Tuesday, July 08, 2008

On Teaching and Tutoring

They tell you that all children are different. And they're right. I'm spending mornings this summer as I do every summer, tutoring children in reading. I teach reading phonetically. As it should be taught. There are objective standards that have to be met by each student. Unlike the crap that we are supposed to teach in school, I can explain to a parent exactly where a student is, what they've learned, what they need to learn, and what kind of difficulties they are having if they are having difficulties. And the kids are privy to this knowledge too. They know what they need to do. There is no deciphering of nebulous subjective semi-standards. Nobody in the public school system in this country wants to hear that. That's OK. They will continue to create my clientele.

Dealing with children one on one, it becomes apparent early on, how well each student will be able to pick up on what I'm teaching. It has to do with different factors. How good is their recall? Some students start off having a tough time remembering all four sounds of the first phonogram. I've spent upwards of fifteen minutes with some students repeating those four sounds with them until they can repeat them on their own. Then they can begin writing and repeating. The good news is, even with these slow starters, once they've had enough practice, their memory improves. It gets - not necessarily easy, but it does get easier.

How hard are the students willing to work? Some will do everything I ask without complaint. Others begin whining and moaning as soon as they walk in the door and don't stop until they walk out. Some work for a while and then want to give up. Almost all students complain that their hand hurts the first few sessions. We do a lot of writing.

Are the parents willing to bring their child to my house on time for every session? No explanation needed.

Can the parents afford to bring their child until they've learned what they need to learn? I don't live in what you would call a wealthy area. My school is in an area that's even less wealthy, and that's where most of my tutoring students come from. Depending on how quickly their child learns though, it could end up costing a lot of money. On the other hand, some who cry poverty drive some pretty expensive cars. Some smoke. Almost all have cable TV or satellite TV, video game systems, and other things that I would consider nonessential when your child needs to learn how to read. I do occasionally offer discounts and on a few rare occasions, I have taught for free. But that is strictly at my discretion.

Some students have problems with reversals. Because I was trained how to do it (when I learned to teach Riggs ) I can fix those reversals. Sometimes that takes a few minutes. Sometimes it takes weeks or months of monitoring and frustration, but it does get fixed. In the public schools teachers are trained to refer that problem to the special education department, thereby insuring that it remains a lifelong disability.

Some students show such remarkable improvement just from learning the phonograms, they don't stick around very long.

One of the students I'm teaching now, breezed through the phonograms, learning the first 55 of them in a week and a half. He's got phenomenal recall. He's going into sixth grade, and he's reading on about a second grade level. As bright as he is, I've had to let him know that the third grade animal book he was reading was below him and he needs to stick his nose into some chapter books. Like so many kids today, he's bright but lazy. And he's past the age where he wants desperately to read. I think his father will give him the kick in the pants that he needs to move him along.

Another student is a foster child going into third grade. Think of him as being rescued. He's got difficulty speaking clearly. He doesn't use all of the sounds because he has difficulty pronouncing all of them. This caused him to have a really tough time with some of the phonograms. Sometimes he got angry at me, but he kept on working. He wants to read. We are now learning spelling and I think there may be some hearing issues too. He sounds out his words like he's supposed to, but then can't put the sounds together. For me, this is something new. I've been having to figure out how to make this work for him. Since in tutoring it's much easier to tailor each lesson to the individual, I was able to slow him down and we are taking extra time to address problem areas. He's going on vacation next week and that worries me. I don't know how much catching up we'll have to do when he returns.

I can do some individualizing in the classroom, but it takes a lot more effort. I also use my bright students to reteach slower students. It's always a tremendous amount of work. And sometimes my patience does wear thin. Over the years I've had to learn to be really patient. After all, that student who isn't getting it is as frustrated as I am. He wants to do well and is operating to the best of his abilities. I have to remember that and save the ranting for after the lesson is over and I am someplace alone.

All in all, I've learned more about teaching and how to teach since I've started teaching the Riggs method than I ever could have learned otherwise. The currently accepted reading and phonics "experts" like Patricia Cunningham and Lucy Calkins don't even know as much as some of the second and third graders that I've taught about the English language.

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At 9:15 AM, Blogger Jungle Mom said...

You sound like a home school parent! I am so glad you can help these children out by tutoring as it will change their lives, as you know.

I have a nephew with a slight case of Cerebral Palsey. He has some of the same problems you mentioned your foster child student has. His mother has had to be very patient, he is below grade level in reading and spelling, but he IS reading! He also speaks two languages. Just took a while.

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Pen of Jen said...

This is what I love about coming over to visit. You are my hope in the public school arena.

How fortunate that these children have someone willing to go above and beyond.

As Rita said...you do sound a bit like a homeschool parent as we are able to focus on each child...and really meet all the needs.

Happy tutoring!

At 9:54 AM, Blogger Mrs. C said...

You bring up an interesting point about learning gaps, and how different they can be with different children, even in the same district. Unfortunately when a child reaches 4th grade, he's expected to know everything taught in the third grade. In 6th grade, everything 5th and under. So learning problems get WORSE for older kids until those gaps are plugged in.

I think the best part of it is seeing that there IS that cooperation between the tutor, student and parent so often lacking when the education is "free." Sorry, but I have a hard time with "free" education because people view it as "free" even though they probably paid a LOT of money for it. Even really poor folks can kick in $20 here and there if they value their children. OK, that was a tangent.

Good post!

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Harry said...

Jungle mom & pen of jen,
Back when the kids were little, we didn’t have the option of homeschooling. Our kids went to public schools, but we’ve been paying attention to what goes on, and of course, like (and mrs. C did) we did all the things we were supposed to do when they were babies and toddlers. The family next door homeschools their 10 kids until they reach high school. We thought of sending our kids next door, figuring they’d never notice two more.

I’ve always been reasonably patient, but I really didn’t know what patience was until I began on this course of teaching. I’ve had to develop extreme professional grade patience. It was either that or start pulling my hair out. I’m sure your nephew’s mother has even more patience than that, and I bet she worked really hard with your nephew. The educational establishment doesn’t respond well to the whole “hard work” paradigm.

Thanks for the vote of confidence, but the educational establishment has ignored better teachers than me when these teachers demonstrated high academic achievement by stepping outside of their educational straightjacket. There was Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante and as Thomas Sowell has written about, Dunbar High in Washington DC.

mrs. c,
You’re right. The problem with “free” education is that, since it is thought of as “free”, it gets no respect. Very few people care about something that’s free. It’s when you have to work for it or pay for it, that you respect it. If parents had to pay directly for their children’s schooling, they’d make sure that their children did what they were supposed to do. And parents might make sure they did their part too. And public schools might not be able to get away with what they’re doing now. Parents would then demand the best results for their hard earned money.


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