kitchen table math, the sequel: Tutoring and an attempt to clone myself

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tutoring and an attempt to clone myself

They're making new remedial students faster than I can tutor them.

This past year, I taught 2 classes of remedial reading with the help of volunteers from my church. While teaching the second class, I made highly scripted, idiot proof instructions at the request of the volunteers I was working with so they could continue on with the program after my move to Santa Monica, California this summer.  (They specifically wanted idiot proof, and said the more scripted and idiot proof, the better!)

They are now complete and posted on my new "How to Tutor" page.  The idiot proof instructions are about halfway through, in this paragraph:
Your number one task is to get them to stop guessing and start sounding out each and every word from left to right. Nonsense words are key, they help prevent guessing. Here is a free website that generates nonsense words. Syllables are also helpful, I would use the Blend Phonics Reader (it helps show how guessing is a bad strategy by showing words with similar configuration together) followed byWebster’s Speller. Here is a step by step guide to using Blend Phonics that also adds in syllables, spelling and phonics rulessyllable division rules, and syllable division exercises. There are also readings from Hebrews 12 that can be added to show progress through the program.
In a further attempt to clone myself, I have started a joint blog with Don Potter where people can share their phonics teaching experiences, whether they teach 1 or 100 students. The volunteers I worked with actually came up with a lot a great ideas, especially the ones with 3 or more children/grandchildren, they are wise in the ways of children!

A quick rundown of their most effective ideas:

  1. Banning pencils and switching to oral spelling (10% of the children were taking notes usefully, the rest started drawing and stopped listening.)  The oral spelling was also much quicker and prone to peer pressure to be involved.
  2. Switching from a long teach/small group work cycle to a cycle of 1-2 minutes of teaching and 3 to 5 minutes of working with 2 or 3 students for each volunteer.
  3. Parent involvement.  The last class, parents were part of our volunteers.  (They could opt to either work with their own children or other children, their preference.)  This taught them how to work with their children at home on their own and also let them see the phonics in action.  The best improvement I've seen from any student in my 15 years of remedial phonics tutoring came from a student whose mom worked with her diligently on the days we did not meet--she was reading 3 grade levels above her grade level when we finished!
It's really easy to tutor.  Sixteen year old girls used to teach all their students to read while teaching the rest of the R's to their other students, and they didn't even have idiot proof instructions!  (Of course, they would have seen it taught 5 or 6 times in their one-room schools.)

It's great to see the students change as their self-confidence improves and they learn to read well.  It's also easy to make big changes with Webster's Speller.  Using Blend Phonics and the Speller in two 2-month courses, twice a week for 90 minutes, had the spring and fall classes we taught improving, on average, 2.3 and 1.5 grade levels per student!

(If you were wondering at my lack of posts, I was tutoring, making idiot proof instructions, and homeschooling my daughter.  It's now summer and my idiot proof instructions are complete. Of course, now we're moving, there's always something...)


Allison said...

These are terrific! Thanks for the link!

One of the issues I have is how do you know you have a remedial reader, so the NRRF reading grade level test is really a fantastic pointer. Do you really find that just asking parents to give it to their kid works? Is this because the parents are already concerned? How do you do this without insulting someone?

Also, do you think your program works well with non-remedial readers who have been memorizing sight words, but sooner or later, will hit a wall? as in, they've got nothing but bad habits, but their reading skills are high enough now that they can manage it?

ElizabethB said...

I just tell my friends about my tutoring and how I've found that about 30 to 40% of children are reading below grade level and offer to give them a copy of my tests, then say that they are a bit complicated and if they can't figure it out, I'll be happy to give it, I've done hundreds of them. (This gives them an easy out if they are a poor reader themselves.)

Most of my friends are military, so they are not as emotionally attached to their local schools. However, my other friends don't seem offended, either. People either are interested or their children are reading War and Peace and they decline. (And, people who decline that I know well, usually I will eventually see their children reading materials above their grade level.)

I don't do a "hard sell" on the grade level tests and the MWIA, I just offer and tell my experiences.

When we advertised at the school (I didn't do the actual advertising, they just left pamphlets at parent night), we had more students that we could teach, almost all of the children in the 2nd class were from the waiting list for the first class. The parents knew their children needed help, we didn't get any students who did not have at least a 10+ percent slowdown on the MWIA.

Our Spring Class, we had 2 students who were reading at grade level who are now reading several grades above grade level. They were thought to have "comprehension" problems, but, like you, I am skeptical of the whole comprehension thing, I have yet to find an actual student with "comprehension" problems.

I also had a sibling of a child in the class who watched my movies at home and came to one or two classes--her reading improved as well. I never gave her the MWIA, but her mom said she got moved to a higher reading group at school. So, she may have hit a wall eventually and now she won't! I did give her a quick nonsense word test and she did great, I wish I would have given her the MWIA in retrospect!

Don Potter screens all his students at his school now with the MWIA, he said he's found a few that he never would have tutored before and they have improved. (He's now at a private school with a lot more autonomy than he used to have to do things like this.)

Catherine Johnson said...

The parent involvement feature REALLY makes sense to me -- not only because parents will help their kids learn to read but because these parents have now had their consciousness raised.

They will know why neighbor kids aren't reading & they'll be able to help - or just to explain the situation.

ElizabethB said...

Yes, parent involvement is great at many levels. Maybe if enough parents realize what's going on, things will change?

Well, I can always hope.

And, parents are more open than teachers, for the most part, so it is a good place to start.

Susan said...

I think that parental involvement is key to rapid improvement. I use the Nevola/D. McGuinness Sound Reading System programme with my tutees.

One feature of the programme is that a parent (or a substitute) must attend all the tutoring sessions. Furthermore, they are expected to be closely involved with the homework I set - 3x20mins. sessions spread over the following week.