Tutoring pictures

I’ve tutored ESL and special-needs kindergarteners for about five years.  When I first started, I wondered how I would do it.  Thankfully, the teacher has a lot of tools to use.  They seem like games to the kids, but in the meantime they learn their letters and then how to put them together to make words.

Here is an example.  Here is a brown paper bag with small toys inside.

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In this case, a pig, a bat, and an egg.

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There are cards with a picture of each image and the letters that spell it out.  The child then finds the letters that match and puts them on top of the ones on the card.  This way they associate these letters with that item.  This is a good time to notice if a child has dyslexia, as b, p, d, and q are all very similar.  I notice if they reverse the letters and report it to the teacher so she can refer them for extra help.

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Here are some other things we play with to teach children how to read and write.

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The teacher gives me a list of what children I need to work with, as well as what tools to use with them.

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I like that there are different sized chairs for us to use.  Everybody needs a chair that fits them.

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The entire school collected bottle caps throughout the year and did various things with them – counted, sorted by color, and made art projects.  It was a free way to get items that could be used to teach in various ways. Here is a snowman that was created with caps.

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Here are some outside scenes.  The HVAC unit is impressive.

I’m not sure what this is but I like the patina and the graffiti.

 

The brick walls have interesting textures.

A radiator?

Mud and straw from a hiking boot on a rainy day.

And finally, a picture of one year’s class.  They had made “glasses” to wear.

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Dolphins are intelligent because they play a lot.

The students were showing their projects one day last week. They got to teach me instead of me teaching them. They had just been to the zoo and each student completed a project about her or his favorite animal. They were to say where the animal lived, what it liked to eat, and any interesting facts about it. After that, the other students could ask questions. Now, remember these are kindergartners so sometimes the questions are a little unusual. Also, half of the kindergartners don’t have English as their first language so sometimes the questions are even more unusual.

One of the students did a report on dolphins. At the end, another student asked “Why are dolphins intelligent?” She thought about it for a while and was stumped. I understand – it’s kind of an unusual question. The teacher thought about it and she prompted “Well, what makes you intelligent?” to the student who was showing her project. She thought about it and she said “Because they like to play a lot.

I was stunned at how amazing an answer that was. Play makes you intelligent. She’s got it. That’s the answer. I immediately had to find a pen and a piece of paper so I can write that down.

A second student asked “Why do they like to play a lot?” She thought about it and answered “Because it takes care of them.”

This kid at five has the answer. Play makes you intelligent and it helps you. The sentences don’t make a lot of sense but there is so much truth hidden within them.

Kindergarten 2-12-14. Boundaries

Today I had a lot of students! M and D, (new students from last week), along with J, S, and V. S once again did not want to work with me. He said that he doesn’t like to read, and since there is almost always reading going on when I tutor, he doesn’t want to. His loss, but other student’s gain. It means more time with the ones who want to work.

We were working with reading easy books, sight words, and numbers today. Each student has a box with books and sight word cards that are at their level. I started with M, in part because he was first on my list but also in part because he was sitting at the edge of the classroom by the door. It seems that he had gotten a little rambunctious during class earlier so he was sent to sit in the doorway to cool down. This is not the first time that I’ve seen him there.

He read two books to me, but then admitted that he had them memorized. He was using the pictures as a clue to what was on the page. This isn’t reading. This is an adaptive technique. This is what you do if you can’t read and you want to make it look like you can. I totally get that. He’s faking it, and doesn’t know he shouldn’t be faking it. The more he relies on being able to memorize, the less he is going to be able to learn new things. When he memorizes he can only do things he has done before.

I got to work with D, the girl from last week who was out. She is a very shy Hispanic girl. She is quite far behind on reading at this point. I suspect I will work with her again.

