Tuesday, October 28, 2014

4 Ways to Make Tutoring More Fun

Why do kids need tutoring?

Some are behind on content and they need to be caught up.  Others already understand the material and need to be pushed more.  And then there are always students who need specific work on individual concepts.

At the end of the day, most parents can find a reason for why their child need tutoring.  Personally, it was always tough teaching 6+ hours during the day and then working with students after school in the same fashion that I had been teaching for another hour or more, so I sought out ways to make it different.  There are a number of ways that you can liven up tutoring so that you take advantage of having a student's individual attention.  What follows is a series of things I've used over the years to make tutoring more bearable on me (and the student).

1) Different locations: When given the opportunity, I liked doing my tutoring sessions somewhere other than my classroom or the child's house.  The library, fast food restaurants, parks, and bookstores are all places I have tutored.  Going somewhere different allows you to enjoy the scenery that you are not accustomed to, and can sometimes provide means for adding to the tutoring, like eating while you learn.

One of my favorite tutoring sessions with the RCA 2015 class (and parents) at Atlantic Station

2) Make it relevant: If the child did not understand fractions the first time in class with the way you taught it, why would you teach it the same way when you're one-on-one?  Find what the child is interested in and use that as the basis for teaching the concept.  For example, if the child is interested in sports, teach fractions by going to a football field and use the hash marks to count by tenths.  When I worked with my next door neighbor's daughter on fractions, we used the kitchen as our setting so we could pretend to cook things and measure out ingredients.

3) Have them teach you: One of the worst things you can ask a child is "do you understand?"  While some children will say "no," many will say "yes" to either appease you or move on.  A better request is "you're turn to teach this to me."  By asking the child to teach you or explain a concept, you are asking them to prove that they understand the material.  It's also a wonderful higher order thinking activity.  This will give you a chance to identify misunderstandings or holes in the learning.  

4) Take breaks: Tutoring for an hour can play out like a marathon at times.  When teaching thirty students, much time is spent focusing on a variety of students, but when it is just you and one student, that's a lot of consecutive time to spend on one person.  To give your brain and their brain a break, take a five minute break.  Depending where you are, you can have a snack, run around a bit, or play a game.  One student I used to tutor loved basketball, so every 20 or so minutes we would play a round of H-O-R-S-E to take a break. 

And as a final reminder, please always be a cheerleader for your students.  Be positive when working with them.  Sometimes they just need to hear "you've got this," "I'm really proud of you," or "great job" to give that final push that you need from them. 

Thank you for all of the support with Inside the Trenches.  If you haven't gotten your copy yet, you can find it on Amazon.

Friday, October 17, 2014

What Great Schools Look Like

It's funny, this week I have had three separate conversations with administrators all revolving around the same topic: what does a great school look like?

It's a good question, especially when you consider that there are many types of schools, existing in various socioeconomic regions, inhabited by students of every background, ability, and age.

Then you take into account state mandates, funding, politics, and any number of other variables that differentiate schools from state to state, city to city, and even one side of the tracks to the other.  So how can you possibly define what a great school looks like?

Having had the opportunity to visit many types of schools now across the country, and meeting thousands of educators along the way, I've developed my own criteria for how I define a great school.  First, I want to make clear that a great school does not have to have a certain socioeconomic class, the newest technology, or even the highest test scores in the district.  It all boils down to the adults who make up the school.  The individuals who are with the children each and every day.

So, with that being said, I have concluded that great schools demonstrate three basic practices: collaboration, consistency, and celebration.

Some explanation of each for what this looks like:

Collaboration: Teachers work together on planning, brainstorming, and implementing lessons.  Opportunities are given by administrators to observe each other and have meaningful conversations.  Teachers are excited to share lesson ideas and materials, and use each other to make them better.  Staff trusts each other, and students are seen as "ours," not "mine."

Consistency: There is a common language ("edu-speak") and practices within the school that teachers, staff, and students understand.  There are expectations that are known and maintained by all staff.  When administrators walk into classrooms, there are certain visible practices that are clear across all classrooms (eg. respectful interactions, manners).

Celebration: Students, staff, and stakeholders are frequently recognized and celebrated by the school community.  Both small scale (round of applause, words of recognition, chant/cheer) and large scale (gatherings, banquets, tangible rewards) are commonplace.  Students realize that though it may not be their turn to be recognized, they are just as excited for their classmates to be honored. 

It is hard to demonstrate all three of these identifiers on a consistent basis.  It involves having the right people in charge, and the right people supporting the efforts.  Parents, community members, and school partners need to also believe in these criteria because they are just as much of the equation as the students and staff.

Sometimes the term "great school" is generously thrown out because of test scores, the neighborhood the school sits in, or a positive single-story that is told.  I encourage stakeholders to dig deeper; look into the true makeup of a school and then decide if it can call itself a great school.

And finally, if you'd like to read some more about great schools, my book, Inside the Trenches, highlights many great schools and educators from around the country.  Click here to check it out.