At after-school tutoring I was making the rounds to see what freshmen were working on. It looked to be a good start to our power half-hour after school. One freshman was doing Spanish flashcards on Quizlet. Another freshman was working on a transition sentence for her research paper. A third was working on Algebra. And so on.
I made another pass by the Spanish-flashcard freshman. Seemed like I remembered his team saying he had missing homework. I decided to sit down.
“What are you working on?
He was a hispanic young man so I asked him if he spoke Spanish in the home. He did.
“Do you have any missing or late assignments?”
“I think I do,” he replied.
“Let’s hold off of the flashcards and check for some missing assignments.”
He unzipped his backpack four inches and proceed to drag random pieces of paper out of the opening. Eventually, I asked him if we could just dump the whole thing and see what we found.
For the next thirty minutes the following happened: I learned that he is NOT taking a Spanish class, but he was in French. He had more than 10 missing assignments. Two of those assignments were unearthed in the backpack dump. He and I set up a simple folder system for his work. His stress level went down.
To watch a freshman working is not the same as understanding what is being done.
As I learned today, a freshman will work on Spanish flashcards even though he’s not in a Spanish class and has a ton of missing work. The freshman might look productive but toward what end? Confirming the connection between what a student is doing and what needs to be done has become the centerpiece of my training for the 50+ sophomores who work with our freshmen during their study/lunch.
When finding a freshman to help during study times, tutors are trained to NOT look at appearances.
The steps I’m using are simple. The tutor approaches the freshmen with a 3-step process:
What are you working on? – Opening question to begin the conversation.
What’s next? – The tutor asks for a plan for moving forward.
Can you show me how to do that next step? – The tutor checks for understanding and proof that the freshman can move forward independently.
There’s nowhere to hide in this process. If the freshman shows success through each step, the tutor can move to the next student. The days of having tutors wander the room like a bird of prey looking for a dead animal are over. Tutors are to do something more akin to rock-hopping. Moving from desk to desk, tutors check the real status of the freshmen discovering the confused and the camouflaged in order to foster learning.