Monday, September 16, 2013

Any Ideas?


I'm writing this because I am in need of your collaboration if you're willing to help. I am in a Mentoring Writers class, taught by none other than the illustrious Clint Gardner. One main avenue of learning we are following this semester is the experience of a service-learning project of our choice. My understanding of the purpose of this project is to learn how to tutor effectively through live experience and reflection.

For my project, I've chosen to volunteer as a reading tutor for students reading below their grade level through Americorps at a local elementary school. I'll be working a couple times a week with a couple of elementary students. The proposed focus of my reflection on this experience right now is to try and record and think about the differences I see between what helps students learn successfully when they are in Elementary school and what helps them learn successfully when they are in college. I think it'd be cool to try and explain these differences and to just witness them as well.

My question for you readers (if you're out there) is to see if you'd be willing to supply any intellectual opportunities that you see between these separate environments, those environments being tutoring elementary school students and tutoring college students. I'm worried that my proposed research question for this project does not measure up to the very interesting contrast of these two learning environments that I'm going to get to experience this semester and I was just looking for suggestions. I'd love to hear from you, have a good week!

Evan Peterson


  1. Hi, Evan! What an interesting project you've undertaken. I love that you've chosen to venture outside of the university and work with a different population of students in an environment that poses its own unique challenges and opportunities.

    Your research question, as I understand it, is to "think about the differences [you] see between what helps students learn successfully when they are in Elementary school and what helps them learn successfully when they are in college." This is a really interesting (albeit broad) topic. Teachers and scholars -- and tutors -- have long engaged in discussions of pedagogy and styles or modes of learning, so you are certainly in good company with this topic. I'm wondering, though, does this assignment call for you to come to some sort of quantified conclusion or is it more of a reflection-based discussion? I ask because your current research question may be a little broad and abstract for you to be able to identify or discuss all of the differences you are likely to observe. Is there a way to narrow down the specific learning practices you'll be watching for? For example, do Socratic questions help elementary-aged students the same as they help college students? Another thing to consider is how you're going to know if a particular learning method is "successful." What does successful learning look like? Are the indicators of successful learning the same for elementary students as they are for college students?

    You raise a really interesting question in your third paragraph. You asked whether we (yes, we are out here!) see differences between the two tutoring environments you describe. This is actually an area in which I'm very interested as I've done some community tutoring similar to the tutoring you're planning for this semester. In my experience, the environments -- and student writers -- are very different, leading to very different tutoring experiences. For example, I often found myself working extra hard in sessions with elementary student writers to keep them engaged and in the moment. Also, I'd come to the community center expecting to help the students work on writing only to find that the particular student I was working with that week needed tutoring in math (not my strongest subject, but at least it was only elementary math!). My experiences tutoring in other environments led me to critically examine my own tutoring philosophy and to adjust some of the values I previously held very dear (such as relying only on Socratic questioning or non-directive tutoring methods). It also strengthened my flexibility and adaptability -- as well as my preparedness for all types of questions, as elementary students are prone to asking really interesting (and sometimes inappropriate) questions.

    Obviously each tutoring situation is going to present its own set of challenges and opportunities. and I personally would love to hear how your Americorp experience goes this semester. Feel free to contact me if you want to chat this out further.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. My first thought is to look towards varying definitions of "literacy." At it's most basic, we think of literacy as the ability to read (understanding letters as words, words as sentences, and so on). But folks like the New London Group have proposed literacy as an ideological event as well, suggesting that there are cultural and political elements embedded in our literacy practices.

    I think maybe at first blush we are quick to assume elementary school is all about learning the basic form of literacy, while college is about expanding the ideological sides. But as we get more involved in the work - from both ends - maybe we can see how interdependent and connected the two forms are.

    Just a thought!

  3. Hey Evan!
    I am in your Mentoring Class and offer a one simple suggestion and, hopefully, an answer to your question concerning tutoring in two different habitats and what you should do to meet the needs of both the young and older individuals you associate with, and it is this: USE VISUALS or HANDS ON ACTIVITIES. From my experience with teaching youth in Chicago and adults of older age, each learn the same way: through personal application. The more they are engaged, the more they are enlightened. Therefore, all I can say is bring something new to each tutoting session and use it to teach a lesson/principle they can apply into improving their writing skills (such as a Youtube video, a toy, or and object). This has been helpful for me, and those I have taught using this teaching model have yet to forget the things they learned and often remind me of them (some of which I forgot about).
    Good luck in seeking out the right way to meet the needs of those you tutor!

  4. Guys I want to thank you GREATLY for your suggestions, they are all wonderful! It is late and I need to sleep but THANK YOU for the time you invested in replying to me, I feel loved.