Today was my last day tutoring at Woodlawn High School for the semester. I really only got three sessions in because the program started only this month, I was going twice a week, and one week it was canceled due to testing. Next semester I hope to be able to commit to more days. I’m only barely starting to break the ice with these kids. But today I made some noticeable progress with them.
I have four students, a girl and three boys, all tenth graders. Even though I was told what to expect, it’s kind of shocking how poor their basic spelling and grammar skills are in general. Between the handwriting and the spelling, I can’t even read what they write a lot of the time, and I have to have them read it aloud to me (I’ve also caught them more than once “reading” something they hadn’t actually written down). But three of them seem to have a genuine interest in bettering their situations and improving their chances of one day going to college. The fourth one, one of the boys, is kind of a trouble maker and so far hasn’t written a single word. We’ll call this one Bradley. On the day of our second session, I found him hiding between stacks in the library trying to avoid me. Then he “accidentally” threw his pen in the trash along with a piece of paper (on which he had written nothing but his name), and he refused to go through the trash can and retrieve it.
I’m trying to get them to focus on a simple expository essay about how to do a task. One boy is writing about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Another is writing about how to cook an egg. The girl is writing about cleaning her room. I’m trying to get them to add more details each week, to describe even the most obvious steps in the process, explain the importance of the task. Have an introduction and a conclusion.
Bradley spends each session either bothering the girl sitting next to him (I will not have them sitting next to each other next semester) and claiming he can’t think of anything he knows how to do.
Me: You don’t have to do any chores at home?
Bradley: No, I got people to do that.
Me: Do you know how to cook anything, make anything, fix anything?
Me: Is there a video game you are good at?
Bradley: I don’t play games.
Me: Do you dress yourself everyday?
Bradley: My mama does that for me.
Me: Now I know you’re just being goofy. Think of something.
I tried to get them to ask and answer questions like why you would make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (because your mom isn’t home, the ingredients are in the house, it’s easy to do, and you are hungry). And the steps involved are more than just (1) get the bread (2) get the peanut butter and jelly (3) eat the sandwich. You have to open the peanut butter, spread it on the bread with a knife, etc. I said to explain it as if you are explaining it to someone from outer space who has no idea why or how this is done.
It’s hard to get them to recognize these concepts, but today I outlined it all on a dry erase board. I really felt like a teacher for the first time, and they all copied down what I wrote, even Bradley.
Technically, I should go there again on Thursday, but the kids already told me not to bother. All their classes are having end of the semester parties. They will be there, but they won’t be there. So I said fine, I’ll see them all in January.
Despite the difficulties, this feels very much like the sort of thing I’m meant to be doing right now. I’ll get more involved in the program in 2011.