I worked with J and this time I decided to be firm about actually working. In the past he has occasionally thrown the things we were working with on the floor and shoved them around the table. He is rather wild. I just don’t have time for wild and it isn’t a great behavior to encourage. So the first time he dropped a book on the floor I asked him not to do that. The second time he did was soon afterwards and I said “OK, we’re done” and started scooping up the materials. He got it. He understood I was serious. And he worked and didn’t goof off the rest of our time together.

I’ve not gotten any training on this. I have tutored college students with learning disabilities. Kindergarteners should be easy right? But I don’t have children, and I’ve never spent that much time around them. This experience is certainly on the job training.

Part of what I’m learning is how to tell when the child is legitimately bored or uninterested, and when they are just messing around. Sometimes they just want to play. Sometimes they want to distract me from working with them, which then means they want to play.

I get that. I like to play too. But this is kindergarten, not daycare. It is hard to tell sometimes. There is a bit of dovetailing between the two. The teacher makes work look like play a lot. But I still have to get them to work on the assignment or we are both wasting our time.

It reminds me of when I first started working at the library. I had to set boundaries and limits, otherwise it would all become a big mess right in front of me. When I am at the desk, I do one thing at a time.

I believe that multitasking is just Newspeak for screwing three things up at once. So I had to set limits with the patrons. I had to decide what I would accept and allow and what I wouldn’t. Generally what I won’t allow is someone cutting line unless there is a legitimate emergency. Wanting to have their DVDs checked in right away so they can get more is not an emergency. Also, if I’m getting someone a library card, I have them stay in front of me while they fill it out and I type. This prevents other patrons from interrupting. I think it is best. Otherwise I’ll end up with three patrons who all want cards at once.

I’ve seen how much of a train wreck things become when it isn’t done like this. You can’t please everybody at once, and the only way to do things well is to focus on the person in front of you.

But I don’t really know the rules with five year olds. I’ve tutored for three years and I figure it out a little bit more every week. Perhaps if I tutored every day I’d know how to do it better. But then I realize that each child is different. Each child has her own unique and special way of understanding the world. And while I’m trying to teach her how to read by learning these arbitrary squiggles that we use for letters, she is showing me inside her world.

It is pretty amazing.

I’m grateful for the time I get to work with them, and I’m further reminded that I don’t think I would have the patience to be a teacher or a mom. I can borrow them for few minutes once a week and I’m overwhelmed.

Kindergarten 2-5-14

I had a few different students on my list today. We are working on numbers. We are writing them, counting to 100, and just counting in general.

V and S were on my list, but not J. Then there was a new girl, D, and a new boy, M.

J asked me if he was on my list and I gently told him no. He sunk in his chair a little but didn’t get angry like he has in the past. That alone is a good thing. I worry about him and his anger. He gets so frustrated so easily. That leads to more problems that cause more frustration. The sooner he gets that life doesn’t go the way you want it to, the better he will be. Life goes the way it goes and you’d better adapt to it, rather than the other way around.

D wasn’t here today. I didn’t get to meet her. The teacher was sad about this. She’d done a lot of preparation for our time together and it didn’t happen.

S was playing when I found him. I asked him if he wanted to go work and he didn’t. No problem, that just means more time with the rest on my list. He looked tired too, so I didn’t think he’d work hard today.

I went to M. And asked him if he wanted to work on numbers with me today. I’m glad he agreed. I was concerned that since we hadn’t worked together it would seem strange to him to start now. Plus, I’ve noticed him before. He interests me. He seems a little more intense than most of the kids so I’m curious what is going on in his head.

My instructions said that he was having difficulty counting to 100. So after a warm up of counting other things, I asked him to count to 100 for me. He started out ok, and then when he got to 29, the next number was 60. He gave 60 as the number at least three other times, not including the correct time. I’m not sure what his fascination with 60 is.

When he would get to the end of a group of ten, he would pause and look upwards. I waited for a bit. When the answer didn’t come I’d give him a tip. If we were in the 40s, I’d hold out four fingers and ask what comes after four? He’d say five, and then translated it into fifty. I had to do this several times.

