So I'm beginning the service portion of my service-learning project tomorrow. In order to learn how to teach or foster literacy/compositional skills for the satisfaction of a course project, I will be volunteering as a Student Tutor at a local Elementary School, helping K-6 children improve their reading skills. I've been reviewing the materials provided by my coordinator to help me understand how to help the children best and found a little sheet titled "Getting to Know You". It has two big stars with smiley faces on it as well as pictures of books, cats and hot dogs. Cute. It asks questions like: What is your Name? Do you have a pet? What is your favorite food? Do you like to read? As I was looking at this sheet, it made me realize how important this getting to know you process is in order to help the children feel comfortable. I don't know exactly why that is, maybe it's just to establish that connection, the connection that you care. The connection that engages the student and improves one's capacity to learn. I wish I could say it in a more eloquent manner that really lets the meaning ring out but I just feel like we all learn better when we're smiling.
In reading a book for our course titled "ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors" by Shanti Bruce & Ben Rafoth, I've been learning the importance of getting to know the college students that I tutor as well. I'm realizing that I haven't been acknowledging the differences between myself and the ESL Writers that I tutor, largely because of the risk that may be involved. I really don't want to offend anyone, but the book made an excellent point by inviting tutors to "...show interest in their home language, country, or culture by engaging them in the kind of small talk that usually accompanies tutoring sessions..." (p. 13). I've been feeling cut-off from many ESL Students and unsure of how to help them, especially when they are not engaging socially. I feel like, when appropriate, if I acknowledge what I would like to know about a Writer that I'm tutoring by asking them, it might fuel the personal connection that I have with them, deepen the waters that we're allowed to swim in, and allow for a more effective and rewarding session.