Saturday, March 11, 2017

If only we could "tutor" each and every student!

I tutor two students each week. I work with one of those students, a 6th grade girl, two times a week. She is quite bright; much of what I do is support and help build confidence. I truly enjoy my time with her.  We have built a good relationship over the past almost 2 years.
Today, both of the assignments she was working on were writing work.  One, a reader's response to a short story, took us about an hour together. First, I needed to read the story to be able to discuss it with her. Much of the time, however was spent pushing her to do more.  The format she was required to use (MELCON) is very specific.  Main Idea, Evidence, Link, Conclusion.  In and of itself, the format is fine.  However, it has been presented very formulaically, using specific sentence starters, etc.  My goal today was to push this particular student to do more than what she perceived as "required."  We have had this discussion several times. Today was the day we needed to put it into action.
"Before we start writing, I want to talk about the story.  I am wondering why the mother felt angry, than guilty, than angry, than guilty. What do you think?"
"Why would the man pretend to be poor and sell apples if, in fact, he has ample money?"

Both of these questions took a great deal of prompting and support.  I believe she had answers but was hesitant to explain her thinking because 1) she was afraid she was wrong or 2) she did not have the vocabulary to express her thoughts clearly.  We talked about these ideas for about 20 minutes, with me prodding with "Why do you think that?" and "Tell me more about that." With time, she was able to express her thinking and support it with evidence.

Finally, it was time to write.  The prompt was based on which idea was she most interested in from the class discussion.  We were able to narrow down two ideas she liked.  We then sorted through evidence, determining which idea she could better support.

Up to this point, the work was similar to work we have done together.  Now comes the actual writing!

"What is your thesis statement going to be?"
"I am supposed to start with the main idea."
"Thesis statement is your main idea. What is the premise of your writing?"

We work best when she can think aloud and I type. As she introduced a piece of evidence, I pushed her to explain, explicitly, how that evidence connected to her thesis statement. This required a great deal of support but that is what I do when I tutor....I offer specific, individualized support.

"How does this connect to your main idea?"
"Don't assume your reader sees what you see. Explain it to her!"
"Why would he do that?"

We did the first two paragraphs together.  As she started the third piece of evidence, I asked her to add the additional support on her own.  I reassured her that the work we were doing was hard and more than she had done in the past but I knew she could do it.    It took time, and some leading questions, but she got there.

This session made me wonder a few things. 1) Why are reader's responses still perceived as a specific, formulaic response.  Shouldn't we welcome a student's thoughts, presented in a way that feels natural to the student? 2)  Wouldn't it be wonderful if every student could get the same individualized support my student got this morning? --I know, they can - if the teacher regularly confers!--3) Why is there so much stress put on doing it "right" and getting a good grade and so little support in honoring the writing process?  Writing is a chore for most students because we don't allow them to experience regular writing just for the joy of it.  

The other day, as I left the library after tutoring my other student, a patron stopped me. He commented that, as a  junior high student, he had been tutored as well.  He still remembers those sessions fondly; looking back, he is able to appreciate the growth surrounding those times with his tutor.

Not everyone can afford tutoring. It is a luxury. However, every student deserves support geared specifically to their needs.  And every student will benefit from a close relationship with a teacher.  I am thankful for my time as a tutor. It helps me reflect on my time with a class of students. Am I giving them the individualized support they need?  Am I getting to know them as well as I know these two?  I hope so!

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for this opportunity to share a slice of my life.


  1. I have tutored students outside of my regular teaching job for years, and I can appreciate your thoughts and feelings. It would be wonderful if every classroom teacher could spend that kind of quality tutoring time with each and every student. ~JudyK

  2. The fact that you are able to be there with her for that full hour coaching and supporting her gave her the confidence to be able to tackle the final parts on her won. It is a shame that so much of writing and reading response is taught so formulaically, but your prompting questions ended up pushing her beyond.

  3. I just started tutoring two students this year and I too am quickly developing a special bond with one of them. She does such a great job one on one but struggles in the classroom. If only she could have someone sit and whisper encouragement to her during class... I know she too could excel. Keep on supporting your tutee- she will look back one day and truly appreciate all you have done for her!

  4. Totally agree with you! While I was working at the library today, there was a man there who was tutoring students in math. He did five kids in a row. All of the kids seemed happy to see him, ready to work, etc. I wondered how much they pay, then felt sad because none of the kids at my school have access to anything like this.

  5. The concept of coaching and tutoring is something I'm still studying. What does it take to instill that "I can do it" mindset - especially for upper elementary students? It seems like so many students struggle with confidence.

    I believe part of it is lack of practice. And quality practice for sure. So excited to hear this is working for you and your student!!!