We worked on a few more projects and then I went to get V. Since she had skipped working with me last week I a bit to get her to work with me. Two weeks in a row to skip isn’t a great idea. I asked her to work with me. I didn’t make it a question. I didn’t say “do you want to work with me” She smiled and declined anyway. I pointed out that I didn’t get to work with her last week and I missed her. This helped. Perhaps she works with me to make me happy. She’d rather play. But for me, shell work. Sometimes.

It was a bit of teeth and hair pulling at the start, but by the end she did the assignment perfectly. At the first she was trying to distract me. I’m hip to that now. Then she wasn’t doing it correctly not just a little bit but a lot. I’d ask her to put seven beans in a cup and shed put three, one at a time, but then start grabbing handfuls to finish. She has small hands but it was way more than seven. I pulled them all out and had her count them back to me.
Smiling all the time with her impish smile, she counted it wrong again and differently. I kept trying to redirect her. No dice. So I switched to another task.

It was still numbers, but approaching them in a different way. If a crowbar won’t work, try a pair of pliers.

There was a sheet with hearts and stars and circles on it. There were several, and they weren’t quite in a row. The best way to count them was to mark through them one at a time to make sure something didn’t get missed or counted twice.

V wasn’t hot on that. She wanted to race ahead. I slowed her down and insisted that we do it slowly and told her about how sad the different images (stars, hearts, etc.) are if they don’t get to be invited to the party. They all want to go, and if they don’t get counted, they get left out. This seemed to work for a bit. Then she said something that didn’t make any sense. I asked her again, and essentially what she said was would I miss her if she died.

I said that of course I would miss her. I look forward to working with her every week.

I don’t think she meant died, so much as do I notice her, is she valuable. I get the impression that she’s an afterthought at home. I’ve said several times to her how much I look forward to working with her the next week. I want her to stay in school. School, and reading in particular, is the cure for where she is headed with the family she’s stuck with.

I care for her a lot. And then I can’t care. I can’t get wrapped up in this, because I can’t take her home. I can’t save her. If I get personally involved in the situations of the kids I’d get to tutor I’d need a much bigger house and I’d have to quit my job to care for them because I’d have to adopt them all. I do what I can. I give them the tools to help themselves. And then I have to walk away and try again with someone else. I have to hope that the next teacher gives them a few more tools. And then I have to hope that the students pick them up and use them.

So after that, she redoubled her efforts. She slowed down. She got it correct – all of it. No racing ahead, no being silly. She got it.

I celebrated with her, just as if she were my own child learning how to walk, or talk, or read. She can do all of this. She has it in her. I know it.

Kindergarten 1-29-14

Today I was working on J’s superpowers. But first I had to get him to work.

I skipped last week. We were behind at the library. Too many bins to check in and not enough people. It is a privilege to get to tutor. The only way I get to keep this privilege is to make sure things are covered at work.

Work was the last thing on the minds of V and J today. I asked V if she wanted to work and she said no. That is fine with me. I’m extra. I’m not ever going to insist on them working with me. It is all optional. If one doesn’t want to work, then that leaves more time for another who does. That’s simple enough.

However, I am going to insist that if they are with me, they are going to work. I had to spell that out to J today. We did fine for a little while, but then he started to get wild. I can adapt a little. Adapting is part of tutoring kids at different levels. But at some point there isn’t a way to make whatever the child has decided to do with the assignment into actually learning. At some point it is more noise than signal. At some point I have to redirect.

Sometimes I have to redirect at several points.

J was drawing “fireballs” before we went to the tutoring area today. I asked him about them and found out that the fireballs are not from a dragon, they are from him. He is a very active child. Active is a nice way of saying violent. This child throws, pushes and hits everything. Half the time I’m with him I’m trying to get him to calm down long enough to work on the lesson. Five year olds have a lot of energy but he has more than most. I worry about him.

