetime finances and goals.This might work to motivate them to complete their homework.
  3. Let your student lead. Ask them to teach you something. They might be completely surprised about what they know–and surprise you with their enthusiasm, as well.

The most important thing to remember is that even if you can’t get your students to work on homework, you are modelling good behavior by being present with them every week. Be creative and be flexible, and don’t forget to have fun!

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

Amanda Carr joined School on Wheels in early 2015. As engagement specialist, 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.

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.