He told me today that reading isn’t fun. I told him that is just because he doesn’t know how to do it yet. I told him that reading is an awesome superpower, trying to tie into the fireballs he was working on earlier. I’m trying to get him to see reading as a real superpower, one that is even better than throwing imaginary fireballs. I pulled out the instruction sheet I got from the teacher today and pointed out that because of reading I know what the teacher wants me to work on today. I pointed out it is like having a super secret spy language.

He isn’t buying it, but I’ll try again. I feel this might work.

Kindergarten 1-15-14

Sometimes I feel like I’m Annie Sullivan with Helen Keller when I tutor. This is especially true these days when I work with V. Sometimes it isn’t about the assignment. It is about just getting through it.

I remember the story of how Annie Sullivan, on her first day as Helen Keller’s tutor didn’t manage to get anything done except make her sit still long enough to eat her meal at the table. It took hours, but it got done. Somehow she had taught her how to be human, just a little bit, and not a wild animal.

All V wants to do is play, and paint, and draw. For that matter, that is all I want to do too, but that isn’t the purpose of school. I’d love to spend all day making jewelry and writing, but that doesn’t get the bills paid. I have to go to work. “Work” for a five year old is kindergarten, and she’s not doing very well.

She is cheery, at least. Seeing her still in school is a plus too. But darn if she will focus.

I was disheartened when I saw my assignment and the supplies today. Not only was there nothing new, but something we should have been long past was there. It isn’t that I don’t want to work with the “Insta-learn” board. It is a perfectly fine way of learning letters and sounds and words. But the words are just three letters, and they are getting used to it. They pick out the words they want to do. It shouldn’t be hard for them by this point. We shouldn’t need it.

But then I realize I’m putting “should” in there. It is what it is. We aren’t in a race, right?

Well, in a way, we are. How long until first grade? If they don’t have their letters and sounds down by then it is going to be really hard for them. First grade isn’t about playtime and painting at all.

I used to really worry about the students when they were slow to get it. I worry a little now, but I also realize that it isn’t me. It’s them. They have to do the work.

Work is the last thing V wants to do right now. She wants nothing to do with the letters. Today the only thing that we accomplished was getting her to complete an assignment The class had been working on short i and long i today. They had a sheet with pictures on it, and they had to cut out the pictures and glue them to a sheet of paper. One side was for words like pie and kite, and the other was for words like mitt and pig.

V’s sheet was very colorful and very messy and very wrong. And not finished. We had to finish that before we could do anything else. I soon realized that there was no way we could fix what she had already done because of how well she had glued down the pieces. We had to start over from scratch.

She wanted to color the pieces again. I said no, because I knew that for the dead end that it is.

It was painful, and it was an uphill struggle. She didn’t get the point of the assignment. She also kept trying to distract me, and thus delay doing the work. She would point out other things in the hallway. She pointed out her teeth (the front two are missing now). She noticed my new glasses. She noticed everything except what the assignment was. I’ve started to recognize the look she has when she knows that she is trying to divert attention. It is intentional. She isn’t ADD. She’s clever. But, she’s five, and I’m 45, and half of my job is trying to get her to understand that she has to learn how to read, and that reading is amazing and fun.

It is really hard sometimes. I don’t remember being five. I’ve never had children. I don’t know all their tricks, or remember how they think. I tutor, in part, to learn this. I like that I get to borrow them for a few hours a month.

After we finished the assignment she took it to the teacher and she exclaimed how wonderful it was that it was finished. I tried to use that as a springboard to encourage her to finish other assignments. We’ll see if this seed produces anything useful.

In the meantime, she waded through the rest, and tried to distract me more, and didn’t want to focus. I have two other students to work with, so I decided to cut it short. I don’t have time to play around, and it isn’t fair to the others to skip them. She wasn’t interested in going back to class either, and tried to “stick” to her chair. I’ve had three years now of similar encounters, so I know the answer is just to keep repeating my request until the student knows that I’m not kidding.

The other two were equally iffy about working. Maybe it was because of the long break. They’d had Christmas and New Year’s off, and then a little extra because the really cold weather we had meant a water pipe burst in the school the week earlier.

We’ll try again next week.

Kindergarten 12-18-13 – Holiday

The order today that I was given was J, S, and V. I chose V first because I didn’t get to work with her last week.

She is missing her front two teeth now. This seems early. Doesn’t that normally happen between first and second grade? I’ve heard that children are physically maturing sooner these days. The theory is that it has to do with all the hormones they feed cows and chickens. We eat that meat, we get those chemicals.

V was a superstar today. She was very quick at finding the letters. She wanted to work with the Insta-Learn board that we had worked with for the past month but it wasn’t in my basket today. In fact, there was nothing I recognized in my basket today. I’ve been tutoring kindergartners for three years, so it is a big deal to say there was nothing I recognized. Half the time I have to figure out the goal of the supplies in the basket. Having familiar supplies makes this easier.

There is always a goal. There is always a purpose to the different bags and boards in the basket that the teacher prepares for me. If I can figure out the goal, then I can figure out how to get there. It is kind of like writing a sestina. If you know the ending words to the poem, the poem virtually writes itself.

V did amazingly well, and I told her so. She beamed. I love seeing her smile, and I feel that she doesn’t smile that much at home. I didn’t even ask her about her Christmas plans because I’m just not ready to hear the stories she was going to tell me. She makes up stories about her home life all the time, because the reality is just too much. Or, rather, it is not enough.

If the average everyday home life is hard, Christmas is going to be impossible. I can’t help this. I can’t fix it. So I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to remind her of the train wreck that was coming in a week.

It is like when I was taking care of my Mom when she was terminally ill. I was in college and I didn’t want anybody asking me how she was doing because it meant I had to stop and be real for a bit. It meant that I had to take off my “everything’s fine” mask and show how much pain was underneath. Sometimes the kindest thing was for people to not ask and just pretend along with me that all was normal.

Interestingly, she did talk about a holiday – but it wasn’t Christmas. She was telling me about her Halloween costume. (a pumpkin) J later told me about his Halloween costume as well. (Robin, and his Dad will be Batman). So they know something’s coming, but they’ve got it mixed up. Or maybe they have it better figured out than we adults do. Christmas done with costumes and lots of candy might be a lot better.

We played with the supplies, V and I, working with letters and colors and numbers. We had a few moments of normal, and it was nice. Even I forgot about how different and potentially awkward Christmas is going to be for me this year. Somehow we created a little oasis for both of us.

We went back to the room and J caught my eye and waved his arm to work with me. Sure – why not? Now, this means I’m going to make sure I work with S first next time. They all seem to want to work longer with me this year, so I’m not getting to as many students as in the past. I feel they are trying to monopolize my time, and that isn’t fair to the others on the list. I try to redirect but there is only so much you can get a 5 year old to stay on target sometimes.

Half of my time with J was spent trying to get him to be gentle and calm. He threw the letter dice rather than rolled them. He jumbled all the letter cards and tossed them like leaves. A lot of time was wasted with him having to pick items up off the floor that he had dropped by being so exuberant. Or is it manic? He was also a bit loud, and I had to remind him that there were other tutors just down the hall. The teacher tells me he hasn’t made any friends, so I’m trying to work on the most socially off-putting behaviors as well as teaching him how to read.

Not having ever had children, I’m sometimes at a loss on how to work with them. But, I’m learning, and the biggest thing I’m learning is that each one is different. So even if I figure it out, the next student will surprise me.

Sometimes I dread going into the school to tutor. I never know what I’m going to be doing and how it is going to go. Usually I remember to pray beforehand, and that helps. It reminds me that God is always in charge, and whatever happens is whatever is meant to happen. It also reminds me that God is always with me, even when I feel lost and alone.